My hair is making me just a little crazy right now.
This is the longest my hair has been since 1986 (with the exception of 18 months in 2002-2003). Both times have been visual, albeit largely unheralded, symbols of my determination to get through a time of tumult to the next threshold for my life — personal and professional.
Throughout history, across many cultures and around the world, how we wear our hair is a powerful symbol. Styles and meaning change, but the choices we make send a message to the people around us.
Are you old enough to remember (or even to have been) one of those “long-haired freaky people” in the song Signs (by Canadian group Five Man Electrical Band, reached #3 on the U.S. Billboard chart in 1971) or wondered whether and, if so, why, barristers anywhere still wear wigs)?
My pandemic bubble includes a couple of high-risk people, so I’m making really conservative choices about pretty much everything one might do to avoid COVID exposure. Not only do I not want to get this thing, but if I were to give it to one of my bubble-mates…nope, not going there. I’m doing everything I can to take care of people I love.
Which means I’ve just marked the one-year anniversary of my last haircut.
My hair is greyer than it was even last year — which I don’t mind, really. It’s also thinner than it was in 2002, and doesn’t grow as fast. The little twisted-wire hair combs don’t stay in well for me. Wispy pieces fly around once my hair dries, and so don’t quite all do up into a ponytail without some kind of hair glue. While that looks tidy, the ballerina bunhead look seems pretty severe on me, and definitely needs a little makeup if I want to look like I’m trying. And while the long hair blowout with the curly brush ends up being a pretty good look for me, I find I resent the five or ten minutes amount of time and bother it takes to look good (for, well, who, again?) compared with the short cut I so miss that I could blow dry in 60 seconds flat.
It started last week, when my assistant Jan popped onto our zoom call with an immaculate pageboy ‘do and fresh color. Why now? Plenty of my friends and family have found ways to get themselves to their hairdressers. Why not me?
I wouldn’t even have to go to a salon: my hairdresser, Gail, has come to my home to cut my hair for over a dozen years. Gail is wonderful, and she’s one of the people I miss most. She’s mostly gotten over being exasperated with me (I think).
By this time, you know how the line of logic works: Even if my hairdresser says she’s fine, even if nobody in her family has been sick, she can’t know where any of them (or any of her clients) have been or who they’ve been with. Call me a drama queen if you like, but the way I look at it, even if I don’t get sick, the last thing I want to do is make an asymptomatic transfer of a virus I picked up because I just couldn’t wait a few more months for a haircut, and lose someone I love.
A year into pandemic, I still have to work at not judging people whose ideas about getting through pandemic, or whose entire situations and “bubbles” are different from mine. I have friends who have gone to Disney twice. I have friends who reside in assisted living. I have friends who are medical professionals who have calculated the risks and gone on dive trips and come back just fine. have a couple of friends I walk outside with, masked up and at a distance. I have clients in Texas who were delighted by their governor’s latest decisions on masks, and friends in Florida who were headed to the gym or booking summer concert venues for their musical ensembles the last time I talked to them.
I hope we all come out of this alive and healthy. Not everyone will.
Some people will end up catching the virus despite taking heroic measures to avoid it. I hope my bubble mates and I aren’t among them. My male bubble-mates have more haircut options than I do.
Almost a year ago, one sat himself down in front of me, handed me clippers, and said, “Here. You’re going to cut my hair.”
Well, pandemic has been full of first-time experiences. I do relish collecting new skills, but this was one I hadn’t expected. Fortunately, David’s hair is already pretty short, and he knew which blade and setting to give me. Honestly, his hair is pretty hard to mess up. And what was the downside? At that point in pandemic, he wasn’t going out at all, and wasn’t zooming much either, so even if I messed up a bit, I was pretty much the only person other than him who was going to see it.
I had never applied electric clippers to anyone’s head, and I was nervous. The results were, well, let’s call it “promising” the first time around. I finished with a fresh wave of admiration for the skills of professional barbers and hairdressers everywhere.
On it went. We were both pretty confident by the time I got to my third try. While now it’s one of the pandemic rituals in our temporary normality, we’ll both be delighted when he can return to his wonderful professional neighborhood barber).
