For the past 40 years, every day has been a bad hair day.
In elementary school my pigtails were frazzled. By middle school my bangs wouldn’t curl just right, like the popular girls did theirs. In high school, after suffering from a tragic spiral perm, I decided to go goth and attempted to color my hair violet. When the purple dye didn’t take and I was left with a faded grayish shade, I concluded that no matter what I did, my hair wouldn’t cooperate. It wouldn’t even let me indulge in a little teenage rebellion for goodness sakes!
For the next 20 years, I became trapped in a vicious cycle of hair hatred. My hair was either long and straight or short and straight. When my hair was long, it was flat and I hated it and did nothing but slick it up in a sloppy ponytail. When it was shorter, it was still flat and I’d get mad that I couldn’t put it in a ponytail. I decided I looked unfeminine.
Because I couldn’t get my short hair to look how I wanted, I’d decide to grow it back out — but this time it would be different. Except it wasn’t.
Last year, I turned 40 and found myself, once again, lamenting my long hair. I wanted something new and exciting for the next decade of my life, but my hair was a disaster. It looked like the hair of those somber, weather-hardened pioneers you see in old tin-type photos. You know, women who lived in sod houses, bathed once a week in a freezing creek, and washed their hair with lye.
What could I do, I wondered, to enter mid-life with the hair of my dreams?
Then it happened. Women I knew were receiving diagnoses. Breast cancer, thyroid cancer, all kinds of cancer. My friends’ moms were getting sick. My mother’s friends. Family members. Women my own age were going through chemo, and they were people I knew and loved and cared about, not just faceless names in news stories or numbers in dire statistics. Cancer was now an immediate reality.
Last year, I knew not one, but two children who needed bone marrow transplants. On top of that, my young cousin suffered from permanent alopecia due to an autoimmune disease. Suddenly, all this worrying about what I looked like seemed ridiculous. There were a lot of people who would, literally, love to have my hair no matter what it looked like.
I decided to give my hair to someone who would appreciate it more than I did, and I found a salon that donated to a charity that made hairpieces for children suffering from hair loss from various medical conditions.
“Are you sure?” the stylist asked as she twisted my hair into one long, nearly waist-length rope.
“Absolutely,” I said.
A few snips later, it was over. The stylist trimmed the hair that remained and shaped it into a snazzy, swingy bob and when it was over, for the first time I realized that I loved my hair. Like, really loved my hair. I’d had short hair before, but never had a haircut transformed me like this. My haircut had finally made me into the person I wanted to be.
Entering the next decade of my life, I hoped to be polished and self-assured, but more important, I wanted to be compassionate and generous. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others more than I wanted that elusive impeccable coif. (Although the fact that my new haircut made me look like Amelie sans bangs didn’t hurt either.)
Cutting and donating my hair lifted a burden from me that I’d been carrying for years. I’d wasted a lot of time hating how I looked, never stopping to be thankful that I was healthy or that I had a full, thick head of hair in the first place.
Giving it away showed me that my hair was truly a gift, and knowing that someone else would soon be thrilled to have the hair I’d fretted over for so long made me love my hair as it was — coarse, with cowlicks, refusing to curl, full of fly-aways. It didn’t matter if my hair was short or long, or if the sides flipped out. I was entering the next decade of my life, free of bad hair days.More On