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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

By Kellie Purcill

Hair1987 – I’m ten, and my tiny country school has sent the Grade 5 and 6 class (all 15 of us) 550kms/370 miles to Sydney. We tour the harbour, a historic site, and lunchtime has us sitting on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Frankly, we’re all overwhelmed. Our town doesn’t even have three hundred people living there, only enough for one pub, a library the size of two parking spaces, and the nearest restaurant or cinema is two hours’ drive away. To be under the hot sun in Sydney, where it looks like the entire world has come for lunch, with different languages and smells and weird looking people whirling around us – I try to absorb every detail and not freak out at the same time.

My teacher, also the school principal, comes over. “Kellie, I have a favour to ask of you.” I look at him, bewildered. “See that lady over there?” he points quickly to where his wife (another teacher) is standing next to a lady with smiling eyes, both of whom are watching me. “She’s a tour guide, and her group” another vague wave another ten paces to the left “- would like to have their photo taken with you.”

“My photo?” I repeat, confused. I’m never asked to be IN a photo. I’m the odd looking one, with Band-Aids always on both knees, freshly grown front teeth finally descended, a wonky donkey amongst the fillies and thoroughbreds in my class. “Yes, your photo” he repeats. “Would you mind? They would really appreciate it.”

I stand, obedient, and he walks me over to the ladies, where the one with smiling eyes kind of nods at me then walks backwards, nodding and gesturing to me all the way. Then, I’m surrounded. By a shifting group of adults barely taller than I am – FLASH a camera shouts – another set of people gather around me, while in front at least ten more take their own photos while the tour guide nods between dazzling me with her monster flash. After several minutes the (Chinese? Japanese?) group murmurs something to me, nod and are led off towards the building, a bobbing sea of dark hair and smiling eyes. I’m sure that in every photo, at least one person was touching me.

No, not touching me. They wanted to touch and photograph my hair.

Skip forward two years and I’m in high school. My knees are usually free of Band-Aids now, not regularly up a tree, though I am almost always in possession of a book. I’ve now heard every known nickname for a redhead, and have developed the temper to match. Class is dismissed; I stand and then sprawl clumsily to sit back down. The boys sitting behind me erupt into hoots and sniggers – they’ve tied my hair to my chair, in an impressive bow tie. I didn’t feel a thing. My hair is somewhere between my backside and knees in length, and I’ve been getting headaches from the impressive weight of it all. I go to the office, ask them to ring my Mum – I’ve got another headache and have reached my limit. Half an hour later Mum arrives to collect me, and as soon as we’re home I see my neighbour to organise a haircut. An hour later my hair swings around my shoulder blades while my neck feels impossibly long and light. That night my Dad takes one look at me and walks out of the house. He doesn’t speak to me for two days, my Mum for a week. “You shouldn’t have cut your hair.” he coldly states. “It’s your crowning glory.”

Jump ahead to this past Sunday. Relief Society ends and I feel a tap on my shoulder. “I was just sitting here – your hair is amazing!” sighs the younger sister. “It’s just the colour, the different hues, the waves in it… amazing.” She smiles, and I smile back. “Well, it won’t be for long,” I confide “I’m getting it cut short.”

“Oooooh!” she squeaks, excited. “How short?” We discuss hair lengths, and preferences, particularly with the hot and humid summer we’re having. Then an older sister approaches. “Kel, I was sitting three rows back and I have to say – your hair is GLOR-I-OUS”. The word curls out of her mouth, the drama, length and longing in it reminding me for an instant of Rupunzel’s long twirling tresses. I smile, knowing she has commented positively on and touched my hair nearly every week for the past year. “Well, enjoy it,” I smile again “’cause it’s all getting chopped off.”

I can’t help it – I enjoy the sudden drop of her jaw in total disbelief. “NO!” she groans, and slaps my arm in disapproval. “You can’t! How short? No!” Her husband wanders up and she pokes me as she tells him “GUESS what’s she’s doing! CUTTING HER HAIR!”

I look at him, amused, and am rewarded with another impressive jaw drop. “No!” he says, “Really?”

“Yep,” I grin, enjoying it all immensely. “Sure am.”

He sighs, then shrugs. “You know, back in high school we’d all talk about girls. Some would prefer blondes, others brunettes, but EVERYONE loves a redhead.” He smiled dreamily, gazing happily up at the ceiling. I feel my own jaw start to drop, then laugh quietly at his blissed out expression.

His wife softly pouted as she looked at me, and tucked a loose twist of curl back over my shoulder. “Really? Why?” she asked me quietly. “Really,” I explain. “It’s too hot, I’m outside all day for work, and I don’t have the time or inclination to look after it.” I shrugged.

