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Updated: May 29, 2020

A pixie cut, to be more precise – freshman year of college has just finished. My mom is shocked and visibly disturbed, though if you asked her she’d shrug and say it’ll grow back. The tension in her shoulders gives her away. I ask her again what do you think? She says she worries I’ll be mistaken for “one of those lesbian girls”.

I cut my hair and now my dad worries that I look too much like him. He wonders why that amuses me. I joke didn’t you always want a son? This is the wrong thing to say.

The first six months with the pixie cut I walk with new strength in my steps. I stride where I used to tread, look people in the eye more often as if to say you see my face? Well I see yours too. Though, I don’t know if that’s completely true. My face is now a stage without curtains, spotlighted from all angles — no one’s defenses have lowered except mine.

Some acquaintances don’t recognize me. This is an unexpected perk. Some decent friends don’t recognize me. This is an unexpected hurt. They are all surprised, and tell me so. Surprise suggests expectation, and I don’t understand either.

I try to save myself some money and trim the back of my head myself — I end up with a staircase on my scalp.

I guess cutting my hair was symbolic. I thought that by cutting my hair I could throw a wrench in the stereotypes and expectations for my behavior — those projected on me because of my smallness, because of my girl-ness, because of my Asian-ness. See?! I thought my hair would say, I’m allowed to be nothing like you expected.

I thought a pixie cut would better represent my personality. I’m not so sure now, unless not getting carded at the liquor store and having strangers be slightly more intimidated by me better represents my personality.

Months six through twelve, and I don’t remember what long hair feels like. My new “lifestyle” has brought on a whole world of newness. I no longer find clumps of my own shed hair around my room, I’ve taken to going to barbershops (the ones that’ll take me), the people who ask me out are different, and new acquaintances script a different past narrative for me in their minds. I start to panic. How can new people even try to know me, I think, when to them this is how I’ve always been.

In destroying one mask I’ve donned another. My quiet is now taken as sullenness rather than timidity. I have cornered myself into a new set of expectations that come with being a “small angry Asian girl with a pixie cut”, which I guess is what I have become. I don’t know if I’ve always been angry and the hair just makes it apparent — like invisible ink you can only see with a blacklight — or if the hair is whispering anger into my scalp, telling me to play the role I’ve unwittingly written.

Two years from now I’ll toss my regrown mane over my shoulder and think how burdensome an accessory hair can be — how like a turtle’s shell it both conceals and implies softness.

After eighteen months of exposed neck and borrowed confidence, I start growing my hair out again. I cannot say why, I’m not sure. Maybe I’m tired. The following year is a test of perseverance (it takes 365 days to choose to grow out hair and only one to choose to chop it off). I cry a lot, at least more than the previous year; I don’t know what the hair has to do with it, but I am a reverse Samson. Where his hair was his strong, my hair is my soft. Every inch I sprout from my scalp is another iota of tenderness restored to my skin. I feel so much, too much? Abnormally much? I remind myself correlation is not causation.

I haven’t cut my hair in three years. Partly out of laziness, partly out of waiting for it to feel right. It’s like I’m at a restaurant watching the waiter grind pepper into my pasta, except I don’t know when to “say when”. Maybe I’ve missed it. Maybe it doesn’t exist. But for now, I’ll keep growing and shedding the years behind me, a testament to all I have been. If you see me in five years with split ends down to my knees, you’ll know why.

A version of this was originally published in The Jellyfish Review in May, 2019.

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