Even the Hairs On Our Heads

Today, my husband is having a bad hair day. That is, it's a bad day for him because I'm getting a haircut.

My hair has long been a source of distress for Jeff. Even though when we met I had what can best be described as a Winona-Ryder-Reality-Bytes mid-90s shag, Jeff loves the way I look best with long hair. In the second year of our courtship, Jeff moved to Florence, Italy for nine months, and midway through his time there, I came to visit him with my longer hair. He fell madly in love with me all over again – obviously – but also became very attached to my Italy hair. It still lives in his memory. Much to his chagrin (though he wisely didn’t tell me at the time), while he was still in Italy, I chopped my hair into a pixie cut for the first time. I felt empowered and liberated. Jeff quietly grieved.

Fast forward 25 years. I have had every hair cut from "the Rachel" to Meg Ryan's bedhead 'do in You've Got Mail, to what I like to think of as the Sophia Vergara. Several years ago, Jeff told me that he could no longer be a part of my haircut decisions; he needed to emotionally detach. These were his actual words, "emotionally detach." He relishes it when my deep brown locks are half way down my back, and feels very disappointed whenever I get a haircut. Usually I don’t tell him it’s coming, and just hope he doesn’t notice when I get a trim. I pay cash so he doesn’t see the credit card charge and get triggered.

We have two teenage daughters now, and they are going through their own hair revolutions. The one and only way that Jeff is extremely traditional is in the aspect of hair, and so the man of our house is grieving all over again. Long hair is the most attractive and feminine in his mind, and none of the females in our house are very committed to that aesthetic.

And so, Jeff struggles on. In the sixth grade, Sophia cut her hair into a pixie. And she maintained its uber-short status until the pandemic, during which she grew it out into the Winona Ryder shag. (She has mid-90s Winona on her wall as a fashion icon. She is my mini-me at almost every stage.) But, she hated her hair. She hated its weight. She hated having to style it. She hated the feel of it on the back of her neck. And most importantly, she didn’t feel like herself. And so last week, before her senior year of high school, I took her to my hairdresser and ally so she could have cut it all off again. And I’m not exaggerating: She has been smiling since.

Me at 19, with my first pixie, photographed by a collge friend, to send Jeff overseas.

Sophia, last week, on her way home from her triumphant return to the pixie.

Meanwhile, our 13-year-old Liv got an under-cut (for those of you not up to the latest, this means she had the lower third of her head SHAVED). I warned Jeff ahead of time. He was to tell the girls they looked beautiful. He was not to groan outwardly. And hopefully, he could also work on not groaning inwardly.

Why does this even matter? Well, in some ways hair should not matter at all. What we do with something on top of our heads that is not permanent shouldn’t be a very big deal. And our value shouldn’t come from our appearance.

Hair seems to be kind of an issue in so many contexts, though, doesn't it? Whether or not to cover it is central to major religions. Long hair became a symbol in the culture wars of the 1970s. African Americans have felt excluded by European standards of beauty for hair, and found significant cultural and personal freedom by reestablishing natural hair texture as beautiful. The Old and New Testament talk about hair as a metaphor for power, purity and cultural identity. Jesus, expressing God's intimate love and care for us, said, "Even the hairs on your head are numbered."

In our household, the hair conflict speaks to something very significant – the balance between pleasing ourselves and pleasing others. We need both to be accepted and loved by others and also fulfill a desire to express ourselves. As parents, making hair choices (as well as makeup, clothes, piercings, etc), is about teaching our children what the outside world may imply about them based on their appearance, and then let them make their own choice and bear their own consequences -- telling them all the while that we love them as they are. I was brought to tears last week by life coach Mel Robbins' post on Instagram, "People-pleasers start as parent-pleasers," which went on to tell the story of convincing her son to cut the dyed blue tips off his hair so he would be accepted at his new school, and how the result was teaching him her acceptance and love was transactional. I made hair appointments for the kids that day.

On a spiritual/marital level, I have had a lot of conflict over this issue and even consulted older Christian women for advice. If, as the scripture says, the husband’s body belongs not only to himself and but also to his wife and vice versa, do I give Jeff an equal or even deciding vote on my appearance? Some of my mentors said "Yes. Keep your hair long for your honey."

But here’s where all my training in healthy boundaries comes in. We all have to own our own skin; we have to be comfortable in it and take responsibility for it. We have to make our own decisions so we recognize ourselves in the mirror and feel we are acting in congruence with ourselves. But then, we don’t get to control how other people feel about the decisions we make about ourselves. Their feelings are outside our boundaries. So, my spiritual conclusion is that I should cut my hair the way I like it, and then I don’t demand that Jeff love what I love, or tell me he’s happy over the new look. He gets to mourn. He gets to groan inwardly. And then, sweet, sweet, loving man that he is, I know he will move on, because he loves me and accepts that my desire to get this horse's mane off my neck now and then is part of who I am.

And it turns out that, in our marriage, since he gives me that freedom, I actually enjoy making him happy. I like seeing myself in the mirror of his eyes. So, I don’t get a pixie. I get a long, layered bob instead of the Sophia Vergara – and that’s a good compromise.

This freedom goes both ways. Jeff declared 2007 the year of the beard, and grew one. This was a real shock to me, since he’d been clean-shaven since we met in 1995. Well, it's 2021 and the beard is still with us. Our youngest has never seen him without it. And now that it’s almost totally gray, I’ve asked him if perhaps he might want to shave it and see what his mid-forties face looks like without it. I miss the face I fell for 26 years ago. I’ve tried to illicit help from our kids and his sisters in convincing him. (Our youngest daughter is NOT on my side. She hates pictures of him beardless.)

But this week, instead of shaving, he is growing it longer. It is getting unruly and some of the gray hairs are curling willy-nilly about his chin. But I see him smile at himself in the mirror. So I’m buying him some beard oil, I offered to comb it, and I’m done groaning out loud. In fact, I’m not even groaning inwardly. I’m happy that my husband is comfortable in his own skin. And I love every hair on his head.

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