Lately, I look more than a bit like a mad scientist. It’s the hair, which sticks out every which way, and my hands, which inevitably find themselves twined into it; I’ve been growing the stuff out and it’s at the perfect fiddling length, which lends well to pulling it into Einstein-ian configurations. Between the actual hair itself and my constant, distracted futzing with it, I’m wearing the slightly demented, vague air of disrepute that I suppose settles into most artists as time passes.
My hair has always been important to me- symbolic, heavy, significant. It confused and confounded my mother, who had thin, straight blonde hair. A source of embarrassment and shame when growing up, my hair is dark, thick, very curly, and was one of the key features that set me apart from my family of origin, although through a regimen of wet-brushing and braiding my mother kept it so tamed for the beginning of my life that I didn’t recognize it as curly until I was twelve or so. (Sleepovers are amazing things. Also, don’t brush curly hair, y’all. That’s a mess and it makes kids cry.)
I didn’t start to get a handle on this stuff until high school, and ever since, I’ve been mostly letting it run riot. It’s happiest that way. My father says this mop likely comes from his mother, but I didn’t meet him until I was in my early twenties, so growing up it was just this mystery perched on top of my head. Certainly, though, that fact might help explain why it was so universally disliked in my childhood home.
I tell people that I have two settings when it comes to my hair: mid-back, and so short you could barely call it a pixie. The truth is that there’s a lot that happens in the two years between those two, so how could that statement be completely accurate? Those are my two set points, though: the spaces where I tend to linger, my comfortable spots. I’ll wear a mane for half a decade, then suddenly think that I haven’t really seen my face in far too long and feel like I need a shearing.
I haven’t gotten a haircut since at least August of last year, possibly July. I’d usually get trims to shape my hair as I went along, working the process, but this time I felt resistance every time I went to schedule the call, which I couldn’t quite decipher. I let it go, didn’t call and got shaggy around the ears, wore hats and tried not to care. The nice thing about having curls is you can hide some degree of hair bullshittery with the texture.
By the time December rolled around, I’d really committed to The Thing, and I’d also started looked like a member of an English boy band from the 1960s, when they weren’t even calling them boy bands (but we all know, we know). I didn’t feel like I could turn back at that point: where was this going? How bad could it get?
The answer is: pretty damn bad, actually: January was a rough look. The ‘do has currently resolved into what I think passes for a pretty lovely halo of curls most mornings, but I was definitely flying on faith, a lack of shits to give, and my deep love of handknit hats last month. Sam commented that he didn’t know where all the hats came from, but he wasn’t sure if he saw the same one twice, and then I knit another one for myself that month, too, just to make things more confusing.
I’ve finally made an appointment to see someone and make myself look presentable because I am a grownup (with grown up responsibilities). Also winter is ending, apparently a little sooner than we all expected, taking with her all her many and myriad hat possibilities. I really didn’t want to make this appointment. I sat down to explore that a little, and realized how attached I’d become to the idea of this hair growth as an exploration of my natural body. Finally, something, anything about my body was being allowed to do whatever it was that it did, alone and unassisted, and I felt reluctant to put an end to that. That silly thought experiment, started in late winter, had internally snowballed into something much more significant while I wasn’t paying attention.
Occasionally, I’ll talk or write about the way constantly being on medication makes me feel a little disconnected from my body. Gabapentin was definitely one of the worst offenders in this department, but I still take muscle relaxers every day, and Topamax* isn’t my favorite medication ever, either (although I’m very grateful for its ability to keep migraines at bay). There’s also something very foreign and disconcerting about not knowing my body and what it is experiencing due to being medicated at all times, although I’m conflicted about that, of course. That’s obviously something I’m trying to avoid living, but not having that information is also… strange. It’s hard to explain, but outside of both sides of my family having deep histories of addiction, I think this desire to remain as connected with my body as possible is also a large part of why I don’t really drink, why I prefer my medical marijuana CBD-based, and why I avoid opioid medications.
This hair thing, it snuck up on me. Without the restrictions of a formal office environment or dress code, I was able to just let my body be itself in this one small way. This isn’t something that happens very often in my life, and especially not last year, which was full of baseline testing for the new MS center I’d begun to work with; they’re a lovely place, don’t get me wrong, but that entire process is just grueling, and I finished all that up feeling a little dehumanized and burnt out. Witnessing one process which was not medically quantified was liberating and gave me a sense of space regained. There’s a real feeling of ownership, too, and connection, as month to month this turns into something that looks less like an overgrown buzz cut and more into a heap of curls: I remember this hair, my hair, which looks just like my daughter’s hair. This is ours. Lately, I think about how it was my paternal grandmother’s hair, too- I didn’t know her, but there she is, popping quite literally up up up, because that’s genetics.**
It’s funny how once a personal mythology is recognized, it can become less or even entirely not essential; I’m still far too emotionally connected to my hair as a symbol, certainly (that’s an attachment) but no longer attached to the idea that not cutting it somehow equates regaining control over my body in that or any significant way. I am glad to have had the kindness to give myself that space, though, and to have had the luxury to have enjoyed a sense of play with the entire thing. Appearance is supposed to be largely about play, isn’t it?
As always, would love to hear thoughts; I know with certainty I’m not the only person with complicated feelings on hair, or bodily autonomy, out there.
*Botox still gives me a funny feeling in the middle of my chest- I just get all tight when I hear the word botulism, it isn’t logical but it’s my bias and I’ll at least own it, I suppose? I’m very interested in the new research showing good results using TMS for migraines.
**Side note: I did one of those genetics projects recently with the University of Michigan, has anyone else done that or anything like it?