I Am My Hair

a new ‘do gives way to a new you

Over winter break, I felt a little odd. I guess the best way to describe it is that feeling you get when you come back to your room and realize that something has changed, and it takes you a while to realize it’s because the poster you only subconsciously acknowledge fell off the wall while you were gone. Everything had seemed right as rain: I just finished my finals, and I was on my way back to the sunny embrace of Southern California. However, the sudden departure from the routine of life I had adopted over the past few months gave me time and space to be contemplative about where I was at in life, rare luxuries not often afforded in the chaos of college. This opportunity for deliberation evidently brought on a wave of existential confusion: What I was doing in life, and why I was doing it? What did I care about, and why? Every “what” was always followed by a “why.” These questions rattled in my head as I started to question everything and everyone in my life.

There’s one scene in “500 Days of Summer” where young Summer is standing in front of the mirror. The movie’s omniscient presence narrates in a reassuring baritone, “She’d only loved two things. The first was her long dark hair. The second was how easily she could cut it off and feel nothing.” Summer then proceeds to take a pair of scissors and cuts, say, nine inches off without flinching. This moment always astounded me, because throughout my life, I’ve always been very careful about my hair. I couldn’t imagine doing something so cataclysmic to something that had taken me months to cultivate.

I guess my astonishment mostly stemmed from her ability to let go of something to which she supposedly had an attachment. When I first saw the movie, I interpreted Summer’s action negatively; I thought it was meant to show that she was cold and distant.

Increasingly, I’m realizing that there is a profound truth behind your ability to transform something, like your hair, so suddenly and definitively. It’s a signal of free will, of subtle but powerful agency over your life and circumstances. It’s also an acknowledgment that things change, a realization that nothing is truly permanent when it comes to existence. It’s making peace with that.

I thought I’d deal with these nonmaterial thoughts with a material action, so toward the end of winter break, I tied my hair in a ponytail and cut off everything past the hairband. It was a moment of exhilaration––and a little bit of fear.

It wasn’t a drastic transformation, admittedly, but I don’t think anything has to be in order to bring empowerment and transcendency. In the midst of my inner turmoil and disconnectedness with life, this act was a reminder to myself that I could shape things into what I wanted them to be––and if things didn’t turn out right, it would still be completely okay. Hair grows back, and life goes on.

It’s easy to get consumed by things like grades, jobs, and relationships. We get hurt and disappointed when things don’t go as planned. I might even venture to say that the singular cause of unhappiness is disappointment, a failure of reality to line up with our expectations.

I think that personal image is a really powerful first step to overcoming those emotional hurdles and living life with less inhibitions. Have you always wanted to dye your hair purple, or get a pixie cut? Go for it. Just do it. What’s holding you back, and why does it matter? Again, these questions of what and why.

Lately, several of my friends have asked me to give them eyebrow slits. Basically, it’s a trend where you shave off narrow bits of your eyebrows. With our glorification of having them “on-fleek,” it’s terrifying to conceive of shaving off even a little bit of your own eyebrow, not to mention someone else’s eyebrow.

Another friend called me up spontaneously on a weeknight and said she was dying her hair teal. I came over and helped her do part of it, using just a hair dye bought on Amazon (with great reviews, of course) and some plastic gloves that I swiped from the dining hall.

Each of these people is taking risks and wresting back control of their life. It can be difficult to look at certain parts of your life, whether it’s hair or something else, and realize the ephemerality of it all. Yes, it seems to matter so much in the present, but don’t let that weigh you down so much that it stops you from doing what you love and enjoy.

Frida Kahlo said: “Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.” If you can see your life this way, you’ll see that it won’t be the end of the world if you dye your hair, get those eyebrow slits, or chop off your locks. Stop giving yourself obstacles from the future, and allow yourself to pursue what you want in the present.

This philosophy doesn’t only apply to self-image; it’s an all-encompassing perspective. Don’t let that one bad quiz grade crush you, and don’t let a romantic rejection determine your happiness. Take some time, when you’re in a hurricane of stress and emotions, to find the eye of the storm and remember what life really is: an experience. These little things shouldn’t dictate how we live and how we feel. It is within your power to transcend the suffocating grip reality often has on us and to live life as abundantly and exultingly as you can.