For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamt of having gorgeous, thick, wavy hair down to my butt. Princess hair. Rapunzel hair. I would run my fingers through my wispy blonde bob cut by my mother, and imagine curls cascading behind me, brushing over my shoulders like a blanket, or a superhero cape.
I remember one day I went up to my purple bedroom about a dozen times, got on my knees and prayed for God to give me long hair. My family didn’t go to church so I knew little about God or praying, and treated it as more of a business negotiation.
“God,” I whispered, “if I wake up tomorrow with hair down to my butt, I promise I will go abroad and spend the rest of my life as a missionary.”
I had no idea what a missionary was, but I figured it had something to do with hacking through the jungle. Small price to pay for a fabulous ‘do, anyway. At five or six, the only thing I held in equal regard to long hair was the idea of being in love.
They were both things I assumed would happen one day, and they would be perfect, and when they did I would be complete and happy. When I was old enough. For the time being, my mum still cut my hair, and she kept it short, easy to manage.
I let it grow through junior high past my shoulders and had my first brush with romance. I sat next to him in class, held his hand, even let him kiss me a couple of times. But I was way too shy, too confused, still a baby, and the following year the boy was gone and my hair was back up to my ears.
In high school I tried to grow it out for a while, but I still didn’t really know how to take care of it and there was so much else to worry about and navigate. None of the boys noticed me anyway. At the end of tenth grade, I shaved my head and had a pixie cut until graduation. I told myself I didn’t need to look like the other girls or get the attention they did, and while that was true, I was also full of fear. So scared of rejection that I mentally and emotionally took myself out of the game. My hair became a symbol: can’t tie me down so don’t even try. That way when nobody tried, I could convince myself I’d chosen it. This is not to say that short hair isn’t beautiful. It absolutely is. Authenticity is beautiful. Confidence is beautiful. But a lot of the time, when I had short hair, I wore it like a suit of armour.
I started to grow it again when I went to university, and to my great shock a boy took interest in me. He made me laugh and I liked hanging out with him. But something wasn’t right. I should like him, what’s wrong with me? Someone finally wants me and I’m going to screw it up? I shut down, started ignoring him, he found someone else. Surprise, surprise, next year off came the hair. I was so afraid. Afraid of my femininity and my sexuality. Afraid it wouldn’t attract anyone. Afraid it would and I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Afraid of my own power and all the things that were out of my control.
After university, I was letting it grow again, filled with fresh hope, when one night I was having some drinks with my roommates, and two of us shared a brief kiss. The dam burst instantly. I knew I loved her, and some of my fears started to make a whole lot more sense. We started dating.
She liked my hair short, fun and easy, something she could ruffle like a puppy’s fur, no tangles, no upkeep. And for a while I liked it too, I would have done anything to make her happy. But then I skipped a couple of haircuts, let my pixie get overgrown, and things got more complicated. I was in the awkward growing stage, not really knowing how to style it or take care of it, but willing to learn, willing to wait it out. I was ready for the commitment of longer hair, and I bought leave-in conditioner, elastics and a wooden brush. I wanted to put in the effort even though we were already exhausted. We both missed short, fun, and easy. For our own personal myriad of reasons, we broke up.
Now I’m growing it out again, solo this time, and while of course it doesn’t really matter what my hair looks like, it’s become something of a personal challenge for me. I want to prove to myself I can do the work, that I can see something through to the end, that commitment isn’t just a pipe dream. I want to learn how to manage something I’m not familiar with, instead of defaulting to what I know. I want to accept things even when they don’t look how I’d like and see the beauty in them, to show up and gently tease out the tangles instead of allowing them to become rats’ nests. I want to remind myself every day why I’m growing it longer and be grateful for it, especially now when I’m in the thick of the Shoulder-Length Itch.
I know it might seem superficial, it is just hair after all, but that little time of grooming each day is a marker of the time I must put into my most important relationship: the one with myself. That will always be my most important and grounding commitment, and in learning to love, honour, and forgive myself, I learn how to do the same with others. After all it is winter, and even when my hair’s misbehaving, static, flat or in my way –
it keeps me warm.