The Hair Experiment, Week 1

Week 1It took me a long time to come up with something to do for the new year. (Self-improvement being the go-to for change in the new year, perhaps needs examination, but that’s a project for another year.) I’m happy with my weight, I no longer smoke, I eat well, I have a good work/life balance (in that I work all the time, for almost no money, but I love what I do so it’s still satisfying). I floss my teeth, and I get regular sleep. I write every day or close to it. I read a LOT. I drink rarely. I spend lots of time with my husband and our two cats, and generally am pretty happy. (Ok, ok, my life is pretty awesome… I’ll shut up now.)

Now, a tangent. Since last year I’ve been thinking a lot about femininity, and feminism, and what that means to me as a writer. Actually, I’ve been thinking about these things for a long time. But it was in August, 2014, that I started thinking about what that meant in terms of hair. Thanks to a great month-long feature on the awesome blog Her Kind (powered by VIDA, the most badass feminist lit org out there). Check out some of the posts that started me thinking about this (or just look at everything they tagged with hair):

Ok, back to the new year new things thing. I decided that this year, I’m going to grow out my hair. And cut off all my hair. Stop shaving below the neck, and get “a boy haircut” as I described it to the stylist who gave it to me. Because, as I put it to my husband, “I think I’d rather write poetry than wash my hair.”

Now, let me tell you about the hair I’ve had. I had hair down to my hips until I was fifteen. I put purple streaks in it, and had dyed it all black (with a blond streak in the front) by the time I was sixteen. Then, one evening at a friend’s house, I decided to shave my head. I went from waist-length hair to a buzz-cut in under an hour. And I loved it. I dyed it purple, blue, black, green, pink, blond, black again, red, and even painted it in Christmas colors that year. Changing the color was easy, changing my look was fun. I started growing it out, but kept changing the colors. Red was my favorite, so I stayed in that family most of the time. Once, going from blue to pink, I left the bleach in too long and my hair came out in clumps as I rinsed the conditioner through, the texture of overcooked Angel Hair pasta. I called a friend at a salon, and the next day she gave me a mohawk. We dyed the hawk red, and the sides black.

A mohawk with curly thick hair—kinkier than it looks like it should be, evidence of my hispanic heritage, the exact same hair as my great-aunt Miriam, a full-fledged Puerto Rican whose face, figure, and hair were passed directly on to me—no easy task. I had to iron it flat, shape it with Elmers’ glue, and tons of Aquanet. That was a labor of love.

I’ve grown it back out, had it straightened and Little-Mermaid red, cut it all back off to get my natural color in there, and then dyed it red again. So I’m no stranger to drastic changes in my hair style. But each one of those decisions were made for purely aesthetic reasons. My goth period, my punk period, my “normal grad student” period, my “I’m a professional, I gotta look like one” period. My hair defined me, the way I saw myself, and the way I expected to be seen.

So as it got longer, and as my time got more and more precious this last year in MFA-Poetry-School, I started thinking about how much time and energy I’ve sunk into it. And how more and more I resented that time. Until finally I decided, spurred on by the conversation about hair and feminitity and ethnicity and aesthetics that had happened on Her Kind, that I wanted to see what changed if I cut it short, kept it short, cut out my hair-related grooming time (which was not insignificant, easily 5-7 hours a week).

Yesterday I got the shortest haircut I’ve ever had that wasn’t just a rebellious shaved-head. It’s shorter than even I anticipated going, but as Karen (my awesome punk stylist friend) cut more and more off I just wanted her to keep going. “What about this part,” she’d ask, running her fingers through the sheared remnants of my hair. “Just take it off.”

Things I noticed this first week after my haircut:

  • People didn’t look at me in the same way. Hard to describe – just a noticible difference
  • The adjectives my mom, friends, and husband used to describe it: cute and great
  • The adjectives my mom, friends, and husband used to describe me after the haircut: younger, stronger, bad-ass, striking
  • How long it took me to shower and wash my hair, and style it before the haircut: 1 hour, 20 minutes approximately
  • How long it took me to shower and wash my hair, and style it after the haircut: 10 minutes
  • My head is cold now, especially at night
  • When I turn my head I still use a torc that implies heavy curls of hair swinging around my face
  • The super-short hairs at the back of my head irritated my neck for the first few days
  • I have felt more required to put on mascara in the morning, to make me more “feminine”
  • The cute guy at the coffee shop told me it looked great, and I was pleased
  • I feel shorn, but also a little fierce, a little more bad-ass, than even when I had my mohawk
  • I have started wearing earrings in all three of my left-ear piercings (I suspect this is because I sort of remind me of Pat Benatar from the 80s, and for some reason the earrings reinforce that)

My husband, who’s never before been allowed to play with my hair (thick, curly, hard to manage = do not touch), is suddenly free to touch it as much as he wants. His observations were: 1. he has years of kissing and petting my hair to make up for, and 2. I definitely don’t have “white-girl hair” according to him. He hadn’t really noticed it before, but texturally, it’s quite different.

So week one of the hair experiment: I deem this a success. Also, I need a hat.


  1. Sounds fun and liberating! It also looks adorable.

    I’ve wanted for a long time to do the wild fun colors, but never did it for a multitude of reasons. Right now the reason is my job. But I’d love to do that someday.

  2. R

    I’ve known you twelve years. Not quite half my life, but close. I’ve loved you and every incarnation of your hair for every minute of that dodecade. You are fierce!

  3. Annie

    You look great! Having super short hair has been one of my best decisions — it’s super fast and easy, like you say, and just sort of freeing. I love that when I go to get it cut that I’m not particularly worried..there isn’t all that much there to cut off, so even if they did something “drastic” it would grow back pretty quick. Easy! 🙂

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