By the time I’d found my tonsorial groove, JJ (my husband and fellow bubble-mate) had gotten sufficiently shaggy that he, too, presented himself to me along with an open boxed set of shiny never-used clippers.
Good thing the guy with the more complicated hair came second. I felt nervous all over again, because JJ does do a lot of video conferences. I really wanted to get this right. I was tentative on the first try but at that point any cut was an improvement. The second try… well, let’s say I was glad his schedule didn’t include any on-camera engagements for a couple weeks right after that.
I’ve gotten quite good at cutting his hair (though I have no plans to take up a new profession, and have renewed respect for barbers every time I try to remember what I did right last time), and last time he even said how good it makes him feel to have a fresh haircut. That’s especially high praise!
Age isn’t a “thing” for me. I get exasperated by people — and it’s almost always women — who say things like, “I’ve been running this company for 33 years, so you have to understand that I started my business when I was five…” I am 61 years old and happily own every day of that. I wouldn’t give back a single day of it. It’s also part of why I don’t color my hair anymore. I went through a few years of getting highlights but after a while I just resented the expense along with the implication that I’d be stuck doing it forever if I did it for so long that that was the color people genuinely thought my hair was. I know perfectly well that people change their hair color all the time, and it’s nobody’s business to judge. I genuinely like my grey hair and everything it stands for. If you decide you want to judge me because of my hair color, go right ahead. There’s a completely different blog post out there somewhere about hair color, but today’s not that day.
Then again, I just recently started watching Star Trek Discovery, where many humanoid commanders who don’t have naturally curly hair have straight-down locks. So maybe I’d feel less grouchy about the effort if I decided I was giving myself a command-do.
Paradoxically, given what I just said about hair color, in these days of pandemic, I really notice what a difference it makes when people put some effort into their time on camera: not just their personal appearance but also real background and lighting and sound quality. I make the effort to look professional and put-together: hair, clothes, makeup. I use a real backdrop, not a simulated one. It makes me feel like I’m on my game, and it shows people I make the effort to dress up for them, just as I would if I were visiting their office or conference. It makes the occasion special — for all of us.
Maybe it’s the cumulative effect of the one-year anniversary of pandemic, but last Monday I almost had a mental mini-meltdown in my head during a zoom call. Mondays are what I call “backstage” days, when I typically don’t have any public presentations or provide client service. This call was a working committee meeting and I thought of myself as not being on serious public display. So I was having a no-makeup, hair-pulled-back day. Ironically, our committee meeting was all about planning another “virtual networking” session for members of an industry association, and we were talking a lot about best practices for how to show up on camera. That day, I just wasn’t walking my talk. I kind of thought it didn’t matter that much that day.
A fellow committee member who started the meeting off-camera, was cajoled into making an appearance, and wow she looked great! Impeccable short-hair coif of the kind I miss so much, and perfectly-blended makeup, too. I had instant haircut-envy, even though she admitted she had just gotten all done up for a video shoot. My “not-good-enough” inner critics were all over me in a heartbeat. I’m grateful to be close enough friends with these good folks to have been able to share how I felt, and that they are good enough friends to say, “Hey, give yourself a break,” and “Hey, we’ve got you,” and “I really appreciate you sharing how you feel. It happens to me too — the experience and how I felt about it. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.”
The only other time in the last 35 years that I ever let it grow anything like this long was when I decided it was time to leave my job of 14 years, the job that had brought me to Washington, at the Canadian Embassy. I hadn’t yet figured out when I was leaving or what I was going to do next, but growing my hair out was one thing I had control over. It took me a year of soul-searching and researching before I found the courage to simply walk away without a clear plan at all.
The day after I told my manager I was done, I went out and got my hair cut short again. It wasn’t exactly burning the ships, but there was no turning back.
Today, my long hair is a symbol of my love and solidarity with my bubble-mates, and commitment to my family, to get us all through pandemic safely together. When I get my second shot of vaccine, I’ll be making my appointment for my haircut.
For so many reasons, I can hardly wait.