“Are you excited?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re not gonna cry on me, are you?”
My hairdresser was starting to sound a bit like Pat Summitt, and it was working. Of course I wasn’t going to cry. I’d never cried before, and I certainly wasn’t going to now that she had said something.
“Do people normally cry on you?” I asked.
“No, but when I cut all my hair off, I cried because I’m a baby.”
“Oh. Well, I’ve done this two other times, and I didn’t cry, so I’m probably good.”
Like Pat Summitt, this young girl with blond hair was coaching me woman to woman. Unlike Pat Summitt, she didn’t know it. (And she also didn’t yell at me.)
Over the years I’ve been told I have enough hair for about three people, and while I’ve managed it at several different lengths, the last shearing took place almost seven years ago, so before I hopped in the hairdresser’s chair, my longest layer almost reached my hips. I’d begun to feel a bit like the illustration I saw as a child of Della from O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” where she could drape her hair around herself like a cape. About every six months I’d have the dead ends trimmed, but the thought of whacking it off again for Locks of Love or even my own comfort in the humid summer months almost brought me to tears. And I was afraid of those tears. Of course that felt ridiculous, who (for the exception of Anne Shirley when she died her hair green) cried over dead protein that would grow back? It was no longer a preference for me, but a security. The only physical thing about myself that I’d ever been the least proud of was my hair. I thought I had grown out of the teenage girl insecurities about my appearance and grown content with not being someone who turns heads. When I introduced people to my mother and sister, they always marveled over how beautiful they were, and I was proud for them. (Of course I also started to realize how surprised they sounded, and thought, “Okay, I’m not that bad to look at am I?”) I’d surpassed the age of not being able to look myself in the eye and entered the age of That’s not so bad. on some days and Wow, I look like death warmed over. Guess I need to drink more water. on others. Normal was okay. But I wanted to stay normal. I’d gained weight my last year of college after three very disciplined years, and it stuck during my not-so-disciplined years of teaching. People complimented my hair more than anything, and shorter hair would make me look heavier, I just knew that. Plus, I had to admit, it did lay rather well.
But I wasn’t enjoying something God had given me, I was relying on it as “my one beauty” “the only thing I got” with the attitude of “Yeah, and knowing my luck, God’ll give me cancer, and I’ll lose it all.”
Several years ago, I began to realize that if I was too scared to do something, then that might be a good indication that I should. (Within the realm of common sense, of course.) I’d forgotten that quiet resolve over the past several years and only remembered it recently while contemplating some life goals. A little voice had been telling me that I was too attached to my hair and needed to cut it off to show myself that it wouldn’t, in the words of Jo March, “affect the fate of the nation.”
So last week, that little nudge returned while I was running errands, and I found myself in the hairdresser’s chair with two long braids and a girl telling me I probably had about twenty inches. I thought about the episode of the Waltons we watched as a family a few weeks ago in which Olivia (the mother) decides she wants to change herself and ends up with a disastrous haircut and permanent wave.
“Have you told anyone?” the girl asked me.
“Oh, good. So it’ll be a surprise.”
I didn’t tell her my brothers don’t like change. Normally that wouldn’t bother me, but I knew that if I didn’t like it and then I went home to incredulous stares and “You cut your hair?” then I’d have an embarrassing meltdown. Again, I was afraid of those tears, and as the hairdresser shaped my left-over tresses, I though the severed braids in front of me looked like the makings of a hunting trophy for a decapitated Pippi Longstocking. (Or, since they were brown, Laura Ingalls.)
Of course, the girl did a good job, I didn’t cry, and the only people who noticed the loss of over a foot of hair were my mom and sister. My head felt lighter, and so did my heart.
Before I sound overly pious about “conquering my hair,” let me share a quote from my darling Mr. Lewis:
Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or hellish creature.
Of course long hair or even liking my hair wasn’t a sin. But to be actually afraid to cut it off, to believe the lies that it was “all I had” and that God would want to squash anything good I possessed for the heck of it, to be unwilling to give something of mine to someone else who needed it—those things presented a problem. It wasn’t a sacrifice, like Della or Jo March; or a natural consequence for a foolish action, as it was with Anne Shirley; nor was it an attempt to change myself and be a little rebellious, as it was with Olivia Walton; but it was a tiny liberation, a tiny little twist in my soul.
I’ve included below some quotes from both Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, as well as a link to O. Henry’s story “The Gift of the Magi” and Olivia’s episode of the Walton’s.
from Little Women
“Your hair! Your beautiful hair!”
“Oh, Jo, how could you? Your one beauty!”
As everyone exclaimed, and Beth hugged the cropped head tenderly, Jo assumed an indifferent air, which did not deceive anyone a particle, and said, rumpling up the brown bush and trying to look as if she liked it, “It doesn’t affect the fate of the nation, so don’t wail, Beth. It will be good for my vanity, I was getting too proud of my wig. It will do my brains good to have that mop taken off; my head feels deliciously light and cool, and the barber said I could soon have a curly crop, which will be boyish, becoming, and easy to keep in order. I’m satisfied, so please take the money and let’s have supper.”
“Didn’t you feel dreadfully when the first cut came?” asked Meg, with a shiver.
“I took one last look at my hair while the man got his things, and that was the end of it. I never snivel over trifles like that. I will confess, though, I felt queer when I saw the dear old hair laid out on the table, and felt only the short, rough ends of my head. It almost seemed as if I’d an arm or leg off. The woman saw me look at it, and picked out a lock for me to keep. I’ll give it to you, Marmee, just to remember past glories by, for a crop is so comfortable I don’t think I shall ever have a mane again.
…but Meg lay awkae, thinking the most serious thoughts she had ever known in her short life. Jo lay motionless, and her sister fancied that she was asleep, till a stifled sob made her exlaim, as she touched a wet cheek—
“Jo dear, what is it? Are you crying about father?”
“No, not now.”
“My—my hair!” burst out poor Jo, trying vainly to smother her emotion in the pillow.
from Anne of Green Gables
“Please cut it off at once, Marilla, and have it over. Oh, I feel that my heart is broken. This is such an unromantic affliction. The girls in books lose their hair in fevers or sell it to get money for some good deed, and I’m sure I wouldn’t mind losing my hair in some such fashion half so much. But there is nothing comforting in having your hair cut off because you’ve dyed it a dreadful color, is there? I’m going to weep all the time you’re cutting it off, if it won’t interfere. It’s such a tragic thing.”
“I never thought I was vain about my hair, of all things, but now I know I was, in spite of its being red, because it was so long and thick and curly. I expect something will happen to my nose next.”
Link to O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”
Link for Olivia Walton, “The Rebellion”
Images of Olivia Walton were taken from http://www.allaboutthewaltons.com.
 Louisa May Alcott, Little Women. (Signet Classics: New York, 1983), 150.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. (Harper Collins: New York, 1980), 119-120.
 Alcott, 150.
 Ibid., 151-152.
 Ibid., 152.
 Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. (Harper Collins: New York, 1999), 278.