I haven’t significantly cut my long brown hair since the Saturday before the bar exam, July 2011. On that day, my hairdresser Allegra told me what a big haircut can mean. Her mother practices Buddhism, and believes the cutting of hair is a release for the whole body: As our bodies process stress and worry, those feelings grow out of our skin into our hair, hanging around with us each day. When we’ve been walking through life wearing our past stresses and worries long enough, when we’re ready for a change in our lives and our souls, cutting off our hair removes the residue of that long battle and helps us to enter into that new stage.
I have been to a few yoga classes this month, but I don’t know anything about Buddhism so I cannot tell you whether any of that is true. I’m not entirely sure any Buddhists out there would read this and identify with that statement in any way. It could be completely misunderstood or misconstrued by me during a bar exam-induced frenzy. But, I’m a believer in the power of a good haircut and let me tell you why: After three years of law school, three months of intense studying, and one significant haircut, I passed the bar exam with no real worry of failure and entered into a new stage of life.
That new stage, which is now my old stage, was rocky and beautiful. I made some deep and lasting friendships, learned a lot, and became much more grounded in who I am professionally and personally. But it was hard. It’s been almost three years now since that last big haircut, and there were a few months in there where I only went to work because I didn’t want to pay a fine for departing before my fellowship was complete, and where I only went to parties when I couldn’t think of a socially acceptable excuse to break the commitment. There were absolutely some days where the veil I wore was too thin, and my actual heartbreak or frustration was clearly visible to those who I like to pretend cannot see the dark edges of my humanity. And, I stuck my foot boldly into my mouth more times than I would like to remember. (I do continue to remember these moments, which is perhaps the worst part of this whole thing called living. Each time I say something horribly ill-timed or inappropriate or unthinking I remember it. Even years later it comes back to me in a disappointing memory which no haircut has as of yet been able to erase.)
Over the last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about getting a serious cut. My hair was just too long, and it was starting to get in the way of things. All of those feelings and memories just didn’t fit onto my shoulders along with the sweater and scarf and coat and hood necessary to survive this winter. I never felt comfortable with my hair sticking out from under a hat and pointing every which way while I walked down Michigan Avenue toward my new office in my new city. In my apartment my hair was straight and lovely, but each time I headed outside toward something new the wind would blow it into tangles and knots. It was time to let go of the baggage and free up some room for warmth and possibility.
I thought that my twenty-eighth birthday would be the time for the big cut, but beginning the day we returned from Las Vegas and until just a few days ago I was so sick I could barely leave the apartment, much less choose a hairstyle and find a stylist. I kept delaying the cut, although I knew how much I wanted it and how ready I was for the change.
This past week, as my cough reduced and my health improved, I found a stylist on Yelp.com and made the appointment. I didn’t realize at the time that my cut was scheduled for the second day of the Chinese New Year celebration, considered to be the first day of the new year, but how perfectly timed it was. As many celebrate the new year by cleaning house to sweep away ill-fortune and make room for good luck (thank you, Wikipedia), I too am chopping off the last three years and starting fresh.
I don’t have a picture for you now. This change wasn’t just about fashion or beauty, it was about being more fully alive, about diving in and seeing what would happen. And so before returning to the surface, I wanted to take the time to share this process. But don’t worry, glamour shots will be headed your way soon. Happy New Year, again. Let’s do something awesome this year.