At age four, let your mother take you for a short haircut. It will be a wedge in the back with a middle-parted bob in front ala Dorothy Hamill after the 1976 Olympics. Done.
But your hair will grow quickly. By first grade it will be very long. Do not wear it down; never let it flow; do not let it brush your shoulders as you play. Your mother will plait tight braids against your head. The braids will be so snug that nary a stray hair will escape for at least two days. If braids are not pleasing, or your mother feels a change of pace is necessary, pigtails or a high, secure pony tail will suffice. At night it is important to massage your scalp with your tiny fingers to relieve soreness.
Beware, the middle school years will be awkward. Cut your hair in seventh grade. The celebrity styles you see in your mother’s People magazine will encourage you. Try a short style with short, feathery sides and just a bit of front fringe. It may not be quite what you expected.
Get a perm.
Get the perm straightened after Ernie Fierro and his cronies laugh at you in school.
High school. Seemingly overnight your hair will become lush and long. It is truly amazing what hormones can do. One day you will look in the mirror and see a young woman with thick, straight, shiny brown hair past her shoulders. There is power in this. Never wear your hair back in a ponytail or braid if you can possibly help it.
Prom, of course, is an exception. French twists look good on you, so go for it. Tease your bangs.
Don’t worry too much about changing hairstyles until college. Right before you move into the freshman dorms, chop your hair right to your chin. Let go of the mile-high bangs. It’s okay if you feel a little less pretty, a little less powerful. By the end of the first semester it will be quite a bit longer. One thing the women in your family do well is grow hair.
When you are in your twenties, you’ll be an archaeologist working in the hot Virginia sun. Really, now, there is no choice but to sweep your hair off of your sweaty neck. Your best hairstyle will be a simple bun. Do this: grab a pencil from the site’s tool box. Twist up your long hair and use the pencil to secure a tight bun. Be surprised when the site supervisor, a fellow graduate student, tells you years later―when you are his wife―that he saw you do this and found it alluring and beautiful and seductive.
A few months after your wedding, go ahead and chop it all off. It’s okay; just do it. Now doesn’t that feel good? It certainly won’t be as scary as you anticipate. Everyone is shocked and asks “why” but be assured that you look pretty cute.
In your second year of marriage, take a trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. There you will find a room filled with human hair representing all the hair shaved off the heads of Jewish women in concentration camps. Let it stop you cold. Let it remind you of what the world thinks of women, their hair, their bodies. Excuse yourself so that you can cry in the public bathroom.
Your hair will fall out by the handful after your first child is born. Do not be alarmed. Even though the shower drain is clogged and clumps of hair are everywhere, your hair will grow back. It will never be the same, though. It will be thinner, not nearly as shiny, and rather limp. Make peace with that.
Your second baby will nurse while holding a long strand of your hair in his hands. Because of this, it is important that you do not cut it, though it is in your face. The moments you share with this child are precious. Your hair is part of your bonding experience.
When the first baby turns thirteen, you’ll begin to find gray hairs on your head every single day. At first it is funny, but don’t laugh too hard. Soon you will have so many that you cannot count them or pluck them. Your mom and sister will laugh when you tell them you will not dye it or hide the gray in any way. Ignore them. But do consider readopting that Dorothy Hamill bob with a modern twist. It will likely be more flattering at forty-one than it was at four.
This time, instead of going to your mother, find a brand new hairdresser, one in the city, one whom none of your friends know. In the waiting area stare at all the hair on the floor: blonde, purple, black, and brown locks, all ready to be swept out with the trash. These will remind you of an old folk belief that warns people not to throw hair from a brush or a hair-cut outside. The birds will gather it and use it for nests. They’ll wind your hair in and out of twigs and grass, and this will make you go mad. You’ll be helpless. Powerless. Insane. When you sit in the chair, ready for your dramatic new do, think of those birds and the hair on the floor. Think of the baby twirling your tresses between chubby fingers, the lover watching you untangle your thick mane, your mother twisting perfect braids. Each strand is a page from your past. Tell the hair dresser, “Only a wee bit off the ends, please. I want to keep it long.”
(Christine Green is a freelance writer and newspaper columnist in Brockport, NY. She also organizes and hosts a monthly literary reading, “Words on the Verge”, at A Different Path Art Gallery. She is a Californian at heart and dreams of once again living near the beach.)
All photographs courtesy of the author.