I await my turn as my sister’s whimpering cries travel down the corridor.
I am about to have my femininity stripped from me: I know what is coming and bracing myself, I close my eyes as my father’s heavy hands grab at chunks of my hair.
With tears streaming down my face, I watch as my hair drifts to the floor and disperses into fine pieces—no longer able to be retrieved or glued back, no longer part of me—the more he hacks into it, the more resistant my hair becomes—blunting the scissors, which makes for the worst kind of bowl cut with an uneven fringe.
My confidence is destroyed in this single moment, along with the carefree childhood I have known, up until this point.
Hair is something that we either love or battle with on a daily basis, and for most of us, there is an undeniable emotional relationship that we have with our hair.
Straight, thick, slippery and coarse, mine is defiant and unyielding to my needs and wishes—that being—the opposite of the thing I possess.
I love watching girls with ponytails that swing side-to-side as they walk, yet I forgo the ponytail because it is bad for my health; lest the weight of it pull tightly on my temples as if compressing my brain from the outside in—my hair must remain untethered, which brings me to the cycle of its growth.
Cut short, grown to mid-length and back again, my thoughts veer once more to the crop in a desperate bid for liberation from my unruly, mid-length woes.
Crops make for the day-to-day ease of styling, and (if it’s the right style) can make you feel instantly polished.
So, what’s stopping me this time?
As the chill factor prevails here in old NZ (and I reach for my woolen coat and scarf), I know that there is nothing like having longer locks languishing down the back of my neck, and (somewhat) serving to buffer the wind from attacking my face and ears, of which I fear the latter may transform into stalactites if left to an impending affront of the elements.
I also figure, why not be patient for once and let my hair do what hair does best—grow, not least because bohemian locks are so de rigueur.
But contemplating the value we place on our locks has also gotten me thinking about what hair really means to us and why we become so precious about letting go.
In my mind, hair is a ‘cultural signifier.’
Just as clothing identifies our roles in society; an attachment to a sub-culture (or music-listening preferences); a need to conform to a given environment, or a means of holding onto memories from a previous era, our hair—like our clothes—holds cultural weight.
My mother tells a story of my grandmother who cut her beautiful, long tresses on emigrating to New Zealand. For my grandmother, it was a time of transition as she entered a new country, with a culture so disparate and removed from her own.
With an urgency to adapt to her new surroundings, cutting her hair represented her willingness to transform herself as she psychologically prepared for impending change; it was a measure of her shifting identity and the act of cutting also freed her from the ties of cultural tradition (and its associated mores and values), as she embarked on a new life.
Not that she would leave her hair behind, in fact, her ponytail traveled with her as one of her precious belongings: a piece of herself that she would show her children one day so that they might understand something of her past, and the life that she left behind.
This story impresses upon me the freedom that we have to choose, and I find myself pondering the choices that I make about my own appearance and what it reflects about the kind of person that I am, or wish to become…and when I sit in the hairdresser’s chair, I am that little girl for a moment, wincing as the scissors make that initial cut.
Hair is precious, and the way in which we wear it says so much about what we hold onto, what we value, and what we’re prepared to let go.
So, to chop or not to chop, that is the question?
What is the most helpful thing a client can do before they head into a salon?
B: If you’re wanting a big change, always have a consultation first. This should be complimentary and will give you the confidence to proceed. Also get a quote so that you’re not left with any surprises at the end (especially if you’re having a major color done). The consultation is everything in a hair experience and we are here to make you feel pampered and beautiful, so if you don’t feel like that in your current salon, then change!
Once you’ve settled on a salon, tell your stylist if you have curly hair and it has been straightened, things like semi- permanent color, and if you have reacted to color before!
Is it best to bring in pictures of styles that I like, or just wing it on the day?
B: It does help if you have pictures of styles that you like and don’t like, just so that you and your stylist are on the same page.
Is it best to come with clean or unwashed hair?
B: There is no need to wash your hair, in fact, I love seeing hair a la natural! That way you can cut to the hair’s natural tendencies.
What do I do if I’ve moved to a new city and I don’t know where to go?
B: If you have moved towns and you’re stuck to find a good hairdresser, then just ask someone who works in a fashion shop or cafe, with hair that you like … word of mouth is the best way to find the best hairdressers!
How do I know if a stylist is right for me?
B: Gut feeling! You should always go to a hairdresser that suits you, because one thing I have learned is that you can’t please everyone. Don’t be afraid to change if it feels wrong either. Quite often it will be the salon’s vibe that is not right for you, but that’s the beauty of life … there is something out there for everyone!
And when it comes to a male or female hairdresser, some people just like males cutting their hair and other people like females, it’s that simple.