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Thursday, September 15, 2011

It's just hair

Across from me in a coffee shop is a girl with an Afro. It is curly, puffed out like a dandelion, a light brown. It is beautiful.

Since I cut 18 inches of golden strands off my head seven months ago, hair has become somewhat of a fascination to me.

When I first walked in to school with my shorn head, one of my classmates clutched her shoulder-length brown tresses like it was her who was threatened with scissors. “I could never do that to my hair,” she gasped.

I smiled at her, but I thought, “It’s just hair. It’ll grow back.”

But hair holds more meaning than we might give it credit for. The Bible says that a woman’s hair is “her glory”. And in some ways, it was for me. It was what I hid behind, what got me attention, the confidence booster I used to console myself when I got a blemish or had bags under my eyes. Some days, it was my saving grace.

But I soon learned that having blond waves that reach almost to your waist can also be a liability. On an internship in Malaysia it earned me many more catcalls and stares than I expected. It even led to one unpleasant experience in my news office when a visitor snapped pictures of me at my desk, saying, “Oh, a blond girl. My son will love this!” I felt utterly used, a commodity, invisible beneath my halo of flaxen hair.

It had to go.

So my sister (who has been dying her even lighter strands in a rainbow of shades for years) and I took a trip to the salon. I brought a picture of Emma Watson and said, “chop it off”. The stylist divided it in three elastics to be sent off to Locks of Love. And then she cut. And I smiled.

It felt incredibly free, incredibly me. I felt like I could actually see my face for the first time, with no distraction. I looked older, I looked my age, years away from the young teenager that I felt had always stared back from my 23-year-old face. There was not one ounce of sadness or regret as I held those 18 inch strands.

That was in February. Now it’s September, and I am starting to feel a bit different. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my haircut. It’s cute, it’s professional and it’s in style. But life is uncertain right now, with a job interview on the horizon, a dwindling bank account, and the cold weather coming. I miss the comfort of my hair. I miss the certainty of it, the sameness.

But when I look in the mirror, I remember why I cut it. I want people to see me, not my hair. I want them to read what I have to say and not be distracted. I want to have conversations where people have no choice but to look in my eyes, because there is nothing hiding them. And I don’t want to ever play it safe. So I pull a comb through my pixie cut, smile, and face the day. I make the choice to be vulnerable, to be honest, to be kind. To smile at people more, because there is nothing to camouflage my smile from them.

And I think about the kind of courage that hairstyles take. For the girl in the coffee shop, it was the beautiful audacity to grow it out the way it was meant to be, instead of straightening it, putting in extensions, dying it darker or lighter or brighter. For me, it meant cutting off something that some people felt was intrinsic to being Megan. It meant changing my view of myself, and, in the process, learning to take myself less seriously. To change what I thought was beautiful. To change my life. It meant taking a chance, with no room for regret.

Because in the end, it’s just hair.