Many legends, myths, religions and spiritual traditions consider hair to be the source of power and believe that to cut it is to cut one’s power. Some see it as the vital font of intuition or a sixth sense. According to this article in the Jewish Daily Forward, Rastafarians consider hair to be their connection to God, calling their long dreadlocks “God antennae.” Sikhs allow their hair to grow naturally as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God’s creation. Ancient Middle Eastern tradition includes offering hair for religious rites in place of human sacrifice and the fulfillment of vows. Samson lost his battle when his hair — the secret source of his power — was cut. There are also similar Indigenous North American beliefs about the power of hair.
My own person experience has been the opposite.
It was Spring 2003.
Defiantly, I walked the last few steps up to the old, yellow house. Pausing on the porch landing I took in the season’s decorations. Soft white and green blossoms, arching branches of small bright leaves, pastel ribbons tying them all together, gathering them up and spilling with them down the sides of the brick wall, across the planters, entwining them along the railing.
Smiling and thinking to myself that Pierre never misses an opportunity to spruce up the ornaments, I pushed the door open and walked into the little hair salon. The door slammed shut behind me with finality.
And that was it. When I emerged forty-five minutes later, I was a new person. Easy enough once the decision had been made.
I have always been the type of person to weigh up all the sides of a decision, to agonize over what to do, to take my time. And then after that kind of a commitment, once my mind is made up, I come across as stubborn to outsiders. Unmoveable. Like the Taurus I am.
When I told people I was cutting off all my hair, they balked.
“It’s not feminine,” they warned.
“I wouldn’t have the guts.”
One friend was genuinely concerned and despaired that I would be cutting off my source power.
I couldn’t explain it, but I knew it was the right decision and I wasn’t worried about my power. In fact, I had the sense that I would somehow gain a new power in doing this.
Though never a vain or preening type of person, I had envied other girls their perfect hair when I was growing up. And accordingly, I had tried to grow my hair like theirs. I imagined it could one day be flowing, straight, perfect.
But mine wasn’t that type of hair. My hair was thin, whispy, frizzy and flat at the same time. It turned out in all the wrong places, and it turned in in all the wrong places. The cowlick over my forehead disrupted its cascade (cascade may be too flattering a word) down the left side of my face. It was all wrong.
I had tried blow drying it, straighteners, anti-frizz products, volumizing products, and all manner of shampoos. But it was never right and it always took up far too much of my thoughts and my time.
It simply wasn’t me – not the hair I was trying to grow and not the amount of time I spent on it.
My mother had always cautioned me against trying to be someone I wasn’t. She was speaking generally, not specifically about my hair’s length, but it certainly applied to length, as well as colour, cut, not to mention clothes, makeup – pretty much anything, really.
If you try to be someone else, that person with the perfect hair for example, you will forever be frustrated and your thoughts will be jumbled, focused on the wrong things.
You will not be comfortable with yourself, because you will not be you.
In cutting my hair, I realized that power comes from within. And it comes from embracing your true self. From finally learning not to try to be like anyone else.
You can’t hide behind short hair. You are thrust, face first, out into the world. And that, too, can be empowering.
The day I emerged from the salon with short hair, my head felt lighter, my step surer, my smile brighter.
It took some time to work out how, or whether, I needed to change my style of clothes or my makeup. In the end I found I did not.
Sure, there were days I wondered whether I looked like a boy. Or like my elderly grandmother and great aunt, both of whom had had very short hair for as long as I had known them.
But these insecurities were fleeting.
My mother is stunningly beautiful and she has also had short hair for most of her life, though not as short as mine.
And once I had gone through with the cut, I was told time and time again that my hair really suited me. I’ve been stopped on the street in New York, at the UN in Geneva, and in my own city, and asked where I get my hair cut (of course I pass on the compliments to the man who actually works his magic!).
People have said they wish they could cut their hair short like I did but that it wouldn’t suit them. Still others have actually gone through with it, and thanked me afterwards for the inspiration.
My mother smiled one day over lunch and said, “I always wanted you to cut your hair like this when you were younger, but you never would. You always wanted long hair but this is really you.”
I guess ultimately, if I think about it, I do agree with all the myths and legends. Power does come from the hair.
But in a different way.
Only if it reflects your true self, if you are able to thrust your face forward into the world, honestly and openly, and say “this is who I am.”
Other than that, it doesn’t matter whether it is long or short.
Thank you to Jen Maidenberg for the great writing prompt. I hope this answers your question.
Coincidentally, this post also responds somewhat to today’s daily prompt, which asks bloggers to “describe your style, if you have one, and tell us how appearance impacts how you feel about yourself.”