“I’m sorry you had to meet me this way,” is a statement I very seriously said out loud to my son, cradling him in the hospital the day he was born. I was referring to my hair. Seems a bit dramatic, I know.
I’ve always had a tenuous, perhaps volatile relationship with my hair, but for most of 2019, I absolutely hated it. A corrective trim turned into an unexpected chop, and I was stuck with the shortest haircut I’ve ever had.
It was fine, I suppose. It just wasn’t ME. I didn’t recognize my reflection, habitually reaching for phantom hair on my now naked neck. I know why people usually make this type of change in the summer, and not February when they’re about to take a freezing trip to Ireland.
It wasn’t just the hair that felt off. I was nearing the end of my first trimester, and everything about my physical self was foreign. I had to trade my beloved high waisted Levi’s for jeans with weird elastic paneling, and I generally didn’t feel great about myself. Important life lesson: don’t get a dramatic haircut while pregnant.
I’ll just grow it out, I thought. I just need to get it to my shoulders. At least I’m pregnant. People always talk about how strong, shiny, and fast your hair grows while making a human. It will be long again before I know.
Well, before it got long, it got weird. Very weird.
My hair didn’t grow any faster than normal; I just stopped losing it. Like any of it. I didn’t shed a strand. It’s truly wild to wash your hair and have NONE of it end up in the drain (or the walls, let’s be real). For some people, this is a blessing. For me, a person with naturally very thick hair who regretfully cut their hair in a short bob, this was a curse.
In any other normal physical state, growing out a haircut would be a painful undertaking. While pregnant, it was torture. As my abdomen and thighs grew larger, my hair also grew outward in an odd triangular shape.
By the time I gave birth, nothing had gotten better, so I apologized.
If you think I’m being a bit over the top and superficial, you’d probably be right. But, it certainly doesn’t make the big feelings go away. My hair is one of the major arteries to my self-esteem. It’s so important to me that I even wrote my college entrance essay about how the evolution of my hair was a metaphor for my life thus far, and refused to apply to any college where my hair essay wouldn’t work.
This is because, though we’ve often really duked it out with flat irons, straightening chemicals, bleach, hot curls, and hours of hours of blow drying, I love it. We only abuse the ones we love with hot styling tools.
That year, in addition to feeling like I was wearing a terrible wig every day, I bought a home, lost my full time job, became a mother, and was subsequently rendered insanely sleep deprived. So many changes to my identity and I didn’t even have my one security blanket. Instead I my head saddled with the top of a conifer tree.
Time marched on. My hair grew. By the end of the year, split ends grazed my shoulders and I started to see myself again. I ushered in a new decade woken up by a crying baby at midnight. I began finding (and promptly plucking) grays, and tucking away tiny wisps at my postpartum hairline.
A year after the cut and I didn’t feel so badly about it.
The pandemic hit and I stopped styling my hair, even if for the previous six months it had just been to go to Mommy & Me, the grocery store, and Target. I tried trimming my bangs exactly once before deciding it was time to grow them out for the first time in over 15 years. I didn’t have much of a choice and it probably made more sense with an infant anyway. I ended up going eight months without a haircut, and eight months more after that.
My hair grew, and grew in isolation. People commented how long my hair had grown on the rare occasion that it wasn’t tied up on social media and Zoom calls . Then again, that’s become a pretty standard topic for Covid small talk.
One day, I decided to treat myself to twenty minutes of blow drying and straightening my hair for the first time in three months. It finally felt long.
It took two years.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this relationship with my hair, and more specifically this most recent chapter in our journey together, half of which was spent at home. It’s hard to believe that a year ago we all bought beans and scrambled for toilet paper as we hunkered down in sweatsuits thinking we’d be engaging in this stay at home exercise for a couple weeks. Now I’m sitting here half-vaccinated, still in a sweat suit, and watching the world make plans. Not big plans, but plans nonetheless.
From where I’m at, still somehow reading every article about Covid, it seems that despite all the progress, we’re realistically looking at another year of this affecting our everyday lives –– and that’s if everything goes well. Even if there is a light; we’ve still got a tunnel ahead.
Two years. What if someone told you that from the beginning? Would it make it any easier or harder knowing how long this upside down reality would be? Would it make it seem longer, or would an end date feel more manageable? I’m of both minds, but I’m also still in the thick of it.
Now on the other side of my bad haircut, I just feel happy to have my long hair back, and I don’t dwell much on how badly it made me feel about myself. Likewise, so many aspects of pregnancy, labor, and my postpartum period were so uncomfortable. Oddly, while I viscerally remember the idea of the discomfort I experienced, I can’t recall the exact feelings of pain, nausea, horrific acid reflux, and absolute sleep deprivation. I only have memories without sensations. And the ones I reach for most, aren’t the painful ones at all. I usually go for the joyful ones. The human body is intelligent like that.
I’m about to compare a barely bruised apple to a rotten orange but, I do wonder if the other side of the pandemic will feel similarly. While we’ll all surely emerge deeply affected and traumatized in ways that won’t reveal themselves for months and years, we will just be so glad to be past it. History is earmarked by major crises and, through all the terror, pain, sickness, death, and grief, babies are born, people sing, jokes are made, and innovation moves forward. Life pushes through and finds a way to the other side. And when we do, I don’t think we’ll always focus on feeling terrified, bored, sick, or in grief. We’ll want to remember the moments that felt good, and there were plenty of those too –– even if we can only recognize them in retrospect.
If the last pandemic was any blueprint, we’re in for another roaring twenties. Only I can promise you, unlike the 1920’s, I won’t be chopping off my hair into a smart bob. I know this, because I forced my husband to record a video of me talking my future self out of a drastic haircut and I’m not afraid to use it. I guess I’ll have to find another way to express my liberation.