Words by Sami Ross
There comes a time in every child’s life when their family pushes them out of the nest- or rather, sends them into the salon by themselves. The salon chair may very well be the first throne we sit on. Once settled in, with a robe thrown over you, the power to determine your fate lies in your hands- and a stylist’s willing shears.
At age 10, my frazzled mother sent me into our local salon alone for a quick trim. One hour and four inches of knotty curls later, my quick trim had turned into a drastic transformation. Or rather, an ill-advised pageboy haircut. My family was left aghast, but I was still innocent enough to be immune to vanity. The experience had made an impression on me. Change your hair, change your life.
Next came the quintessential zebra highlights of 2002, frizzy side ponytails, and I even gave the straightener a whirl before singeing my ears one too many times. It seemed like I couldn’t control my weight, my algebra grade, or my relationship status, but I could shuffle in a new “era” with a simple flip of my part.
I always enjoyed a good bout of experimentation, but it wasn’t until college when I realized that changing my appearance could affect a lot more than my wardrobe color scheme. Up until my sophomore year, I had only dabbled with a few pastel streaks here and there. However, after my first real, tortured breakup with Whatshisname The First, I knew I needed to put a stake in the ground. Though the details feel fuzzy to me now, at the time I felt prickly and detached from myself. Who was I before this whole love thing? Where was that girl now? I wouldn’t have expected to find the answers at the bottom of a highly suspicious bottle of bleach, but somehow, the three-hour dye session didn’t just turn my head magenta- it cleared it.
It was like I had found the restart button to, well, myself. My physical transformations weren’t meant to act as a disguise, but rather to signify a return to my personal square one.
In my early twenties, I fell into a pattern. Bad boyfriends were washed down the drain alongside lavender soapsuds. Tough client at work? Slap some bubblegum pink on my yellowing strands and I’d rediscover that long-lost pep in my step. Some people pay for therapy, I preferred to demolish my demons with top shelf chemicals. As my vision grew, as well as my budget, I found that I had discovered a shinier, more vibrant version of myself- making it much easier to lick my wounds and move forward.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling yourself, but when an inner transformation relies on an outer appearance... chances are, things may go awry. Since those early days of my controversial pageboy haircut, I had racked up more hairdos than don’ts. It’s pretty easy to like yourself when positive attention starts pouring in just when you needed it most. I thought that I was strong enough for a misstep- no risk, no reward! However, I never thought about how I’d feel if that misstep happened just as everything in my life started to fall apart, too.
I’ll give you the short version. Girl meets boy. Girl and boy fall in love. Boy throws her heart into a fiery dumpster. The story ends just as the pair makes a cross-country move- separately. Two of the shortest, yet longest, years of my life ended with me living alone in a new city. It was a beautiful and exciting time, however, I felt like I was “playing” happy and was afraid I’d never return to who I was before. Naturally, my instincts led to me to the hair salon where I chose my traditional pink, along with a not-so-traditional chop. Twenty years later, I was returning to my humble beginnings and asking for a pageboy cut, or as we say in 2018, a curly long-bob.
It wasn’t the stylist’s fault, but the result was less of a self-love high-five and more of an “Oh SH*T!” Instead of finding myself, I didn’t know what to think when I looked in the mirror. I couldn’t believe my friends when they said they liked the cut. I would bashfully, and even apologetically, warn Bumble dates that my hair might not be what they expected. I cared more than ever about what my ex thought. I wasn’t sure if I was temporarily broken or just a total stranger.
So, I stayed in and I wrote. I wrangled my hair back with about three-hundred bobby pins and joined a gym. I went to concerts. I read alone at coffee shops. I visited friends. I felt forlorn. Sometimes I had great dates. Sometimes I felt like I was never going to be desirable again. As I grew my roots out, I lay new ones down.
My hair is almost at my shoulders again and has returned to a familiar golden brown. I feel more settled in my bones than I ever have before. I still believe in the power of physical transformation, but when the season of struggle inevitably rolls in, for once, I’ll give myself a chance to hurt and heal before reaching for the hair dye.