She patted my shoulder – or rather, my hair – again and shrugged herself.

“It’s okay,” she said, comforting one of us. “It’ll grow back.”

What is your relationship like with your hair? Do you love it, hate it, hide behind it or wear it loud and proud? Is there a hair style or colour you’ve always wanted? Do you think men see women’s hair as more than just hair?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

21 thoughts on “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow”

  1. This is very well-written; thanks for an enjoyable read!

    I don't know what it is that men have with girl's hair, but I'd like to understand what the deal is. I do know that my mom kept her hair much longer than was comfortable for her for years, only because my dad strongly did not want her to cut it. I know she is not the only woman out there who has been in that situation. I also know that my husband thinks that's crazy, and always tells me to do whatever makes me happy. It's a marker of understanding for us, I guess, of his larger gift to me: his willingness to let me be free to change and grow and still be loved. I appreciate that a lot.

    That said, I am terrible about maintaining or styling my hair. I love a good haircut, but I don't get them regularly enough and young kids makes it really hard to find time for making it look nice. I never learned good styling. In fact, just one hour ago I was standing in front of the mirror lamenting its sad state. I'm at the end of my hair rope! I absolutely admire my friends who've chopped theirs super short.

  2. I have always had straight brown hair. Fairly boring – worn in a bob most of my life. Presently worn just below shoulders because been too busy to cut. Well in the last month it has turned really curly. Everyone loves it and are amazed that it has changed all of a sudden after 40 years.

    I still not sure how to handle the change. I spent a fortune in the 80's with perms and now it has decided to do it by itself. I feel like I look like I have stepped out of the 80's. I don't recognise myself in a mirror. Amazing hoe I think of myself is affected by how my hair looks.

    My husband has a soft spot for Red Heads – but then so have I. Wish mine was red and always had crushes on red heads.

  3. I never wear my hair shorter than my shoulders, or at least a long bob. It is my rebellion against my mother, even though I am 41. Because when I was a little girl, she had it cut like a boy's haircut. I hated it and felt like a boy, and I jumped extra hard as we ran around the gym to the Rocky theme song, trying hard to make my hair bounce, like all the other girls' hair. I just found out a couple years ago, that she cut it like that because it was the style: the cupie style. She thought it looked cute! But I felt like a boy. I keep mine longer now, because otherwise, I don't feel pretty! But I do love how others look with short sassy hair, and I admire their bravery. They don't even look like boys.

  4. Thanks for this fun piece about hair. I do think thick red hair is so beautiful (especially curly!).

    When I was younger, I had long blonde hair, and my dad didn't want me to cut it. I didn't mind at first, I loved my long hair, but as I got older I resented the fact that he was insistant that I not cut my hair. My freshman year in HS, I cut it off to my shoulders, and I loved it, but grew it out again : ).

    I now have three girls, and I've always said I'd let them have any hair style they want. Guess what they prefer- long hair. It's funny really.

    Now, I keep my hair short for awhile, and when I want a change, I grow it out until I have enough to donate it to Locks of Love. By then I'm so sick of the long hair, that I'm more than happy to whack it all off and go back to a short style. I haven't ever gone so short as a pixie cut, but I've often wished I was brave enough to do it.

    Luckily, I too, like 34, have a husband who is willing to let me do whatever I want with my hair. I've sometimes actually begged him to tell me his preference, just in case I decide that what I want to do with my hair is please him. He always comes back to "I just want you to be happy with it". Ultimately, I'm thankful this is his attitude, but sometimes, I don't want to make the decision!

  5. My teenage daughter has beautiful long and very curly hair. She gets compliments on it every day. My biggest problem is that she has so many other great qualities that seem to get overshadowed by her hair. Her seminary teacher had the class write nice things about each other on small pieces of paper and give them to each other. She came home with a stack of papers all describing how beautiful her hair is. It was kind of ridiculous. Her reply to these compliments is always "thanks, I grew it myself". She knows that a compliment on her hair is hollow and it has made her better at giving true compliments. I just don't want her being defined by her hair.

  6. I have reddish strawberry-blonde hair, so I've always gotten lots of compliments on the color. Even though I usually don't get around to doing much with it, I feel guilty cutting it short because of the color. My dad liked it long, although he didn't pressure me. My husband now prefers it long but is generally ok with what I want to do with it. The shortest I've gone is to my shoulders. Maybe someday I will go shorter!

  7. I love that you're making such a drastic change. It feels good. Of course you know my relationship with hair:) Can't wait to see the results. Some time soon I'll convince you about the beauty and power of a shaved head.

