Shortcut to confidence

My hair was the shortest it had ever been, but something held me back from fully embracing the pixie.

Stocksy

When I was very young, I became a ballet dancer. I progressed from a six-year-old who did lots of skipping and dancing with teddy bears, to a ten-year-old who danced the Nutcracker on a stage with professional dancers. For that role, I had to put my hair in a high bun (or a chignon, as my French-speaking ballet teacher called it). After a performance, I could remove the hairbands and bobby pins and my hair would stay in a ponytail, held by layers of thick hairspray. My head would ache, the pins would poke, the strands tangled easily. Most days, I hated putting my hair in a bun.

There was an older dancer I used to watch as I put on my ballet slippers before class. She was probably about 18, but to me she seemed endlessly grown up and sophisticated. She did not put her hair in a bun. Instead it was cut into a pixie. Although I was always being told that my hair needed to be long enough to put up, no one seemed to have had that conversation with her.

At 16, I stopped dancing regularly. I let my fingernails grow out a bit so that I could paint them, and I cut my hair into a sleek bob, too short for a bun. I was not quite brave enough to cut my hair as short as that older girl. She looked chic, but I worried that I would look like a boy. My hair hovered around my chin for many years.

But then came 2015. By May, I was thoroughly frustrated with online (and in person) dating. My hair was the shortest it had ever been, but something held me back from fully embracing the pixie. Still, when I flipped through magazines or searched Pinterest for hair ideas, I couldn’t help lingering on Emma Watson, Ginnifer Goodwin, and the iconic Audrey Hepburn. They were beautiful, certainly, but there was something else that I admired about them. I wondered if it was their confidence. Unlike me, they had cut their hair fearlessly, daring people to say that they couldn’t.

After a conversation with an online suitor which ended with him sending me an obscene picture in an attempted phone seduction, I remembered that I had a hair appointment the next day. My stylist had been flirting with the idea of a pixie for years, going shorter and shorter (always with my approval). I had held back from the true pixie for years, largely because I wasn’t sure I’d still be attractive to the opposite sex. This guy and his offensive photo were the last straw. I couldn’t find it in me to care about whether I was attractive to men anymore, I wanted to cut my hair short, the way I’d always dreamed about.

When I told my stylist, breezing into her chair, you would have thought that I had given her a present. “I’ve been wanting to do this since you started coming to see me,” she said.

Every clip of the scissors reminded me that I was past the point of no return. If I didn’t like this cut after all, it could be a long time before it grew out again.

As she snipped and sliced, I tended to my nerves with thoughts of my short hair style icons. I thought about a friend I’d met at a conference with one of the sleekest pixies I’d ever seen. I’d looked through all of her Facebook pictures after we met, hardly recognizing her when I found older ones that featured her shoulder length hair. A little later, when I knew her better, I asked if she would send me some pictures to take to my stylist. I knew that she was cheering me on today, proud of my bravery.

Even though I felt brave and strong, I was also worried. Every clip of the scissors reminded me that I was past the point of no return. If I didn’t like this cut after all, it could be a long time before it grew out again.

She finished blow-drying and whipped the cape away from my shoulders. For a moment, I couldn’t speak. I was torn between shock at what I’d done and the lightness I felt after doing it. I peered at myself in the mirror, aware of my audience. I didn’t quite look like me. I wasn’t sure yet if that was a good or a bad thing.

I left the salon self-conscious, checking my reflection in the rear-view mirror at stop lights. When I got home, I shut myself up in the bathroom and began to play with my hair, pushing it one way and then another (it didn’t have far to go). This would take some getting used to.

As luck would have it, a friend chose that week to set me up with her cousin for an ambiguous date-like evening. We went for drinks in one of my favorite restaurants and I worried that I looked a little too much like an eight-year-old boy. I sipped my cocktail and wondered if he’d even noticed that both of my ears were completely visible, since he’d never met me before. In my head, I debated whether I should have bought another product or watched a tutorial.

For a time, I continued to be conflicted. I would stare into the mirror, trying to catch a glimpse of the chic, confident woman I occasionally saw there. I loved the way my hair complimented my swishy red sundress, and how much more focus was on my smile and the way my eyes sparkled with humor or delight. Even so, sometimes I would gaze at myself and see someone with hair slightly flattened, or sticking up at the cowlick at the back, unwilling to be tamed.

It wasn’t until my second haircut that I truly fell all the way in love with the new length. I had figured out how to blow dry without disturbing my cowlicks. I had begun to revel in using less shampoo and cutting my shower time in half. On certain days, I did nothing but run damp fingers through the strands before leaving the house. Soon, I would tell anyone who would listen how much I loved my short hair. Once again, I felt like me.

Like Emma, Ginnifer, and Audrey, I had gone one step beyond cutting my hair short. I had also put on the confidence that goes with it, the finishing touch that pulls the look together. It is this, perhaps, as much as my hair, that makes people offer me a compliment. Just a week ago, while I was darting into the grocery store, I passed an older man on my way to the dairy section. “I really like your haircut,” he said simply. I thanked him with a smile and went to select my cheese.

I won’t say that I’ll always have a pixie. I can’t tell what the future will bring. But I can tell you that if I do change my hair, it will be because I want to, not because I’m caving to the pressure of society: my own, or at large. Along with extra length, I’ve shed the fear that I will be incorrectly perceived. I don’t worry that I look like a boy from the back, or that no one will ever want to take me on a date. The way others see me is up to them, but when I look in the mirror, I see a woman who has fully embraced who she is, even the parts that make her nervous, and I smile.

Emma Watson Photo by Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images
Audrey Hepburn Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Carey Mulligan Photo by Tony Barson / WireImage
Jean Seberg Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Ginnifer Goodwin Photo by Jason Merritt / Getty Images

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Cara Strickland
Cara Strickland
Cara Strickland is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about food, faith, singleness, and relationships for a variety of publications in print and online. You can find more of her work at carastrickland.com.

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