I can’t remember when I started obsessing about hair, but I’m going to pinpoint it to about seven-years-old and Grease. I was craaaazy about Sandy’s blonde bob and beyond irritated that I had long hair. In playground renditions of the musical I was pigeonholed as that annoying girl who sits on a Twinkie. My desire for a mane change intensified and manifested as I got older, it became (remains) my go-to when I felt (feel) a rut is imminent. And, I strongly suspect I’m not alone.
Whether we like it or not, we’re the product of a deeply ingrained connection between hair and what it is to be female. Sure, it’s changing, but maybe not as much as you think. The Bible says ‘a woman’s hair is her crowning glory’ and we still use the term today; and there’s no greater rebellion, it would seem, than a woman shaving her hair. Ok, so it was punishment in WWII for Nazi collaboration, but it’s mostly associated with liberation – from society’s beauty standards, usually. Despite prior red flags, the Britney breakdown refers to that time she pulled out the clippers and said ‘f…orget this noise. Bzzzzz’. And, if a female celeb cuts her hair above her chin, you can almost guarantee she is going through a big life change (Miley to Miley 2.0 etc). Of course, sometimes illness is the culprit of the cut (or loss). I can’t, so won’t, personally speak for that feeling, but I wanted to acknowledge it – our hair is not always about a shallow on-a-whim-trim. It’s not just the cuts, either. According to financial comparison site, Mozo, we’re spending $3.5 billion on professional hair colouring – I’ll confidently suspect breakups, job changes and ruts are responsible. We take a hair change seriously, and we do it when we’re ready for a life shakeup. With this in mind, let me drag you down my mane memory lane, hoping you can relate…
This makes the *ahem* cut mostly to name and shame my mum because what the actual hell is this? Like so many of us whose childhood was circa original Power Rangers, when you needed a fringe cut, your mum didn’t spend seven bucks to get an actual professional to do it. She grabbed the kitchen scissors, enacted what she’d vaguely seen a hairdresser do (that is, drenching it with water, combing down flat, lifting with two fingers, and hack), and wondered why it ended up looking like this… So, I know I didn’t choose this. Nor did I choose that time I was given a PERM in grade four (yep, four) because I had nits and ‘perming solution kills everything’. But, these hair moments still count because I had a lot of hair iterations as a kid, and I reckon it correlates to when my mum felt like change but wasn’t ready to part with her blonde perm and blown-out fringe… Ta ma, I still love you.
Less hard in the ’90s than it is today, though. I didn’t have to worry about being bullied mercilessly online (any crapness was between 9am and 3pm). I instead worried desperately about being Buffy (or, Sarah Michelle Gellar). Now, although surprising given the incredible likeness in this image, SMG I was not. I’d had a few years of hard adjustment. We’d moved interstate and I went from having friends to feeling alone, different and picked on. Then, in the later years of highschool, everything picked up. I had a group of mates again and teen shows and movies were having their moment. Mentally emulating these protagonist cool girls had me wholly invested in the ‘makeover montage’. How did I do this? Got some layers, chucked in two clips and legit thought I was the teenage dream. I’ve since buried this ego to approx. the burning centre of the Earth. But, for that moment, this kid got her confidence back.
I first coloured my hair dark in Grade 11 because Miranda Kerr was brunette. As mentioned previously, I had enormous blind (deluded) faith in the transforming magic of hair to undo all and any genetic aesthetic predispositions. Years after this though, darker hair was my go-to when a bit low. I’d be told by (only) drunk people that I looked like Katy Perry because, brown hair. That was great. What was less great was that at the same time I realised 1) I can’t back up two nights out in a row, and 2) I was in a room full of old friends and felt very alone. They were great people individually, but we were mean to each other, unsupportive and toxic. I went dark because I was sad. We had been friends for the better part of six years yet I couldn’t connect. An argument about a bra broke out (not kidding. And worst still, not surprising) and rather than going deep in the drama, I smoke-bombed out with (…mostly) silence instead of retaliation. It wasn’t a high road, I was just very very tired. It was my one real friend breakup and let me tell you, it was worse than any boyfriend breakup. I was Katy Perry when she got that text. Not really, because that was a super serious divorce. But, it felt like it was. And this photo, this hair, says it all.
I was bridesmaid at my best friend since grade 4’s wedding. This marks one of the happiest times of life. I’ve established that dark equals cracking the sads (I still say this, yes) – with the exception of my own wedding. I went dark because ‘ethereal’ etcetera, and husband would clearly be wowed… only, poor guy was hit with a chest infection and wouldn’t have known if he’d married Clive Palmer for all the meds, but I digress. Going red, on the other hand, was about happiness. At the time, I was the girlfriend of said future husband, and was simultaneously witness to my bud’s life transforming, setting up for a wonderful future. It was a great time. I loved having red hair, it suited my whitey-white-white skin, it looked shiny and life was good. When you go red, it’s not to hide away. So I s’pose you could say I was feeling a bit proud of life and I suspect that’s when one sets their hair alight. Figuratively. Maybe we’d be having a different discussion if literal.
I paid $700 for extensions so I could avoid hair sticking to a sweaty neck during labour. I know, sexy. My hair wouldn’t grow and, being blonde, it was super dry and breaking off. My great pal, Erin, manages Portfolio Hair in Sydney and asked if I’d be a hair model for extensions. I was borderline phobic about having my shortish hair not make it up into a ponytail or top knot when the child made its gross arrival (I really do love him with all my cells. But birth, not pretty). I’m guessing no one has ever had extension for this reason… I also knew I’d look like Charlize Theron in Monster once baby arrived so thought longer hair might hide that fact. I’ll never get extensions again (they did a brilliant job, but the upkeep isn’t for me), so this will forever be the hairstyle that marks the very unique life change of having your first kid. I eventually took them out, went pink (read about that here) and cut it all off (main pic).
At the moment, I like the ease of a bob flick and am considering going shorter while I feel bold enough to do it. I’ll look back at this time as when easy was the driving force. I think what happens with all of us, at each point of change (however you mark it), comes a stronger sense of self and I’m sure that as that intensifies, your hair (or your tattoos, or your fashion style, or your ceramic cat collection) will come along for the ride. From a deeply insecure teen to someone now responsible for their life, and the life of their family, this mop has marked every interchange. Who knows what’s next? I’m feeling sassy, maybe I’ll shave it all off…
Story by Rikki Hodge-Smith