I Don't Care, It's Only Hair
By Kacie Rioux
The prized possession of most teenage girls is their hair. They spend hours blow-drying and straightening it, growing it out and braiding it, trying to figure out how to avoid bad hair days. But I was never one of those girls. Most mornings began in my crowded bathroom with the same question and answer session, "Mom, can you do my hair?" I would ask, interrupting her in the middle of her morning routine.
"What do you want me to do?" she asked as she glared at me in the mirror's reflection.
"I don't care, do whatever you want."
Luckily, my mom considered entering beauty school and is a capable hairstylist and most days I looked half-way decent. She was even able to transform me into the Bride of Frankenstein for Halloween by encasing a two-liter soda bottle in my hair. However, once I entered middle school and realized that I couldn't even put my hair up into a ponytail, let alone weave the intricate braids that my best friend Alex could, it was time to take matters into my own hands. If I couldn't take care of my fuzzy, brown, chest-length hair, I might as well cut it off to my shoulders.
And I did. Even though the morning traffic jam in the bathroom had ended, it didn't stop me from being a car crash when it came to hair care. I was branded by the straightening iron countless times for my mistakes, especially when I attempted to use the mirror to see the back of my head. Finally, I managed to perfect the Olympic ski jump style at the end of my hair and a new identity was in place for my upcoming high school adventures.
"I love your hair, it's so flippy!" said John, a boy in my seventh period religion class on the first day of high school.
In that moment, I became Kacie, "the girl with flippy hair." It was a distinguishing title since none of the other girls in my class looked anything like me. Before the homecoming dance, I realized just how much I stood out when my soccer teammates decided to get ready together. I put on my carefully selected outfit, applied a minimal amount of eyeliner and mascara, and re-flipped my hair and then I noticed that no one else was anywhere close to being ready. For the next hour, I had nothing to do but sit off by myself, occasionally glance at a mirror, and observe as my friends go through their extensive hair rituals. They spend almost an hour pulling back sections of their long blond or brown highlighted locks, pinning them back, and ruthlessly attacking frizz with their scorching straightening irons. I can't help but wonder if all of the extra time they spend really makes a difference.
However, later that night when my girlfriends disappeared to secret corners with boys, I glanced around the empty room and I began to wonder if I was really right about the importance of hair. As far as I could see, the only thing that separated or distinguished me from the rest of my friends was my hair length. Later that night when we returned and discussed our 'conquests' of the evening, I nervously hid behind my bangs and peeked out enviously at the smiling faces of my seemingly perfect, confident classmates.
Even though I may have been jealous of their success with boys, in the back of my mind I know that there is no way I am growing my hair out. There is no way in hell I am capable of committing to a hair routine like these girls have been practicing since they were three years old on their Barbie dolls. So I decided to cut it again. And again and then again until it is cropped right below my ears. It isn't so flippy anymore, but nevertheless my friend John in period seven religion took the time to lament the loss of my flippy locks almost every week.
Finally, freshman year was over. The time was right to take a break from the constant physical comparisons with my classmates and a summer of unemployment and the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seemed like the perfect way to take my mind off the stupid social conventions of my high school.
One lazy summer afternoon, I was flipping through a People magazine, ridiculing the blond, glamorous, California girl celebrities like Paris Hilton, who graced the pages as if they were doing their loyal subjects a favor, when suddenly my eyes were drawn to a picture of Michelle Williams. Her light blond hair was cut in a boyish way, similar to Peter Pan. This pixie hairstyle was something I had not witnessed on a girl who wasn't a homosexual and I could not stop staring at the page. Could this be my next look? I mean, most of my classmates probably already thought I was weird; why not shock them even more?
I decided to test the waters by asking my mom's opinion. After all, she knew my hair better than I did and could tell me if this style would work with my thick, unruly hair. I casually brought the magazine over to my mom and asked, "What do you think of her hair?"
"It's really cute!" she replied.
I was silent to contain my surprise and cautiously wondered aloud what I would look like with that hairdo. I intently stared at the picture as I anxiously waited for a reply, praying that she would say yes.
"I think that'd be great!" she said. "You should do what you want and be who you want to be. It doesn't matter what other people will think."
In spite of my mom's cliché advice, I was still worried. This would be a drastic change for me. Although I had been cutting my hair shorter and shorter, this style made me pause for a second. Where would I be able to hide? And worse, what if I looked like a boy or the Elise, the lesbian goalkeeper of our soccer team? In spite of my doubts, I knew that I would never know what I looked like until I tried it.
A few weeks later on July 6th, the day before my fifteenth birthday, my mom, grandma, sister, and I piled into the car for the 45 minute drive to the Maine Mall in Portland. In addition to all of the standard mall stores, the mall also had two or three hair salons. I hoped that one of these salons would have a stylist who would be my own fairy godmother, giving me the means to transform and transcend the status quo and define myself by my personality and not the length of my hair.
I had always wanted to go to Hair Excitement. With its wall of cascading water behind the reception desk and two aisles of gleaming black salon chairs, it had always seemed so elegant to me. I started to approach the desk and questions of doubt resurfaced inside me. Was this a good idea? What if the stylist made me look like a boy?
"Do you have any openings for a haircut today?" I asked nervously.
"Not for an hour," the well-manicured stylist replied.
We agreed to come back and we shopped around the mall for a while and my anxiety was building while I searched for the new Harry Potter video game for our Wii.
We came back and I met my stylist, Jessica. Right then, I knew I wasn't going to go through with it. Jessica's hair was blond and highlighted and extended all the way down to her black leather belt that matched her four-inch stilettos. Sitting in the chair and watching her heavily-bronzed face staring at me and feeling her talon-like nails running through my hair, my voice faltered as I tried to tell her what I wanted. She grimaced and as she attempted to talk me out of a pixie, I knew I couldn't let her cut it. If I let her chop it, it would be a disaster and the opposite of the chic, feminine style I adored. Luckily, my mom sensed my anxiety and I managed to escape from the salon chair without having a nervous breakdown.
I was feeling a lot less optimistic when we entered the next salon, Trade Secret. But my doubts quickly faded when we were greeted by Bob, a cheerful gay man in his forties who was sitting at the counter. When he asked if he could help us, I tentatively replied that I wanted a pixie cut. He was immediately enthusiastic. "Oh, a pixie cut" he exclaimed, "that will look so adorable on you!"
Right then my doubts were eliminated. As we chatted about the Rocky Horror Picture Show and VH1 reality TV while he styled my new look, I began to feel different. I could barely contain my excitement as I saw my new gamine appearance coming together in the mirror. Although most of my friends were receptive to my new look, a few, such as my friend Alex, could not understand what would have motived me to alter my appearance so drastically.
But I didn't care, it was only hair. As my peers got to know me, I was no longer Kacie, "the girl with flippy hair" or even "the girl with short hair" which might have been expected. I was Kacie, "the girl who makes delicious cookies," or Kacie, "the girl with cute clothes," and also Kacie, "the girl who will help you with your homework." I became an individual, and no matter how people saw me, I was finally able to be myself without fear of judgment.