Me and my hair

by tamarjacobson

There are those who say that I psychologilize too much. And I would agree that I do … just not "too" much. For while awareness can be painful when confronting my imperfections, I would rather understand why I feel what I feel, or do what I do, than live in a dark, unintentional haze of psychological ignorance. I rather like discovering what my subconscious has to offer, or what lies within the ancient, emotional memory templates of my brain. Mostly it frees me to be all I want without fear, and frankly I am sick and tired of schlepping all that burden around with me any longer.

Which brings me to the subject of my hair.


I almost always kept it long. I had a love-hate relationship with my hair. When I was young growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) it was too curly and fuzzy. In such a racist environment I quickly learned that my kind of hair was unacceptable in a white, "civilized" society. In those days it was bad enough that I felt like I did not belong within my complex family system, and therefore did everything I could to try and fit in externally to any social group that would have me. So, I tortured myself with lengthy, agonizing hair-straightening sessions, which were undone in a second if one drop of humidity slipped through the air around me. 


Living in Israel during my twenties and thirties, I allowed my hair to grow long and wild. I did not hate it as much as when I was younger, because it seemed to fit in more with the culture around me. Indeed, there were quite a few people with hair like mine. I felt more acceptable, and even sexually attractive, although when I spoke Hebrew my anglo-saxon accent was immediately detected as "other." Indeed, when I worked as a preschool teacher, Israeli parents would express concern that I might not teach their children to speak Hebrew appropriately. Looking back I realize what with one thing and another, my memories are laced with feelings of angst, loneliness, and longing, nay, struggling to belong to anyone, or group that would have me. 

And then I came to America.


Almost 26 years ago, I arrived in Buffalo, New York one year shy of turning 40. And I changed my life. Even though it was my decision to uproot me and my son, and leave everything behind, I arrived in America feeling like a refugee as if I was going into exile – into hiding from a painful past. People opened their arms and hearts to me, and took me in. My long, wild hair and strange, antique, British, Rhodesian accent seemed exotic and charming to everyone I met. And if I worked and studied hard, the academic community accepted and acknowledged me. For the following twenty years as my hair grew and grew, I reinvented myself academically, professionally, and personally.


About five years ago, I cut my hair. I was sitting in the hair salon looking at myself in the mirror, when the stylist came up behind me and asked what I wanted to have done. At first, I had come in to have a small trim, as I always did about every eight or nine months or so. Suddenly, without thinking I said, "Cut it off!" My voice was strong, firm and clear. "All of it?" she exclaimed. "Yes," I said. Well, she snipped and cut and people sitting around the room gasped and spluttered as the fuzzy curls tumbled to the floor. She made a dent to it, I must say. And I quite liked it.
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But somehow it was not enough. And then one day my friend Hana and I were walking on Forbidden Drive by the Wissahickon, when she declared to me that what a person needs in this life to be happy and successful is a good therapist and an excellent hair stylist. We laughed about that, but the idea hit home. I asked her for recommendations. One was the therapist, and the other – Olivier. And I have not looked back!

Two years ago I was heading to Italy for a writer's workshop. I visited Olivier for my usual haircut. I said to him, "Make me chic, and stylish – make me look like an intellectual – a writer." He set to work, and created a new me.


As I looked at myself in the mirror I felt at home with me – finally – after all these years of searching for self worth. Strange things started to happen. Colleagues thought I had been very ill – maybe with cancer – my mother hated it with a vengeance. She was forthright, calling it "vile," and openly shuddering with disgust each time I walked in the room. People stopped telling me how cute and curly I looked, and it even put an end to some of them taking the liberty of intrusively running their fingers through my hair without my permission. More importantly, though, I felt free, mature and confident when I looked in the mirror. I had made a statement for me, and with it I banished the emotional pain of my past. 

Quite a lot for just a hair cut, I must say.

These past ten months, I decided to grow my hair again. I had fun asking "friends" in a status update on Facebook to vote on my hair – long or short. Interestingly, the men surveyed were unanimous about it being long. Women were mixed – mostly liking it short. Now, it has reached the point where I can go either way – full on long or short as in Italy. I have thought about it a lot – hence this blog post!  Indeed, as I write this piece I see that it could even serve as an outline for a Memoir Through my Hair.

As I see it, growing it long pulls me down, back into my past, and I do not want to go back there again. Cutting my hair short brings me present for all that is, and right here, right now, is where I want to be.