The silver along the blades catch each ray of light. My eyes are blinded by the glare. As quickly as the scissors appear in the frame, they swoop through her tresses and sever a lock of hair to the ground. So many movies use a woman’s haircut as symbolism for change. From Mulan to The Parent Trap to various iterations of Joan of Arc’s story– there is a transformation between the blades. Sabrina conveys a message of sophistication, that a common girl has grown cosmopolitan with a chic-er ‘do. Tangled uses it to display liberation; without her magical locks, Rapunzel is free from Mother Gothel’s clutches.
I still get nervous when I watch these scenes. I don’t know what it is. My stomach tightens and anxiety flares. It’s fictional. I get it. My body does not. No words velcro to this sensation like nervous, maybe mourning. It’s hair. Just hair, but why do haircuts trigger certain feelings for me?
The first thing the midwives who delivered me exclaimed when I burst into the world was, “She has red hair!” And so, my hair has been my identifier since birth. I’m easily spottable with mounds of curly, red tresses bouncing atop my head. The unruly mass that is my hair has always been bulky and long. Growing up as the girliest girl to ever girl made me embrace long hair. With the exception of being so captivated by The Parent Trap starring Lindsay Lohan that I chopped off my hair as an homage, my shoulders have always been draped in scarlet fringe.
Am I afraid to cut my hair because I won’t be pretty anymore? Yes. God, I want to shake myself! I don’t care about pretty, or I don’t want to, but I do. This is not me pining for encouragement. I am not asking that you coddle me in compliments. It’s that I know pretty is currency, and I don’t have a lot of that as a young woman in this world. I don’t command respect into every space I enter. Mine is a body that is infantilized, shrunken, made to occupy less and less space. To be valued in the tiniest sense becomes important. Moreover, gender legibility– for the world to read my appearance and assess with certainty that I am a woman– is rewarded. The reward is staying alive. The reward is a slightly lessened threat of violence.
The blessing of being an intersectional feminist is that I remain conscious of my choices. The downside is that I overthink all of my choices. I’ve always been incredibly feminine. My hands reached for pink and frills and princesses from birth. My mannerisms are flamboyant, almost a caricature. I’m regularly styled in heels, dresses, and skirts. I relish cosmetics and the creativity of makeup. And when I stare into the mirror, when my hands glide along the fabric over my body, I ask, “Is this really me?”. The answer, I think, is yes.
I value my femininity. Perhaps, I value it too much, that it has become more liferaft than observation. That’s where my nerves hail from when I see those hair cutting scenes– grief over the loss of femininity. Because I would grieve my femininity were it gone. What does it mean to be girly anyway? Is it softness, expression of emotion, all gossamer and lavender? Or is it submission and vulnerability? The truth is, the answer can be all of the above and anything else we choose to populate it with. Every person is born with both energies (masculine and feminine) swirling inside them.
As I’ve toyed with and contemplated my gender and sexuality and identity more in the past few years, I’ve experimented more with my style. Where it was always strictly blouses, lace, and dresses, I’d place a pair of Oxfords, a snapback, looser items concealing my curves. Some of it feels like a betrayal. I ask myself what I’m betraying, and the answer is norms. The answer is society. The answer was never me. If I am not the answer to my own question, perhaps I’m not the problem, and if I’m not the problem, it isn’t my responsibility to solve it. Stunting gender expression means other things can be stunted too. When roots are stifled in one space, I don’t know what other spaces are being blocked. That is to say that exploration is how people grow. To grow into oneself is an awkward, clunky process of trial and error, a repetitive flirtation with the unfamiliar until you hit that sweet spot. More and more, I shake off I’ll the masks I wore to pacify my ego and tip-toe toward these unknown sweet spots.
I like my hair long. The Cascades of unruly red curls suit me. I’m still unpacking the nervousness of flirting with the less conventional territory. I’m still trying to convince myself I don’t have to choose a lane. Nothing is set in stone, and if haircuts teach us anything, it is that most things grow back.