For months I’ve been really sick of my long hair – what a pain it was, no longer a match for my face or my life in general, really. At 48, I’m not doing that thing I see some middle-lifers do when they panic and start trying to look younger in ever more desperate and demeaning ways. So I’m about as low-maintenance as I can be without going full hobo. And even that is up for consideration some days.
So until yesterday, my hair was hanging down past my bra strap line on my back. Cute look if you’re 20. At my age, No Bueno. Even still, I kept procrastinating, and it was always falling in my face and eyes and mouth and I couldn’t even turn over in bed at night without it kinda wrapping around my neck low-key choking me.
I yearned for long hair for years and years, but it just stubbornly refused to cooperate and grow longer than my shoulders, until I had my first child at age 25 and I guess my hormones gave me a break and I finally got it, and it was glorious. I mean it was like waking up in a Pantene commercial. So, of course, I didn’t hesitate to spend the big bucks for highlights, conditioning treatments, regular blow-outs, the whole shebang.
Eventually, it just got old. The upkeep, my hair, and me.
I’m not sure when, but sometime in the past couple of years, I realized it just doesn’t matter to me anymore. I kept up the blonde, thanks to Revlon ColorSilk (just as good as Loreal and less than three dollars at my Kroger!), until last fall, I inexplicably grabbed a box of 47 Medium Rich Brown.
And that was that.
* * *
So I was brunette after being blonde since 1989. I loved it, I felt it suited me. But I kept putting off getting a trim – I hadn’t done the salon thing in years by this point, so I just kept tying up the whole mess of it up on top of my head and swearing at it.
I was out running errands yesterday and I passed by a Great Clips, one of those bargain haircut chains. The kind of place I wouldn’t have come within 10-feet of during my Pantene Hair Commercial days (sigh. what a waste). And then with the same deep, thoughtful consideration I’d put into my drastic color change last year (zero), I quickly made a U-turn and pulled my car into an empty space right in front of the door. I suddenly felt giddy, I was so ready for this.
So I walk in and lucky me! – no customers, just five very young, friendly female hair stylists with sweet rainbow hair. They greet me, ask what they can do for me today, I grab a thick rope of my hair on the side – it’s really longer than I realized – it’s halfway down my back – good God.
“I’m ready to CHOP THIS OFF,” I tell them with a laugh. “I don’t mean like a boy, but just, a lot shorter. Not all the way to a bob but definitely above my shoulders.”
We discuss back and forth, it’s fun having all five of them pitch in with ideas and stuff.
I reassure that I am very low-maintenance after they ask if I want them to use a hot iron or something. No, I just want a wash-n-go style, but please do use a hair dryer on it today. That part always feels nice, so yeah.
Led by pale-pink-haired Alexa, who is cute as a button – back to the wash basins, ahhhh, I love this part so much! (Realizing how old-ladyish I am now because to me, anyone younger than about 35 is now “cute,” “adorable,” or “precious” – and I actually mean it.)
The music they had playing seemed, while odd for the age demo of the stylists, very fitting. Hits from roughly the time I was finally getting my hair “just right” in my 20s – Alanis Morissette – “You Oughta Know” and then REM “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” etc.
The ritual of being seated in front of the shampoo basin, the step bar to rest my feet, getting a warm fluffy towel wrapped around my neck, doing the half recline and leaning my head back, the very familiar and wonderful sound of the water hose thing violently coming to life with the psshhhhhhht-PSHHHHHT, followed by the gentle gurgling of water flowing around the basin is music to my ears. Alexa asks me if I have water temp requests – I say honestly I don’t care, and my scalp is not sensitive, so whatever is fine.
I give her my usual warning for stylists about how my hair falls out in sheets thanks to all the strong drugs and chemo in my system, along with my standard “don’t worry not cancer chemo it’s for…” (and then I just kinda trail off and change the subject because no one likes illness-talk, especially me, why do I have to make things awkward gahhhhhhh).
