I’ve always had a love-hate affair with my hair.When I was little, I’d beg my mother to braid my hair, and I’d pretend I was Rapunzel locked in the tower with only my hair to connect me to the outside world.
As I grew older, I grew less enamored of my hair. Caring for it was time consuming; drying it took a full day unless I could talk someone into helping me with the hairdryer. In the summer, it was heavy against my neck; in the winter, it was full of static, crackling and causing me to spark against every piece of metal I touched. Come the year I turned 15, I’d had enough: it was time for me and my braid to part ways.
Although a haircut may not seem like a big deal, there’s a reason so many films and novels show heroines heading to the salon for a cut and color – a significant change in a woman’s hair can result in a significant change in not just how the world views her (blonde v. brunette) but in the way she views the world. A cute, bouncy bob could indicate a casual, carefree personality, while a cropped style might indicate a business woman. Which style did I want? I didn’t really know. I simply walked in the salon door and asked the hairdresser – a man with a long, bottle-blonde spiral perm – to take it all away.
About halfway through, I started crying – small, allergy-like tears that soon grew into sobs so great the hairdresser had to wait for me to calm down enough to finish the job. I wanted to ask him to put it all back, to sweep up all the clippings and make me hair extensions. That night, I cried myself to sleep.
And then came The Call – the invitation to my Adila Fuha’s Indian fusion wedding, the request that I be a bridesmaid. “Please,” my Fuha begged my parents, “I’d love her to be a bridesmaid. I’ve got the dresses and the shoes all picked out, and you’re coming down for the wedding anyway, so it’s not really any more of a hassle. Just send me some measurements and really, it’ll be no hassle at all.” Within seconds, my father’s father’s words were ringing in my ears: all Indian girls have long hair. All except me.
Despite my fears – my very nauseating fears – the whole process was exciting. The three day lead up, the henna the night before (I had orange hands for three months, and orange nails for six), the shimmering, jingly (itchy) dress. And the morning of the wedding, Adila had arranged a styling session in her parents’ living room. We all trooped in, ready to be transformed into attendant princesses for the day. It was brilliant: until the hairdresser arrived.
I tugged on my bangs self-consciously, trying not to worry. After all, a hairdresser would know how to deal with short hair, right? Right?
Tut-tutting, the hairdresser—a round, bald man dressed in lame—assessed us. The other girls had long hair. “Up-dos all around,” he said, pulling out his straightening iron and bobby pins. Then he crooked a finger at me. “You. Here.” My hair sat just above my shoulders. The hairdresser lifted it, twirled it about a plump finger, then dropped it just hastily enough to make me feel like I was wearing sewer-rodent fur.
We started with an asymmetrical part with curls on the bigger side. Now, I’m not a hairdresser, and I’ve never been very good with fashion, but I knew there was something wrong when the scent of burning hair wafted through the room. My cheeks flamed.
Style two was only marginally better – he coated me in enough hairspray to kill the better part of the Amazon Rainforest, then jabbed pins into my head, trying for a messy bun. This resulted in enough damage that the hairbrush actually got stuck in my hair a la The Princess Diaries (we almost had to cut it out).
Style three was the winner – mostly because, after an hour and an half, the man gave up. “You’ll just have to settle for ‘okay’,” he told me as he ran my hair through the straightening iron. “I’ll put a kink in the bottom and you’ll do.”
I slumped in my chair, expecting the worst. But when I went to get dressed, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror—and I looked good. Very forties chic, my mother called it. Sophisticated, said my cousins. Different, I thought happily. Different. Just like me.
Since then, I’ve grown my hair long and cut it off half a dozen times. It is definitely still a love-hate relationship. Now, at twenty-eight, I wear it just past my chin. It has a slight wave to it, and is my natural dark brown. And it’s completely me.