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The length of my hair

A day prior to Eid is always chaotic at home. Every painting on the walls is readjusted, while high school medallions are wiped as new. The kitchen is never quiet — pressure cooker whistles while boiling milk hisses; the lawn is re-mowed and the mud stains around the flower pots’ bases are greased out. Every member of the family is handed a to-do-list, and a clear wake up call for 8 am is announced a night before. After the house has been tidied to its potential, comes the turn of its family members to shine up. A late evening appointment at the salon, for my sister and me, to get our faces and hair ‘fixed.’ The face part is simply being told of all the problems one’s face has, and sticking to just getting the eyebrows shaped. Getting hair fixed, on the other hand, has been my anxiety haven.

Having thick wavy hair, all my school life I maintained a traditional long braid. Being the obedient child I was, I kept them oiled, well-braided, never let loose. An achievement, which received unsolicited attention. “Never cut you hair, look at those gorgeous long locks!”, family/relatives would advise. Long hair are always a beauty, I was told. But that they demand your time and endless patience, was never quite pointed out.

The love for long hair eventually turned into a fear of having short hair.

Each visit to a hairdresser would require me to bring along a chaperone, who would strictly watch over the length to which the scissors went, quite literally behind my back. “Just cut less than 3–4 centimetres off the ends, only the split ends,” I would announce. “Do you want layers or steps?” the hairdresser would enquire. “Nothing. I quite like the length now, might carry it for a bit longer,” standard reply. The prospect of someone chopping my strands as I stare into a mirror, was a sure trip to anxiety land.

Gradually, my confidence in hairdressers grew lesser and lesser. No one quite understood the value of lengthy hair, and the eons of time they take to grow. So I began avoiding getting my hair cut altogether. I would wait a year to get a haircut, sometimes ending in disasters as I was told my hair were too damaged and had to be chopped to mid levels. Eventually, leading to me have medium length hair. Now everyone around me began mourning my long hair in the past and say, “They won’t grow as long as earlier ever again. Once cut, long tresses do not come back.” Comparing it to some irreversible damage to a brain.

As the years went by, I grew accustomed to such remarks, having medium length hair and a general mistrust in hair dressers.

Until I met the perfect woman, who at first look of my hair, began chanting, “Mashallah! This is the kind of hair I want to style. This is the kind of beautiful hair, that I want to cut.” No hairdresser, in my life span of 26 years and countless salon visits, had ever appreciated my hair so much. It had always been quite the opposite. I was quite awestruck. Rather than counting the endless issues that my hair had, as was always the case, someone was actually appreciating them! I knew I could trust her.

When Shohre, the hairdresser, began cutting my hair, she noticed that I was conscious of every sound the scissors made. “You’re afraid aren’t you,” she whispered. I gently nodded. “Don’t worry. I will not cut a lot of them. In fact, the least of my clients so far!” Shohre announced and we both laughed. I spent the best one hour at her place, with the most comfortable I had ever been around hairdressers. As we finished, she passed on some wise words, before I left, “They’re just hair. They always grow back. Beauty lies inside us. And love is the most beautiful thing on this earth. If you love yourself from the inside, and have a partner who does so too, then nothing else matters. And also, buy Kerastase shampoo, it’ll work well with your hair!”

Along with giving me good shampoo recommendation, she passed on some valuable wisdom that stuck with me. I began looking at my hair not like a treasure that can be lost any time, rather a feature that can evolve and let me experience change my way. I continued growing my hair, and was told several times how beautiful my long hair looked, to which I would reply, “Thanks. I’m planning to chop them all off, pretty soon,” leading to shocked reactions.

I do plan to sport a bob sometime in the future, and that prospect is no longer scary. In fact an exciting one. The anxiety around haircut is also somewhere, but the knowledge that a bad haircut, does not lessen any beauty, is deeply comforting. It gives you a perspective of the larger scheme of things, enable you to have macro-patience and develop a self-love attitude, one which a shoddy haircut cannot dispel. I no longer stare at a mirror, assessing my hair’s length and checking if they’ve grown at all.

At some point, we all grapple with certain physical attributes of ours, but it only makes sense to draw a line between being conscious and being self-deprecating towards one’s looks. The world around is already hell-bent on proving us insufficient unless we buy the next wellness product. We might as well retain the sanity of our mirrors.

So, the next time I go to a hairdresser, maybe I’ll still point them out to not cut my tresses too short. But I will not be vulnerable to their length. Rather be more pertinent towards my own thoughts, and learn to engage with them sans the dread. Long hair or not, we need to be confident in our ability to step away from narratives that impose us into expectations to look a certain way, based on socio-cultural influences. Rather create our own set of expectations.

A bad haircut does not change me as a person. The only concerning change will be my smartphone’s inability to unlock due to failed facial recognition feature. I can handle that.

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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