Socially acceptable haircuts: (Left) My short hair; (Right) My manageable hair now.
Vanity isn't my sin of choice.
I've clung to it during a phase of sexual awakening, confusing using 'feminine wiles' with being feminine. For most, it's simply about linking their self image to what they see in the mirror. The punishment? When the mirror cracks, so do you.
In my case, it was six months of riding a high in my early twenties, stemming from a sudden awareness of how I looked and what I could do with it, which was never a thing of consequence before. I used and abused it. And suddenly, I was spiraling into excess, unable to resist the compulsions that come with a disordered body. I don't know if it led to or was founded by certain traumatic events at the time. But the tides had turned, and my world fell apart.
I'd like to say that it was neat - picking up the pieces, finding humility and promising that I'd never do it again. But healing rarely is. I struggled with heaviness, in my heart and body. The heart, I knew somewhere, would eventually heal. But the body was no longer willing to listen to me. So I took control in the only way I could - I got a haircut.
Now I know it's a cliche - getting a haircut after heartbreak, but to me it wasn't just part of a recovery process. Time had passed, I had met new people who thought I was cool for surviving it all. I went to the salon, almost goaded the hairstylist into cutting it ("I'm not doing this. 10 girls have screamed at me this month alone for trimming their hair too short. You will come back and kill me in my sleep," he argued), and came out with a hairstyle which was a pixie cut at the front and a buzz behind.
It was really short compared to my shoulder-length thick hair from before. It was short compared to anything, actually. I won major cool points with my new crowd.
While I chose to be single and happy, I didn't forget to check in with the opposite sex, occasionally. Reactions that followed were amusing to say the least:
1. ''You're edgy and emotionally unavailable, what's not to dig''?
2. ''Please don't/do tell me you're sexually confused now''
It was as if they had started assuming that I would be into anything... casual.
But my family's reaction is what did it for me.
"This is a cry for help," my youngest, closest, most important aunt said with disgust, "I can't even look at you anymore". The younger lot looked at me with pity. The khap panchayat aka family elders, discussed this at length, somehow, linking this to the topic of my marriage. Which at 23 was out of the blue. They decided to make this haircut about THEM. It was a reaction. It was a sign that drugs and alcohol would soon follow. This was what happened when a girl grew up without parents. No guy, family, would accept me.
The last proclamation struck a nerve. It got me thinking, was this all about a guy rejecting me? I'd been through so much more, but was an encounter with emotional abuse the reason I was trying to be different, afraid that being myself was not good enough?
I refused to look in the mirror for the next few days, and just tried to feel my haircut. It required almost no maintenance, made my mind feel lighter and was not something I had to think about at all. It didn't even really mean anything, apart from a spontaneous urge. And for the first time in a year, I felt like my self image was not determined by anything outside of me. I really didn't care.
I was, possibly, never going to be 'right' enough for some people. I grew out my hair, but to a length which requires no struggle with mousse and hair straighteners. I don't see a buzz cut or Rapunzel phase in my future, but I see many new hairstyles to go with new beginnings and endings. But sometimes, it just won't mean a goddamn thing.
Sometimes, a haircut will just be a haircut.
Juhi Baveja is senior fashion writer at Fashion101.in. She is into obscure poetry, movies no one sees and books only she can read. She blogs every now and then on www.thebitchsessions.tumblr.com. Read more posts by her on her Fashion101 Blog.