Guest Post by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser
The haircut came suddenly late at night, fueled by the bug scampering across a piece of tissue paper after I’d dislodged it from my head with the Cadillac of nit combs. My head had been itching rather terribly all day and upon learning that my daughter’s head was scratchy and the preschool teachers were suspect, I ignored the mess (although I was quite fearful) and powered through the meeting I had to attend at the high school. As soon as it was over, I took comb to scalp, saw bug, and called upon husband to take clippers to my head.
My hair had fallen rather haphazardly around my shoulders.
A day later, hand-in-hand with my daughter—her hair also buzzed—we were a spectacle (it seemed onlookers wondered who’d gotten chemo, and I am not saying this in jest).
As sudden and dramatic as the buzz cut was, I think that having my hair go grey in my thirties—and then going cold turkey on hair dye—was a much more difficult process for me. From fear of grey to the block of silver that grew in day-by-day when I stopped dyeing my hair over the ensuing 18 months, I kept having to contemplate my hair: the vanity and the chasing away of something that really just happens to be less about age than genetics, but feels so much about age, and how women are treated and who dyes and who goes natural… and, yeah. That’s a whole epic tale.
Along with ditching the hair dye, I left the salon and became a DIY haircutter, mind you not a great haircutter, just a self-sufficient one. I am not a terribly crafty person. So, one advantage of my new haircut was that my husband buzzes hair better than I cut it.
To some degree, I’d separated vanity from hair when I given up dyeing and professional cuts. I’d accepted grey, ragged hair. I’d decided hair didn’t matter that much to me. The other, very odd development the buzz cut wrought is that without so much hair, there’s still a lot of brown hair going on. I’m far less grey. Ah, but having less grey is thrilling.
Meantime, those who love my shorter hair simply love it; those who don’t focus upon how sorry they are about what happened. As for me, I don’t think my haircut is pretty; I think it’s handsome.
Handsome is a tricky concept. Why, if the haircut is better and I feel freed of so much grey, do I not feel pretty? I prefer my short hair. I feel relieved to be less encumbered by thick but straggly hair. I feel serviceable. I feel that short hair suits me, but by suits me, I go to handsome and not pretty.
Long hair is pretty, like all those actresses with loads of cascading, shining hair. I’ve totally given up on pretty. I don’t think or didn’t think I was invested in pretty, yet having ditched it I feel a little bit defeated. My stereotyping about femininity is much more deeply engrained than the feminist in me would like to admit and my self-esteem around appearance is in the red zone.
Mind you, I’m not saying short hair is ugly. Short hair at its best is provenance of cool or cute or classy, the Michelle Williams or Anne Hathaway pixies, or the Dame Judi Dench silver chic, the indie rocker chick. I don’t see myself as cool or cute or classy or indie rocker. My kids are too big to qualify me for a mom cut. I’m not a tomboy. I haven’t switched teams (although the cut has been very much lesbian-approved—and full disclosure, admired by every French friend I have). What it feels like I’ve done is say to myself that I’m too old for long hair. And I’m not saying my short hair is ugly, either (I don’t think it is).
At once I feel better—short hair feels authentic and comfortable and I’m happy to have a bracelet around my wrist rather than an elastic hair holder—and worse. I’m not going to be a pixie or a hip girl or Dame Judi or some cool middle-aged indie rocker gal. I’m just going to be plain old me. It’s like I was waiting for the possibility of something—or maybe someone—else. I am plain old me. And as plain old me, I realize I have to shirk labels and figure out how to feel good about the gal in the mirror. The haircut unearthed just how much humbling, frustrating work lies ahead. I’m alternately daunted and psyched. It just depends what I see when the reflection of plain old, shorthaired me stares back.
This is a series about women and their hair. We’d love submissions on the evolution about your hair. If you’re interested, send a submission to hayleykrischer [at] gmail [dot] com.