A dramatic haircut is legendary for changing your mood, but who knew it could change the way you feel about your body? In this month’s “Life with the Girls,” Suzan Colón had to let go of her hair to regain the sense of control she had been missing.
I have a friend who used to patiently listen to me complain about one thing after another. When I was finally done, she’d say, “But the important thing is, your hair looks great.”
My hair has always been one of my most noticeable features. When I was little, that mass of dark waves almost overwhelmed my face, and certainly overwhelmed my Mom when she tried to detangle me every night. As I got older, I grew to like my big, wild hair; it was boho, it had personality, and it equalized my figure, evening out my full hips and small breasts.
This past summer, my feelings about my hair, and myself, changed drastically. A work project ran into problems I could not fix. A family member had a health crisis, and I began making trips, two hours each way, to visit. The weather got hotter, and as the heat index rose, so did my hair’s frizz index. I was somewhere in between a chic spring bob and my usual shoulder-length hair, so I couldn’t tie it back. Heaps of waves sat on my head like an overheated sheepdog, getting in my eyes, refusing to be styled and generally driving me crazy. Each morning, after trying and failing to make my hair look presentable, I’d sigh and slouch in defeat, my breasts almost hidden in the posture of despair.
My husband was the one who suggested I cut my hair off. He’d found an old photo of me with a pixie cut, which I had gotten after a poorly done bob. In the picture, taken during a far calmer summer years ago, I was sitting tall and smiling widely. I looked balanced. I looked happy. I looked like me.
Two days later, I left a salon minus seven inches of hair and, it seemed, seven layers of angst. This new pixie cut was cool, neat, feminine. The longer part on top swayed with the breeze, but otherwise it maintained its composure. It acted the way I wanted to be. I felt myself standing taller, my chest out, my heart light.
The boost in my spirits from my new haircut spread into a renewed sense of joy about all the rest of me. I’d thought my small-on-top, wide-on-bottom shape would resemble a bowling pin without my big hair. I was gleefully wrong. When I put on a push-up bra, I suddenly had a 1950s-era hourglass silhouette. A barely-there bralette imparted a French gamine vibe. I had far more options than I’d thought. And interestingly, while I looked very different, I felt more at home than I had in a long time.
Most people assumed I’d cut my hair off because short hair is just easier to deal with during a difficult time. I can’t deny that part; with a pixie, bedhead is a memory to laugh about. Each morning, I woke up with pretty much the same perfect hair I’d gone to sleep with. But I could’ve achieved the same ease with a military buzz cut. It wasn’t about simplicity (though that was a great byproduct). This cut was very flattering and pretty, which gave me a much-needed lift. More important, it was something I had done for myself during a time when I felt I had no control over my own self, let alone my own life.
“We can’t rely on external conditions to give us our sense of self”
Turns out my new confidence wasn’t about changing my hair, or the magical effects of a new bra, or my looks at all. The real meaning was in taking a step to find equilibrium in a time that had shaken me out of what I knew and found comfortable. It was taking that step, not my perception of the results, that made me feel stronger. Steadier.
Sometimes, the world around us is going to rock and roll; we may wake up and not recognize the landscape we’re in. We can’t rely on external conditions to give us our sense of self. At times like these, doing anything that brings you back home to yourself is how to create calm in the eye of a storm. You actually can stand tall there.