"I did a thing. I cut off my hair. I cut off all of it."

I’d been joking for years that I should just shave my whole head. I never thought my long hair looked all that great. I never knew what to do with it. It always got sweaty and gross when I was out hiking or climbing—and I hated feeling pressured to style it in the morning before school. But more than just an inconvenience and a total waste of time, it also felt like an attachment to some old-fashioned idea of femininity.

Whenever I mentioned shearing it all off, my friends would laugh along with me—vaguely uncomfortable and with the understanding it would never happen. I was simply not *that* girl. I’d had the same hair for my whole life.

But that ended last fall when I started freshman year at a new high school for the arts. I was suddenly surrounded by this really diverse group of students—theater boys in makeup and pajamas, visual arts girls who dressed exclusively in yellow, writers in thrifted clothes and funky glasses.

Instead of being amused or incredu- lous when I mentioned my aspirations for a short cut, they’d just look at me and ask, “Then why haven’t you done it yet?”

Well, I wondered...why hadn’t I? For 14 years, I pushed myself to be someone else’s idea of perfect—all long hair and skinny jeans and crop tops, makeup in middle school, dresses to parties. I’d wear tight leggings and eyeliner to school even when it made me profoundly uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing: It’s not easy to be a teenage girl in America right now. You’re supposed to do well in school, but not too well. Look cute, but don’t try too hard. Be ambitious, but not bossy.

But at the same time, there’s also this new, exciting momentum toward being empowered by your own youth and femininity, encouragement to figure out exactly who you are. It’s thrilling—but it can be paralyzing, too.

So in this new school without the old norms, I realized that too much of my energy was going into conforming—when I should have been focused on defining an identity that inherently fit me. I realized I never seriously considered a cut because I was afraid of appearing “masculine,” as if long hair was an essential element of being pretty.

So one day, I decided it was time: Time to snip away those ideas about what my appearance should be—and finally have it reflect me.

That weekend, I walked to the salon. I was nervous but excited: sun shining, Beatles jamming, my hair tucked up under a hat because I was just so done with it.

When I got there, I shook out my long locks and told the stylist that I wanted it shorter. Much shorter.

“Oh, are you sure you want to do that? That’s a big change,” she said. I could tell she was worried I’d hate it.

But I was sure—I was so sure. She twisted my long locks into a braid, clipped it off, and there it was: my hair, most of it, lying on the counter in front of me. It was thrillling and liberating.

Before I knew it, my head was covered in less than an inch of hair. I can’t say I didn’t have a single, sudden moment of regret. But then she washed it—and it felt really short wet, but so much more practical. More me. When it was all the way done, I loved it. Cleaner, better. I just felt way more confident.

I didn’t instantly feel beautiful, per se—that came later—but I immediately felt real. My long hair had never made me feel pretty in the first place; it was just a tool for hiding my face, the emotionally easier option.

But the confidence that came with the cut allowed me to really appreciate how I look, exactly as I am. And letting go of that societal standard allowed me to completely abandon makeup, feel freer in my clothes and just be more comfortable looking in the mirror.

At school the following Monday, my friends showered me with funny compliments that felt wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive.

I felt great until I got to geometry. When I was the first to finish our classwork, a boy who sits near me suggested, “Maybe your short hair is somehow making you better at math?”

I felt disappointed in him. Then I felt pity. It seems hard to be a teenage boy in America right now. It feels mighty to be a short-haired woman.

A version of this story appeared in the August/September 2018 issue of Girls' Life.


by Hannah W. Duane | 9/24/2018