Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen

I trimmed my hair tonight, made my bangs a little thicker, a little more Zooey-esque. If you’re keeping track–and I don’t know how you could!–my hair is currently red, layered, with face framing bangs.

And long.

It still feels odd to say that. I have long hair. I have long hair! Of course, it isn’t terribly long. Some people would only consider it about medium length. The ends, which I carefully and frequently trim both to fight off split ends and because my hair grows surprisingly fast, fall an inch or two past my collarbones.

But for me, that’s absurdly long. My hair is heavy and thick (in density) and wavy and fine (in texture). When I was a little girl, I screamed when my mother combed it. So when I was eight, she and my sister conspired to convince me to cut it short. They told that I would look like Ramona Quimby (sold!). My sister did the deed, chopping it off in the backyard while we listened to the New Kids on the Block.

The ensuing years were spent often correcting people about my gender. I was a scrappy little thing, with crooked teeth and cowlicks. Even before the hair went short, I was just a little odd. My sister had long, straight blond hair, followed fashion, loved Joey McIntyre. She had beautiful penmanship. She played the clarinet.

I played the trumpet, held my pencil wrong, loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and didn’t care about fashion or music. I wasn’t a tomboy per se–I wasn’t particularly athletic, and I loved baby dolls as much as I loved my micro machines. But I was just a little odd. I didn’t do things the way my sister did, or the way most girls at school did. Though I hated how people were always mistaking me for a boy, I also knew the hair kind of fit. It was odd and quirky. It made sense.

The home haircuts continued for years, until I eventually took over cutting it myself. In high school, I had mohawks and chelseas and dyed it every shade imaginable. I realized I could change my appearance easily, painlessly. I often found myself buzzing my hair off when I was bored, or restless. My mother nagged me about the scraps of hair I left in the sink, the dye in the tub. And for good reason.

It wasn’t until college that I decided I would grow it out. Not because I especially liked long hair–to be honest, I had few emotional feelings toward any kind of hair, perhaps the side effect of changing it so much–but because I’d never really tried growing it out before. I wasn’t sure that I could really do it, and so for motivation, I decided I would give myself hair like Zero Girl because, well, Sam Kieth is awesome, and why not?

I almost managed. My hair got long enough to put into these little knobby things. And then I cut it all off again. And dyed it a bunch of different colors. Of course.

I think part of the problem was that I didn’t know what to do with long hair. I don’t mean in a “I just don’t know what to do with my hair!” sort of way. Having short hair for most of my childhood meant that I missed out on certain integral lessons. Like what to do with a bobby pin. And how to make a french braid. And how to straighten your hair. I’m an old pro with home hairdye kits, with hair clippers and scissors. But when it comes to making do with the hair that’s there, not so much.

And so it continued: the seemingly-endless cycle of growing my hair out, then cutting it off. I dyed and I bleached and I dyed again. It began to get longish before I went away to graduate school, but Florida was hot, man. And my hair was thick and heavy and created the perfect sauna for my scalp. I cut it off. Then I cut it more. Somehow, I ended up a graduate student with a mohawk. But hey, at least my scalp was cool!

(Wow, is kitty unhappy in that picture.)

I decided to start growing it out before my wedding. I knew it wouldn’t be long by then, but it seemed like a good time to make a decision about it. And for the most part, for once, I’ve stuck with it.

But the strange thing is, I’ve only realized lately what it means to have long hair. I have youtube to thank for that. One day I saw some picture of some fancy braids online and clicked on a link and wandered into the glorious world of hair tutorials. I learned all sorts of things that I’d been too embarrassed to ask. How to twist your own hair into a bun. How to blow dry it straight.

After I cut my hair tonight, I gave it a good wash. I combed the conditioner carefully through, then rinsed with cold water. Funny thing–I’m pretty sure I like having longish hair these days.

But I’m forced to think about my hair in a way I never did before. It’s not just a weight but a thing to be tended to and cared for. Maybe that’s a silly thing to say about hair–it feels silly to me, as a person who spent most of her life only thinking about it in terms of how she could change it.

I’m probably never going to be entirely normal when it comes to the whole hair thing. I’ll always be prone to rash bang trimmings and blotchy dye jobs. I’ll continue cutting my own hair, thank you, and mostly late at night when I’m feeling bored.

But in a way, it feels like I’ve added something to my repertoire by growing my hair long. I’ve learned about a new side of myself–a side that can be careful and deliberate and learn things the other girls have known since their braided one another’s long hair on the playground in fourth grade (I know that this happened; I watched). I wonder if, in some ways, by keeping my hair so very short, and never trying it any other way, I was denying myself something.

That’s not to say I’ll never have short hair again. Just that sometimes, it’s nice not to be so absolutist about your hair, your identity. It’s nice to allow yourself, sometimes, to (har har!) grow.

PhoebeShining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen