One of my best memories is being a young teen and running my quarter horse, Fig, a big sorrel gelding down a dirt road that encircled the little 9-hole golf course my father owned. Me with my long hair, and Fig with his tail, we were a mass of brown hair flying as fast as we could go. To this day, when I think of freedom, my freedom, I think about those moments racing with Fig.
When I was little and before I had any say in the matter, my hair was super short, a glorified bowl cut. As I got older and more opinionated, I grew it out, but my mom still dictated the style. There are pictures of me with my hair scarped back into a ponytail that was so tight, I looked like a ten year old with an over ambitious facelift. But I loved the way my hair felt bounced, the way it swished against my neck.
As I entered my late teens and with college on the horizon, my mom who was also my hair stylist, talked me into a grown-up haircut, a blow dry pixie cut that was all the rage. At the time, I didn’t realize what my hair meant to me, besides it looked good the way she styled it, and I got lots of complements, so it was okay. Right?
The truth is that I’ve always liked my hair long, but then I got married and oddly enough, my husband liked my hair short. Every time I got brave enough to go through the unfortunate phase of growing my hair out, he’d remind me how he liked my hair. My mother always found just the right moment to tactfully say, “Your hair looks so good short.” Even my less than tactful mother-in-law got into the act once when I was in my thirties and visiting from Florida by asking me to go along with her salon appointment.
Apparently, the intervention had been planned for some time. The stylist just “happened” to have an opening at the same time my mother-in-law was getting her cut and color. And by the time she as done, I was back to short, which wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for the perm. The whole time the woman was snipping away and then putting those awful smelling chemicals in my hair, I didn’t say much. I told myself it was summer. The kids and I would be at the pool. Short hair would be easy, and it might have been if my hair didn’t look like a fluffy brown muffin.
Fast forward to my fifty-third summer, I’d just started to grow my hair out, again, when I went to a writer’s conference in New York to pitch my novel. I sat in a room with nineteen women’s fiction authors who had come to the city from all over the US and Canada in hopes of selling their manuscripts. Of those six had drastically changed their hair to come to the conference.
I had some success at that conference, actually a big success, and kept growing my hair. My mother still declared her preference for my coiffure, as did my husband. Normally when that happened, I would have shrugged and told my hair stylist to chop it off, but this time, I didn’t.
For the first time, I have said to these very important people in my life that I like my hair long. My husband read one of my blog entries on this subject and got his feelings hurt over the message I wrote to people like me who hadn’t embraced their hair and the freedom that comes with it. He thought it was an over-the-top exhibition of girl power.
Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. The point is I stopped listening to those folks and started listening to the voice inside me that says, “but this is MY hair.” It took me all of 53 years, but I finally I grew my hair out and, much to the chagrin of some of those loving but highly opinionated people in my life, I’m STILL growing it.
While the practical middle-aged woman in me says pony tales are easy, and they are, somewhere, somehow I’ve rediscovered that tiny kernel of a rebellious kid in me that thumbs her nose at those folks. She experiments and does what she wants–only she’s not extremely mouthy and doesn’t roll her eyes anymore. Okay–not very often.
Just the other day, my 83 year-old mom surprised me with a complement, calling my hair chic and sophisticated. Even my husband has either given up or come around, and my mother-in-law? I’m not sure if she’s just too old or too tired to make snarky remarks about my hair, but that’s one of the only opinions she’s keeping herself these days.
Is this my last grab for youth at 55? Maybe, but I don’t’ think so. Some days, my hair is the only thing I can control in my life, and it feels really good to do what I want with it instead of jumping at the whims of others. Whether the changes I experience are real or perceived, this time when I change my hair, I really do change my life.