Gabriela Herstik
March 13, 2017 6:08 pm
Alexandra Herstik

Adolescence is a scary, awkward time for many of us. As our bodies change and our spirits grow, we’re left grappling to figure out who it is that we are, or rather, who it is we’d like to be. Although we may not have many “initiations” into adulthood in American culture, many of us find our own ways to mark big transitions in our lives, whether it’s through a haircut, tattoo, or piercing. I chose the former, shaving off half my head of hair at the ripe age of 17. Six years later,I’ve shaved more of my hair even shorter — and I can still say it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Alexandra Herstik/ @alexyael

Why I decided to get a sidecut

I was always extremely uncomfortable growing up. I was very thin and a late bloomer, meaning I had to wait longer to grow into myself and really find my personal style. When I was 17, I was going to shows every weekend in Atlanta and the surrounding area, where I’d see girls who had crazy colored hair or tattoos. I always wanted my style to have something different that would be completely mine. When I found  photos of Alice Dellal, Chanel ambassador and party girl extraordinaire, with her long blonde hair and sidecut, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I had always had my long, brown curls in the same style — layered but still overwhelming for my tiny frame. Since I never wanted to cut it short, I decided shaving half of it was a good middle ground.

Gabriela Herstik

At the time, I was in an AP Language course, where I was learning the basics of logical arguments. I used this to write my parents a letter, explaining why I wanted to cut off my hair, how I would be at college in another state the next year anyway, and that I was old enough to finally have sovereignty over my style. They read the letter and said no. The next weekend, my best friend and I went to a salon at the local mall, where I showed them pictures of Alice Dellal and paid $5 for a “bang trim,” and voila, half of my hair was cut off.

This haircut was an initiation for me, marking the first time I ever did anything “drastic” to my appearance. March 12th marks the day I officially started to own my style, figuring out what makes me feel beautiful, powerful, seductive, and strong. But growing up in the Deep South with a strange haircut and loud style wasn’t easy. I’ve learned a lot in the past six years, and I’m here to share some of that wisdom with you.

1Personal style is a powerful thing

Fashion is a privilege, and those of us with the ability to curate how we look have a really powerful and beautiful gift. I’ve always been into fashion, and when I was 17, I spent all my time writing fashion reviews on my blog. I was obsessed with trying to figure out how I could adopt the latest all-lace Prada trend, or how I could incorporate Balmain’s military jacket style into my own wardrobe. But more than that,  I was always obsessed with putting my own spin on these trends. It took me years to figure out my personal style, but shaving my hair was the first step. Because no matter what else I was wearing, I had that. Having your own style is like having a wardrobe that doubles as armor. Everyone knows the power that comes with feeling good about how you look.

Self-love is the key, but sometimes it has to start on the outside to really be internalized; there’s nothing wrong with that either. Nowadays, I’m just as likely to rock a pink turtleneck with an o-ring belt and a fresh shave as I am a latex dress with patent boots. My style is Vivienne Westwood meets Morticia Addams meets alien Carrie Bradshaw. You don’t have to be the best dressed or the most beautiful or anything except YOU — because there is no one else who has that. Personal style can be a really big way to find your own artistic voice, and you don’t have to drop a lot of money on it. Hit up your local thrift shop, Buffalo Exchange, or Goodwill to find pieces that speak to YOU.

2It’s okay to be different

I have always felt like an outsider. Not to say I didn’t have any friends or a good support system, but I have always felt different than my peers. I always chose to have  few close friends instead of a big friend group. As a witch and a Jewish-Mexican-American growing up in the Deep South, I never felt like I had a real home. I learned early on that instead of fighting this — instead of fighting who I am — it would be easier to just own it. Shaving off my hair was the first step to achieving this.

Being who you are is a privilege; not everyone gets to experience living fully in their own skin. The way I see it, if you have the  opportunity to be who YOU are, then own it! It’s okay to be different and to not fit in. It helps expand your worldview when you see things from many perspectives beyond that which you grew up knowing. Owning your own style, defining your own beliefs, and getting a weird haircut are all allowed. Ain’t no shame in that game!!

3Thick skin is the best skin

People tend to think they can talk to you about your appearance when it deviates from the norm. This happens to my friends with tattoos, it happens to my friends who wear weird clothes, and it happens to me too! Although this happens less now that I live Los Angeles (a woman at CVS did ask if it hurt when I shaved off my hair recently), it happened all the time when I was living in Columbia, South Carolina. The state’s capital may be home to a liberal arts college (and the original USC), but the people there are not caught up with the fashion world. I got plenty of side-eyes every time I went to the local coffee shop, or the supermarket, or really anywhere.

Beyond what anyone else has to say about you, YOU have to believe in who you are. Appreciate and love yourself regardless of what other people say. Having a thick skin means not allowing others opinions to influence your self-worth. And it’s hard, and it takes practice, but I swear it’s worth it. That also leads me to my next point…

4Your opinion is the one that matters most of all

Yes, it’s cool to ask your bff what you think you should do with your hair, but here’s the thing: Other people’s opinions of us are filtered by their own opinions and views. We are all mirrors for one another, reflecting our dislikes, likes, and opinions onto one another. So when you say, “Hey, I really want to shave half my hair off” to a friend who loves you — but isn’t quiet as confident as you — her reply may be, “oh that’s not a good idea, you won’t look good.” But in reality, she is envious of your self-confidence. If we don’t give permission to ourselves to be expressive, we definitely don’t give other people that same permission. Instead, we’re intimidated and jealous of those who refuse to be resigned to that box.

I realized last week that, although I do treasure the opinion of those closest to me, there is no opinion I trust more than my own. And wow, that has taken a whole 23 years to come to — but it feels good! At the end of the day, you’re the only person who NEEDS your trust. Learn what your taste is, cultivate your artistic eye, and own it. Don’t let anyone take that from you.

5Fashion is the best when it’s fun

I am 1000% in the camp that more is more. Wearing everything at once and then some? Yes, please! If we have to wake up everyday and put clothing on, we may as well have fun with it! Shaving my head feels like wearing my favorite shoes all the time. I get the same high from being half bald as I do when I wear an outfit I feel invincible in. Even more than that, I feel like I’m constantly having fun with my look, adding some weird new dimension to my style that many others don’t have. For example, I covered my scalp in glitter for my 22nd birthday party.

I’ve dyed my sidecut lavender, magenta, yellow, and gray. It’s another weird but fun element to my sartorial choices. And I swear, when I have fun with what I’m wearing, I have a better day. After all, fashion should be empowering!!! Allow yourself to have fun with what you wear. Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you have to stop approaching the world from a place of FUN.

6Shave off at least part of your hair in your lifetime!

I grew up with a mother who always loved my long hair. And I know many, many people who are in the same boat. For many of us, especially if our parents are a couple generations older than us, long hair was tied to femininity. Shaving your hair, or half of it, was seen as masculine; something that’s “too harsh” for a pretty woman to do. As the younger generation continues to blur the notion of gender, so does our hair.

Shaving off your hair, especially if you have long hair, is a really freeing experience ! It allows you to find confidence in a new way. For me, that meant half my scalp, although I know I’ll probably shave off all my hair one day (sorry, mom!). If someone tells me not to do something, that’s exactly what I want to do. And if someone tells me how I need to feel? No way!

Shave your head! Allow yourself to present in a different way. Give yourself permission to feel beautiful or handsome, or to try something new. I’ll even let you in on a secret — hair grows back! Life’s too short to think “what if,” so go get a weird haircut and thank me later!

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