Contributions by other people

Sarah G, USA

I am an only child. My mother married a diagnosed sociopath and they divorced when I was seven. My subsequent upbringing, in my opinion, revolved around her over-protectiveness, self-righteousness as a single mother, and her perceived martyrdom as a woman. I was not only her daughter, but a clear reflection of her own success or failure as a parent.

As a young teenager, I engaged in what most kids that age did - trying to find out who the hell I was. I was into hardcore music, torn clothes, safety pins, lots of earrings, colored hair - the works. Now, in retrospect, this activity was probably no more than just another fashion cliché - but at the time, I found great pleasure in the "dressing up" of my life and considered it quite fun that I could change my appearance at will. When I first started this experimenting, my mother chalked it up to, "she's just rebelling" and figured it was a phase I would pass through, like the year I liked rainbows and unicorns.

I'm sure she was surprised when she realized it was more than just a phase, and that I actually enjoyed looking weird. My hair was cut stranger, shaved in places, dyed more colors and defied gravity with gels, sprays, spritzes and other fascinating hair products. The 6th & 7th earholes were about all she could take.

She explained that she had been more than patient with these escapades of mine. I learned that she was completely embarrassed of me. My hair was ugly, and what was I trying to prove with cutting and dyeing it those garish colors? She dreaded being seen in public with me, saying I looked like a freak and a "ragamuffin," that wearing torn clothes made her look bad. It didn't matter that I was on the honor roll at school, only that my appearance reflected poorly on her. She also expressed paranoia that I was doing drugs and "God knows what else" (i.e. profound fear that I might be sexually active). Her anger grew over the months, and she became convinced at some point that I did things just to spite her. "You used to be such a pretty girl," she'd say.

I can't remember exactly what precipitated the cutting of my hair. I think I had come home late a couple times (not a hard stretch with a 10 pm curfew), got caught sneaking out to be with my friends - something became a catalyst and the removal of my hair was to be the punishment. My mother smiled wide at the prospects of removing this token of her embarrassment. I believe she figured that some of my attempts at individuality would be flushed down the toilet with my hair.

Which isn't to say that I welcomed the prospect AT ALL. I begged, pleaded, cried for her not to cut it - anything but my hair, that I had worked so hard to get its recent shades of burgundy and white. I had not appreciated until that impending moment how closely my sense of self was to my hair. It set me apart, which is where I wanted to be in the process of my teenage self-definition. Control of my hair was control of me, or compensating for a lack of control I felt otherwise.

Despite what seemed like hours of arguing, my attempting to convince her that nothing was wrong with me, I could not persuade her. In her mind, she had every right to cut the stuff off after all the upset I had caused her. It was final.

She invited a friend to watch.

I sat on the porch of our apartment, with my eyes squinted shut as she snipped, not wanting to know what would be left - or how I would have to "fix" my scissor-chopped head. She was pulling a "Mommie Dearest" on me. I couldn't believe it.

Fortunately, there was enough left to work with - hair, that is. In her triumphant mood, my mother figured she would also discard all items of my clothing that had rips, tears, or paint on them (3/4 of my wardrobe). Crammed in a hefty bag with my colored locks, these symbols of my personhood were thrown away.

I'm realizing as I type how heavy this story is and the Americana in me feels compelled to tell a happy ending. Fortunately, my mother left enough hair for me to play with, although it couldn't grow fast enough for me and it took a long time for me to feel that I "got my hair back." Unbeknownst to the matriarch, I was reunited with my clothes the next day - some friends drove around while I was sequestered and retrieved them from an evil dumpster. However, the animosity I retained from this symbolic event lingered for many years.

My experience of losing my hair, although not through disease or random accident, was traumatizing yet enlightening. Certainly my story is full of over-protective paranoia and betrayal. But I realized that this plain brown stuff on my head was not only a site of defining an identity for myself, but also a place of resistance. Over the years it became clearer that hair had the potential to exist in multiple ways, beyond conformity or nonconformity. It was (and is) a place to find comfort with one's self, a link to one's ancestors or family of ethnic origin, a vehicle to express individuality or invisibility, a commentary on a larger structure of the prescribed politics of appearance. Hair is home.