Now it’s the best part, the cool/warm/hot/cool/cold water sensations with the gentle scalp massage – heaven on earth. The shampoo smells delicious, like grape Hubba Bubba, and the fluorescent lights overhead beam down through my closed eyelids with starburst-like pink and yellow spots.
God, what pure sensation.
What’s odd is that I do not like being touched by people, but getting my hair shampooed is a major exception – it’s divine.
Then comes let-down of “Ok you can sit up now.”
Next, I’m sitting in the barber chair, while Alexa grabs the plastic-sheet-cape thing, shakes it out, flares it dramatically and wraps it around my neck and shoulders like a pro. That part always makes me smile, but then….
…the familiar dread of facing the mirror with hair slicked back and wet, bags under eyes and makeup-less face, harsh lighting – it’s a horror show. I don’t dwell on it, it was a horror show even when I was young and pretty – it’s just not a good look for anyone, honestly.
Chop chop chop – I close my eyes for the actual cut as we do the stylist/customer typical chit-chat – I try to not be too chatty bc I think God they must hate talking to strangers all day long (projection? I would hate it), on the other hand, all the girls are kinda standing around me in a circle, it’s comical really. We do chat about hair color – I comment on the girls’ hair colors and how pretty they look, how my daughter would love it, blah blah – talk about my struggles trying to find the right shade of brunette for myself after decades of blonde.
I tried to crack a joke about not wanting to go too dark and end up looking like “Elvira” – whoosh – they had blank looks (I really aged myself with that cultural reference) and Elvira is hard to explain so I just kind of trailed off with that – and God they look like babies to me, did I say that already? Well, they did.
“Ok, how is this?” she asks – so I turn and hold up the hand mirror to see back of my hair. It’s now at my shoulders. I don’t even pause.
“More off, please.”
Snip snip snip…another inch or two. Perfect.
A glop of sweet delicious apple scented “product” in her palm, now in my damp hair – nom nom nom, scrunch scrunch scrunch – then blow drying – the heat feels fantastic and I almost fall asleep in the chair.
Suddenly the dryer shuts off, and I’m startled back to full consciousness. I look at the back of my hair in the mirror again – it’s barely under my chin now and hasn’t been this short since I was a child. I love it. Ok, it does look a bit like Prince Valiant from the back, but I don’t ever see the back so I don’t care (also, in Alexa’s defense, I had requested no layers).
For a few moments, I look hard into the mirror – the eyes of the woman staring back at me look content, calm – happy even.
“Perfect,” I say. Smiles all around.
I grab my handbag, head to the register – holy crap this was just 19 bucks, what a bargain! My mind flashes with a cringe in my gut at how much I used to throw at salons. I wouldn’t call it “regret,” really – it’s just bizarre, I guess. I give Alexa a large tip and thank her, then head out the door to the cheerful goodbyes/have a nice day calls of the young ladies.
* * *
I get into my car feeling like I just cleaned out ten closets. It feels so wonderful to be free from those long strands that had, at some unrecalled point in my early 40s, transformed from my “dream hair” into a (literal, at times) rope around my neck.
On my way home I kept thinking “this is my Fresh Start.” I love fresh starts. And I really did need one.
A new haircut typically is kind of a fresh start – usually wonderful, with some horrific exceptions ( like when a non-English speaking stylist butchered my hair into a mullet a week before my senior year in high school because my dramatic hand gestures apparently said “mullet” to her mind. I hid in my closet and sobbed for…well quite a while).
Anyway, no mullet this time. It’s simple, almost boring, really. Perfect, in other words. It’s kind of incredible how little I even care about my hair anymore after a lifetime of obsession over it. It’s so refreshing – emotionally and physically.
No more desire to have the “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” shampoo-commercial hair, at long last. No more desire to look a certain way at all. It’s suddenly only about how I feel. I don’t know exactly when this happened, but the haircut made it official.
I’m free. And it has everything and nothing to do with my hair.