Free Flowing Woman
I cut my hair super short for the first time before entering Intermediate School in 7th Grade. This was the summer fraught with breasts, bra-buying, and unwanted sexual attention. I said I wanted to cut my hair because I thought it would make me look older and more sophisticated. But really, I wanted to stop the clock on puberty. Since then, my hairstyle has been a barometer of life transitions.
Seventh grade is up there as one of my more miserable years. When I arrived with my super short hair, I was teased for looking too boyish. Couldn’t they see my breasts? I am so definitely a girl. I spent the next 5 years growing my hair long, twirling it into a ballet bun, only to cut it all off again before college. And again when entering the work world. And so on. Each drastic hair cut a harbinger of some kind of important change. For me, short hair on a woman is bold and unconventional, two qualities I feel I lack. Cutting my hair was freeing, allowing me to adopt a braver persona, like when I cut it right before going on a solo cycling adventure.
The last time I went super short was after the birth of my son. I thought the style suited me. Super chic for my work world and super easy as a working mom. I could show off my cheekbones and wear fun earrings. Strong colored lipstick would emphasize my girl-ness. My husband thought it added to my aloof allure. Mainly it was easy.
The man who cut my hair specialized in “precision” haircuts. Remember those? Sharp and angular. I would show up every 6 weeks and sit in the chair and turn over all control to him. Whatever you think looks good was usually my attitude. He was the professional. I trusted him. He would take out his razor and cut and shape, with precision. I left, looking like a sharper version of myself, for the day. And then I would wash my hair and everything was back to the same.
As I got older, sitting in that chair facing the mirror became less and less appealing and more and more of a chore. I started joking, I don’t care how you cut it, just make me look younger. Then I kind of stopped looking in the mirror. It had just become a personal hygiene errand.
Around this time, one of my yoga teachers and mentors gently suggested that my hair was boxy and severe and why not try letting it ease out a bit? Hmm, but what about my cheekbones? At midlife, the short hair made my thin face and prominent cheekbones look drawn and stressed, not elegant and regal. Hmm, but what about looking chic for work? Doesn’t a trendy male stylist know more about what’s up-to-date than a suburban yogini stylist? At midlife, maybe chasing after chic no longer meant sharp and angular. Hmm, but what about easy? I don’t have time to blow dry my hair every morning. She reminded me that once it gets long, it would be super easy to pull it back into a chic chignon. Hmm, but aren’t I too old for longer hair? Long hair is for young girls and sexy women. Not for a middle-aged mom. Hmm, but what about bold and unconventional? Maybe, I could be bold without needing short hair. Maybe, I could embrace what is good about what is conventional in me. Maybe, it was time to be the free-flowing woman I know is inside me, the one who has long, beautiful hair and fabulous scarves and lots of jewelry. Certainly, she is bold and unconventional. What an amazing woman! It was time to let her out.
Since my yoga teacher was a hair stylist by day, I found myself cautiously sitting in her chair about 2 years ago, about the time my mid-life enlightenment was in acute mode. We looked at me in the mirror together. Ready to relinquish control over my style, I allowed her to familiarize herself with my hair. She told me about cowlicks, something I never knew I had! We discussed the impact of cowlicks on how my hair looks. My previous male hairdressers simply had cut my hair so short, the cowlicks were cut away. She laid her hands on my shoulders, drawing attention to how I hold my tension, constantly, and encouraging me to let my shoulders soften. We talked.
We talked about yoga. Which means we talked about life. Everything came up. Love, death, sex, karma, work, friendship, anxiety, depression, eating, monogamy, reincarnation, trauma, diets, vacation, neurogastroenterology, god. She is outspoken. I am reserved. She has beautiful, long, sometimes wild auburn hair. (She’s a free-flowing woman.) I have wavy, still fairly short, dark brown (mixed with an increasing amount of gray) hair. I admired her ability to express strong opinions with assertiveness and confidence. Chronically non-confrontational, I was not always sure I agreed, but I would marinate on things she said, taking it in and adding it to my mosaic of understanding. Gradually, we peeled away more layers to reveal more of what is inside. I was touched that she shared as much of herself as she did.
I have relied on a stream of professionals to advise me on life. Therapists, Executive coaches, Personal Shoppers, Makeup and Hair Stylists, Bosses, Trainers, Teachers, Attorneys. Surrogate parents and teachers who I thought knew better than me about what was best for me. When I was younger, many of these advisors were men, men I relinquished control to. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a conscious effort to choose women, aware of and uncomfortable with the sexist quality of my deference to male authority and of the way I have felt competitive with other women. The quality of working on a project with a woman is different. More collaborative and explorative. As I grow more sure of myself, asserting my opinion first in writing and next, cautiously, in speaking, I am discovering that disagreeing does not mean I have to avoid the person. I don’t have to be a good girl and do everything they advise me to do. Rather, revealing what I think and who I am leads to a more authentic and deeper connection. The other person has a sense of who I am and does not expect me to be just like them. How boring would that be?
Instead of going through the motions of a haircut making small talk, I am practicing how to develop a friendship. As I build this friendship and nurture my lengthening hair, nurture the bold and conventional, sexy and nurturing, chic and free-flowing, maybe I am learning to trust myself. After all, who knows me better than me?
A free flowing woman laughs and loves easily. She is not constrained by rigid rules in her head. She wears original, unusual, creative jewelry and scarves. She is open, not judgmental. She says yes to adventure and has a spark of spontaneity.
One of my yoga teachers shared this poem with me. (I did not write it.) But it has informed my metaphorical desire to be like a free flowing river:
Be as water is
Flow around the edges
Of those within your path
Surround within your ever-moving depths
Those who come to rest there
While never for a moment holding on
Accept whatever distance
Others are moved within your flow
Be with them gently
As far as they allow your strength to take them
And fill with your own being
The remaining space when they are left behind
When dropping down life’s rapids
Froth and bubble into fragments if you must
Know that the one of you now many
Will just as many times be one again
And when you’ve gone as far as you can go
Quietly await your next beginning