  8. I am so lucky to have a husband who has been totally ok with my short hair. As a matter of fact, he has helped me shave my head 3 times in the past 4 years, twice for brain surgery and once because my hair was pulling on my scars and I was in so much pain it was driving me crazy. I thought that it might help. (It didn't) I cried when I asked him to do it, because, while I do have an ok shaped head, I also have long scars and a huge lump from my shunt placement. I felt weird and silly looking. My hubby merely laughed and said that he thought it would be fun for us to have the same haircut. He also informed me that it would grow back, and I can always wear hats.
    I am sad that your dad had such a negative reaction to something that really didn't matter. We try to let our girls do what they want with their hair. It is thiers. colors can change, length can come and go.
    (I will admit a tiny bit of jealousy to the color of your "crowning glory" (: )

  9. All I know is, I'm am predjudiced TOWARDS my red headed sisters, partially from envy. But, basically, since college, any auburned haired woman I meet I automatically seem to realize is going to be a friend. All of my best friends for twenty years have been gloriously gingers. I named a daughter after one of them. I figure, when I see a powerful woman who shows off her gorgeous hair, whatever length, I'm probably going to figure out she's also a great writer and incredibly smart, and then I will have a friend for life. Maybe it's an Anne and Diana thing? Or maybe just my blessed friendship with you 🙂

    hair issues: I always wanted curls. ALWAYS. all of my friends who have curls continually blow dry theirs out straight. All of my blonde friends want dark hair and my dark haired friends want blonde hair, so everyone has roots everywhere. My African American friends want straight hair, too, while I always wanted a 'fro. and I have straight, boring brown locks. No red anywhere. I have to make due with what I get and enjoy it anyway 🙂

  10. My hair is blonde and straight, and has been parted on the side since I was in elementary school. I've had bangs, or not. It's been chin-length and long. And my personal seven-year itch is the overwhelming desire to chop it all off, way short (which I did at 19, 26, and 34). I've just spent the last two years growing it all long again, and even though short was easy, I really like having it long again.

    Both of my parents went gray in their late 30s, so I'm expecting to find silver strands any day. My mom has beautiful white hair– people stop her on the street and ask what kind of hair dye she uses, but I'm not sure if I can pull off long, white hair if it starts happening to me soon.

  11. I have had a complicated relationship with my hair. In high school, it was a beautiful golden blond, thick, straight and down to my waist. My dad wouldn't let me cut it. Not even a trim. The summer before my senior year, I had a friend cut a few inches off so it would at least look healthy, and my dad grounded me for the entire summer. I liked having pretty hair, but I was bugged that it was the only thing people noticed.

    So of course I cut it to my chin after I got married. I didn't spend the money for a decent cut, so it looked awful. It's very thick so it just poufed out and looked decidedly unattractive. After I started having kids, it went really wavy on me. I didn't quite know what to do with it for a long time, but then I read "Curly Girl" and now I've got pretty incredible waves. Also, I dyed it red about five years ago and will never go back to blond!

  12. Love this. Isn't it funny how things like this can mean so much to people? It's been a year since my mom started chemo for breast cancer. When her hair started falling out we decided to be proactive and have a hair shaving/crazy wig party for all the girls in the family. It took something that was sad and made it into something we could laugh about, but I have to say that those first few chops were pretty hard for me, and I was only doing the cutting. One year out and she's doing great and her hair is starting to come back. I wrote a little blog post about it. http://www.kirstenbeitler.com/my-brush-with-life/what-makes-a-woman-

  13. I haven't always love my red hair, but only because it made me different. Then when I was a teen, I decided that if my hair stopped being red that I would dye it red. :). I wasn't really teased for it, so that helped.

    As for choppin it, I do that about once a year and get rid of about four inches. It feels SO good. And I never regret it because I know it will grow back. Fast.

    I'm excited to see pictures Kel!

  14. I have all sorts of hair issues…

    I grew up with long hair, not necessarily because one of my parents didn't want it cut but because it just never got cut. When I was a junior in high school I finally got bangs cut, and I had an unreal amount of anxiety about that. My hair was long until after my first year of college. The interesting thing about it was that it wasn't long beautiful hair, it was just long hair. But it was so hard emotionally to cut it that I decided my daughters would never have only long hair, so they routinely had chin length hair cuts every year when swim season started. I wanted them to grow up understanding that you can cut your hair and it grows back, and that they would be fine either way.

    I am lucky that my husband is more concerned about my happiness than about my hair length–I can wear my hair the way I feel like it looks good on me, without worrying that he will be upset when I get it cut.

