On Cutting My Own Hair

and weight, Fleabag, and succulents…

I cut my own hair for the first time last week. I did so while listening to Lana Del Rey’s newest album so you can imagine that the experience was a real “mood.”

Have I always wanted to cut my own hair? Well, no. In fact, I generally don’t super-enjoy getting my hair cut; it costs money, can go wrong, and I often prefer long hair. But there will always come a time in the summer when my hair will suddenly feel heavy, especially when I’m in the shower. I’ll start shedding long strands of my hair everywhere, in the bathroom and on the floor of my room. My hair will hang, tangled and weighty, like a burden I must carry, comb, and condition. I always know I’m ready for a haircut when I start to poeticize a haircut. And hair, as Fleabag says so rightly, “is everything.”

I have been cutting Kevin’s hair for months, so the idea of cutting hair at home isn’t new to me. I’ll fully admit that cutting short hair is hard; you usually need not only scissors, but also an electric trimmer with different “clipping guard sizes” and a certain battery life. After the haircut, tiny clumps of hair will get everywhere, like the patches of turf that stay on your clothes after a soccer game. But cutting Kevin’s hair has been a wonderful part of our relationship; there’s a lot of trust and love built into giving someone a haircut.

So because I already had haircutting equipment at home, because I was feeling heavy, and maybe because I wanted to give myself an opportunity to fully trust and love myself, I decided to cut my own hair. Kevin was in Shanghai on a family vacation, and I felt strongly about cutting my own hair, anyway. I decided on breezy Friday night that I was ready.

Although I waited until September to cut my hair, this gesture has truly been part of my summer-long project of becoming lighter: materially, physically, and mentally. In that order. In July, I moved out of my previous three-person apartment and into a five-person apartment, so much of my packing-up process included a mass purging of my personal possessions. I said goodbye to many T-Shirts. I sold or gave away numerous random things, from a pair of Bluetooth earphones to a ring adorned with a large metallic beetle. I recycled most of the paper waste I had accumulated over the past four academic years (but kept nearly all the poems I wrote during creative writing workshops). I shed my possessions like hair, and swept them into the dustbin.

Then, as so many women do throughout their lives—particularly during the summer, when we wear shorts again and remember what our legs look like—I wanted to be lighter, physically. I had a one-month gym membership and tried out Pilates, yoga, and Zumba. I ran on the treadmill and went for a handful of delicious swims. Then I bought a Fitbit, and became obsessed with my daily step count, my resting heartrate, my sleep schedule. I started running outdoors again (every summer of my life, I pick up running for a spell). I think I’ll keep running, to be honest. I actually—and I’m shocked to be saying this—have been enjoying it. And finally, without realizing it, I became mentally lighter. I shed the stress of being a full-time student and practiced settling into a routine where I didn’t hit the books after dinner. I started watching TV, first the delightful Kim’s Convenience and then the life-changingly-great Fleabag. I allowed myself time to indulge in all-things Taylor Swift. I baked oatmeal raisin cookies and tiny bite-size brownies. But of course, the process of becoming lighter is heavy in and of itself. Life isn’t as simple as cutting hair. “If you want to change your life, change your life,” says Anthony, the hairdresser from Fleabag. “It won’t happen in here.”

This summer has been heavy. It’s impossible to read about what’s happening in Hong Kong and not feel a sense of heaviness. The distance between Chicago and Hong Kong is heavy. The disparity between protestors and policemen is heavy. You can’t step onto a scale and measure the burden of the world’s problems. And, of course, cutting my hair was not a way to shed any of these concerns. But it’s remarkable how one haircut can give you hope—like a weight lifted off your shoulders.

I watched a slew of how-to videos on YouTube and marveled at the different ways in which one can cut one’s own long hair. You can tie all your hair in front of your face like a ponytail, divide it with an elastic or scrunchy, and cut above the hair tie. Or, you can fluff out your hair in front of you so that you can cut according to how your hair will fall in front of your face. I chose the latter option, and placed my hairdresser’s cloak in my lap to catch strands of falling hair.  

Like writing an essay, a haircut is about layering and trimming. The first snip is a magical moment that opens the floodgates for the rest of the cut. Then, the rest of the haircut is about getting your hair to the right length, making little edits here and there. You’ll want to cut not only lengthwise, but upwards in little snips so that the hair doesn’t fall completely straight. It’ll look more natural. A haircut is about procedure and patience, about writing your new self into existence.

An inch of my hair is now gone, along with some objects I’ve been hoarding for years and a few decimals on my bathroom scale. But I know they’ll come back, in some way or another. Weight will always be a part of life on a planet that depends on gravity to stay grounded. Nonetheless, as Aria Aber says in her lovely poem “Ode to My Hair, weight is also beautiful: “may you glow with the weight of love.”

When I cut my hair, I used a small, blue spray bottle to spritz my hair and keep it moist. This morning, I realized almost absent-mindedly that I use the same bottle to water my succulents, which I’m in the process of propagating. Did you know that you can propagate succulents by planting their cuttings? It’s magical: the leaves you remove from a stretched-out succulent not only make the original plant lighter, but also beget new life. Sometimes, I think cutting hair isn’t so much about removing dead split ends as it is about growth. When I’m older, I’ll remember that the first time I cut my own hair was in my 20s. I’m still at an age where I’m learning how to be more generous, kinder to myself, and lighter in meaningful ways. Yes, hair is everything, and a haircut can often make you think about everything. So, here’s to hair: the strands we shed, the split ends we trim, and the new locks that grow back.

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