I got my hair cut today. I was across the room — and directly in mirror view — of a girl, maybe 11 or 12, getting her own hair cut. From the looks of things, she was going from quite long hair — maybe skimming the bottom of her ribcage — to something much shorter, brushing along her upper back. At various points during the process, the stylist called the girl’s mother over to get input and approval for the girl’s hair choices. And yes, I could definitely tell from across the room that this girl had her own well-developed opinions about how her hair should look.
Once, Mom came over and said something like, “Too short.” In the mirror, I watched the girl huff and roll her eyes.
When I was young, my mom made me keep my hair short. When I started school — kindergarten or first grade instead of preschool — she made me cut it very short. A layered pixie cropped to my hairline all over, I’m sure it was actually cute enough in its own right — but I absolutely hated it. I was going through a phase where girls had long hair, and short hair meant it was a boys’ haircut, which I emphatically Did. Not. Want. Furthermore, my mother’s rationale — that short hair was easier to manage — made no sense to me as someone who was doing just fine brushing her own hair, thank you very much.
Why, yes, I was an impertinent little child. Why do you ask?
I finally received permission to start growing my hair long when I was nine or so. As soon as I could, I liked to wear ponytails; I liked the swishing, swinging thing they did. My mom didn’t exactly endorse this. She wanted me to wear my hair down now — because she thought it looked pretty, yes, but also because the amount of time my pre-teen self spent trying to brush back the perfect ponytail frustrated her. Understandably so.
Age eleven. Morning. Bad hair morning, to be specific. I was fighting a ponytail that just would not go. In tears, I scowled at my reflection in my bedroom mirror.
“Tori, just do it and let’s go!” Mom snapped at me from the hall. “We’re going to be late.”
“I hate my hair!” I screamed. “I’m going to cut it all off!”
Liking how those words felt — like agency, I’d later realize — I marched down to the kitchen, grabbed a pair of scissors from the junk drawer, and sheared my hair just above the ponytail holder. While I knew I was going to miss my long hair now that it was gone, it did at least feel good that I was the one who made it happen. I was calm.
My mother was not. Emphatically so.
Fourteen — no, fifteen. My hair was long again. And the same old dishwater blond it had always been.
I wanted different. I wanted color — bright color, unnaturally bright color. I wanted people to notice my hair.
I knew what would happen if I asked my mom about dyeing my hair, so I simply avoided that part of the equation. One day — home on spring break, I think — I walked to the drugstore and bought a box of something ridiculously red. Like, dyed with Magic Marker or with Kool Aid red.
I had applied, set, rinsed, cleaned up the bathroom, dried my hair, and done the laundry by the time Mom came home. I had also had the foresight to use the dog bath towels, so even if they were stained with dye — they were — she couldn’t reasonably complain about so very much.
When she saw me — four words, like I was the scolded puppy. “What did you do?”
The conversation with the stylist today.
“Do you want me to blow dry and round brush it for you?”
It’s at one of those places where styling is an extra five bucks on top of the haircut. It’s not that I mind paying for the service.
“Can you just blow it dry without using the round brush? I’d like to see what it looks like when it’s dry, but I don’t have a round brush at home. And I’d like to see how my hair is going to look when I do it.”
She looks skeptical. “Are you sure?”
Because that, and not any stylist magic, is a better approximation of the hair I’m going to live with for the next six to eight weeks.
She turns on the blow dryer.
And picks up the round brush anyway.