After the hardest year of my life, I got a life-changing haircut and love myself more than ever

If there’s one thing I vividly remember from my early childhood, it was my haircut. I hated it. My mother always insisted on keeping it mushroom-cut short. She also loved dressing me in jeans and turtlenecks; I, on the other hand, loved doily-like, floral print dresses. Growing up a photographer’s daughter, this part of my life is documented extensively; the vivid colours, the hilarity forever branded into my memory.

When it grew to past my ears, to my chin, and almost to my shoulders, I would beg my mom to let me keep my length, but she always dragged me to her hairdresser anyway. Long hair was the ultimate identifier of womanhood for me. According to mom, my grandmother hadn’t a single haircut her entire life. I remember watching in wonder as she twisted her ankle-length, hair into a bun, silver with streaks of black. My mother and my sister — my mother’s sisters too, come to think of it — have always kept their hair short willingly, but me? I’ve always been the outlier of my family.

My favorite show growing up was Sailor Moon; the titular heroine, naturally, being my character of preference. My cousin and I would play pretend. She made the rules because she was older, and she never let me be Sailor Moon — my hair wasn’t long enough. I resented the hell out of her for it. I had long hair throughout my preteens, but because of my early years, it never felt right. I became embarrassed of my hair the longer it got. Other Asian people I knew — few, having grown up in a predominantly white community — had sleek, straight hair. Mine was thick and on the dry side; if it grew too long, my silhouette looked like a triangle on a stick.

Over the years, my hair became more manageable as I learned how to work with it instead of against it. My long hair became an important part of who I was. It was part of my identity. In my third year of university, I bought an expensive curling wand with interchangeable barrels. Using it made me feel powerful. My hair was a dark aura surrounding me, protecting me. It served as a cloak, warming me and giving me sanctuary. Having long hair made me feel beautiful, strong, smart — like my grandmother, and the women in my family after her. I was certain that I would never cut it shorter than rib-length.

As the youngest of three by 14 years, I’ve felt this self-imposed pressure to grow up quickly. My parents had me when they were older — okay, I was an accident — and I wanted my dad to have a chance to walk his baby daughter down the aisle, for my mom to see her little accident grow up. My siblings each married and started families of their own by the time I was finishing high school, and watching their kids grow and play together, I wanted their kids to grow up with mine, too. To minimize the unforgiving gap of time between me and the rest of my family, I wanted to start a family as soon as possible.

Whenever I thought of myself on my wedding day, I pictured myself in a beautiful, flowing gown, very simple hair and make-up. My hair long, half-pinned up, long, flowing, flawless waves, all tucked under a veil. I saw myself, mature and radiant, my soon-to-be life partner gazing at me with awe and amazement on the most beautiful day of my life. With a long-term relationship beginning at the age of 14, many moments in my late teens to early twenties were spent dreaming and fantasizing of that moment.

But everything changed last year. The things I thought I wanted for myself shifted; something happened that I thought never would, and everything in my life shifted. I thought I’d had everything figured out, and it turned out that that’s basically impossible. My boyfriend and I broke up after 8 years, I decided not to follow a career in the industry I had loved since I was 16. I survived an act of sexual violence, found writing, fell in love with hot yoga, suffered 4 months of unemployment, I got and then crashed my first car, landed my first post-undergrad job.

Throughout the past year, I realized that I had spent my whole life doing things for other people and not for myself. Wanting to get married so my parents could see me walk down the aisle; wanting to have kids early so they could grow up with younger cousins. I kept friends in my life who had hurt me because I wanted to maintain peace, and I didn’t want to go on dates because I didn’t want hurt my ex. All these things were for other people — I wanted to do these things because they wanted me to.

On the first anniversary of my rape, I cut 10 inches of my hair off and it was the first time I had felt genuinely happy since the assault. Cutting my hair the shortest it’s been in at least six years was the best decision I could have made for myself — the weight of the world felt like it had been lifted from my shoulders. I donated my ponytail to an organization that makes wigs for cancer patients, and felt lighter spiritually, emotionally, physically.

My hair was my security blanket. It supplemented my ego, gave me confidence and strength, and made me feel like a woman. But I realized that I don’t need long, flowing locks to be a woman — I just need to be me. Cutting my hair helped me discover that I am a woman of incredible strength and beauty no matter its length. Ultimately, what matters is me. what I want, what I need.

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