Hair is one of our things. It’s important. We have lots of it, always long.
I grew up with stories of my grandmother having her head crudely and painfully shaved when she arrived at Auschwitz. I grew up with a mother who put doing and styling her hair and making it ready for public viewing above spending time with family at home or on vacation. I spent many Saturdays bored out of my mind for 3, 4, 5 hours in a salon while she got her hair styled and braided.
My hair was always long. When I was a young girl, it was a beautiful golden color, with sweet silky curls cascading down my back. When I was 10, I had to fight for nearly a year just to get a few wispy bangs cut over my big fifth-grade forehead. We didn’t cut hair in our family, it just wasn’t done. (A day or two after finally getting the bangs, I decided one strand was uneven and I nearly lopped it off, ruining the cut entirely and making myself look like Frankenstein in the process.)
When I was almost 13 and a week before my big Bat Mitzvah, my mom left me with the hair stylist while she went to another section of the salon to have her hair done. I told Gary (yes, I remember his name) to cut my long hair to my chin. I knew by the time my mom figured out what was going on, it would be too late to switch course. (It looked awful and I looked awful in my Bat Mitzvah pictures.)
By the time I went to college and was in charge of my own grooming and haircuts, it was too late. I was like the baby elephant who thought she could never escape, even without a chain. I knew nothing different. My hair remained long.
I had (and still do) a face and features made for longer hair. Which was convenient, because I had a family that was all about the long hair. Throughout my adult life, I have, here and there, made decisions to try and change it or layer it or cut it or shorten it. But it doesn’t work. It doesn’t look right. It isn’t me.
Long has always been a security blanket, a way to hide, a shield. But like the lyrics from the famous song of the same name as this post have always reminded me: “Flow it, show it.”
I remember thinking, as a kid, that “old” women shouldn’t have long hair. Chances are, I would have considered a 40-year-old woman like my current self, to be in that category of old. And here I am, with hair long as ever. (And, I might mention, with far more gray than acceptable.) At this point, it’s long not because I love long. It’s long because I don’t have a better way. It’s long because that’s what we do in my family. It’s long because I don’t have the face for short. It’s long because, in its natural state, it’s too heavy and big for anything else.
Don’t get me wrong: I have nice hair. I always have. It is, still, long and beautiful. But it’s long because it’s always been long. Long is comfortable and familiar. Long is all I have ever known.