    I have a friend that grew up with her father saying that a hair was a woman's crowning glory. She never cuts her hair, and now her three daughters (all younger than 10) have ultra-long hair. Sure, it's pretty when it's well taken care of, but most of the time it just looks unkempt and messy…

  15. 34 – It's the maintaining which kills me! I'd love long hair, but it never stays in a braid or plait, and [enter 700 other reasons!]. And I AM going super short – should be fun!

    Elissa – It's weird how hair can just change, all of a sudden. I wanted a perm in the 80's, but wasn't allowed.

    Jenni – Oh, I wanted bouncy hair too! I'm not cutting my hair for the same sort of reason you've grown yours, but I know my Mum isn't going to like the result simply because it is cutting it!

    Charity – I wonder if your girls will want short hair as they grow up. Locks of Love is a great idea, I'm hoping mine will be long enough to donate to too!

    Jennefer – oh, I know your daughter's experience! I never comment on peoples' hair for that same reason – I may admire a clip or updo, but not the colour.

    Melissa – interesting how your length reads as getting shorter and shorter with the years 🙂

    Angry Baker – I know I'm going to love short hair. Sadly, I have a truly enormous head, so doubt shaving my head for anything but solidarity or medical reasons is very unlikely!

  16. KShaw – please tell your husband I think he rocks for shaving your head for you. That is so totally awesomesauce, I love it – almost as much as disliking your pain and surgery requiring it. I hope if you've been looking that you've found a fantastic hat, and that your hair cooperates for you.

    Heather B – that's because gingers are (for the most part) AWESOME! I hear you about wanting curly hair too…

    Shelah – I have a friend who worked out her stockpile of photos of baby to twenties into years based on hair length and style, and they really varied. All the best in the possibly approaching white!

    Colleen – way to groove the cut and colour!

    Kirsten – I love the idea and act of shaving parties. I'll be first in line to be shorn should (actually, odds are WHEN) it happen. And I agree with your blog post, for sure.

    Tay – I'm happy to tease you about being a 'ranga (is that a known term in the USA?) should you feel deprived of that all to common redhead's school experience.

    Anonymous – I applaud your approach with your girls! I think it's healthy and a great advantage for them.

  17. That saddens me that a dad would be upset about a hair cut, or not allow one! It's not his head, he's not the one styling it daily, or dealing with the weight of it and hair pulling.

  18. Growing up red-headed, I got teased all the time. I didn't mind it though, and loved being part of the minority. My hair is so much apart of who I am. When my family moved to England four years ago, I was amazed at how many gingers lived there!!! WIthout all the Texas sun my hair became much darker and often mistaken for brown. I HAD to dye it. I couldn't take the question, "Where do your boys get their red hair from?" Now we are in Italy with plenty of sun, I'm looking forward to going natural again.

    I also have curly hair– super curly hair. I used to get asked if I was part black. I HATED it in junior high and high school. It would take at least 3 hours to straighten. I would do that probably once a month. During college I came to love my hair. It's easy to fix and beautiful to boot. I try and let young women know who have curly hair too, just how great it is.

  19. As a fellow red-head, I totally get this. My hair's an unusual shade of dark red (in fact, I've been asked what kind of dye I use) *and* it's naturally wavy. It took me a while to come to grips with the waves (and the red–as a kid I wanted to be blonde), but I love it now. I feel a lot like Jo March–this is my one true beauty.

    Except, now that I'm in my mid thirties I'm starting to get a lot of gray, and I'm genuinely struggling with it. I've never died or permed my hair, and now I guess I'm going to have to embrace dye at some point. Being a red-head is such a defining part of who I am that I don't think I could easily get rid of it.

    Also: I have a weird thing about people touching my hair. I don't like it. I think it stems from too many people touching my hair when I was little (my mom says we'd go to the grocery store and random strangers would come up just to touch my hair.)

  20. Once I decided my hair was straight and that's all there was to it, we started a beautiful relationship. My hair grows long, and I like to grow it long. Twice now I've donated it to Pantene Beautiful Lengths (my preferred hair donation group), cutting it from my waist to just past my shoulders.

    It was making peace with the hair I had and not the hair I thought I wanted that I think made my hair actually look better. I have fun with it now.

  21. I agree with you Giggles–once I made peace with my straight, fine, brown hair I was fine with it. But I spent way too much time and money trying to perm it during the 90s when fluffy, curly hair was all the rage. I've mostly kept it short since my senior year in high school because it is so fine that it doesn't look good long. I'm still a bit jealous of women who have long hair and can do fun things with it or even put it up in buns or braids, but I know that those styles wouldn't look good on me and that's OK


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