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Why Are You Cutting Your Hair?

BY Veronica McCarthy

To this day that question still makes my legs shake. As a young kid I always exuded very flamboyant attributes. I have this specific memory in my head of a circus (I know, weird but bear with me) that came to town when I was around 11 years old. There was a rather odd skit of a beautiful damsel in distress who’s intro involved her dancing around the ring. I was obsessed, I think I begged my family to take me back two or three more times just to look at her. There was something specific about her look that stuck with me and that was her beautiful hair. 

For the next few weeks I played with cousins, recreating scenes from the circus. I would wrap a bed sheet around my body to recreate the dress and place a t-shirt with the neck hole fitting right where my hairline falls to feel like a wig. I danced around and would fling my head to feel my new “hair” fly around. While my cousins didn’t think much of it, the adults, particularly my grandma, did not seem too amused. I was told what I was doing was wrong, and was looked at differently which was very difficult for me to process. I think this was the moment where a conflicting journey with my identity began. 

After that incident came a few years of me being shy about showing much of my true colors from fear of criticism from my family and others. Growing up in a Texas border town that was 95% Mexican brought a lot of wonderful characteristics. I got to learn about my culture and history while also enjoying the benefits of mastering my native language. Without making generalizations of all people of hispanic descent, it also brought some negatives such as hyper “machismo” culture. In short, it meant most of the community, my family especially, exhibited a social behavior that presented overbearing attitudes of masculine pride and inferiority. Men are expected to look a certain way, act a certain way and any outliers were very much criticized. 

Fortunately for me I grew up mostly raised by a single mom and 3 amazing women who gave off the strong vibes of a matriarch. They weren’t immune to the machismo culture but their strong female energy helped me come out of my shell and filled me with pride in being who I felt on the inside. I loved being part of their conversations about their cosmetic adventures, accompanying them to their hair appointments especially. I loved how a simple dye job would elevate their moods and confidence. While the men rolled their eyes to their countless hair journeys I celebrated them and yearned to participate. 

By the time I got to middle school, I began to come out of my shell more. I was more explorative with my style and finally did something I had always wanted, grow out my hair. While now looking back it seems silly that such a thing caused me anxiety, my new look made me stand out and push the community to label me as queer. Still I felt more confident than ever. I was blessed with my mom’s hair, it grows fast, thick and silky. While it created some irrational stir with my family, it did elevate my confidence. I felt stylish, the girls all loved it and would play with it consistently. They would form braids in it, do tiny ponytails and even tried to straighten it. While it lowkey made me look ridiculous, the ritual of styling it helped me express my personality. 

While the new hairdo was popular among my girl friends at school, my family did not agree. I could feel the tension among my mom and aunts, tip toeing around ways to get me to cut it. The men were far less ambiguous, one uncle in particular would greet me at every encounter with “Cuando te lo vas a cortar?”/ “When are you going to cut your hair?” or “Ya wey, es hora” / “Dude, it’s time”. The lack of acceptance from them caused so much discomfort within me, but I would not succumb to it. 

Due to the fact that there was so much of this machismo culture going against me and my look I began to associate my Hispanic heritage as a bit toxic. I didn’t feel I belonged and therefore did not celebrate it. But as I continued to grow and learn more I discovered Frida Khalo. By now I assume most know her iconic look, beautiful thick black hair often styled with flowers and colorful ribbons and her ungroomed brows. I loved how her paintings reflected her with it and sometimes even with more facial hair. It broke all the rules I had been brought up with, seeing femmine mixed with “masculine” attributes by letting her natural hair shine through. Around this time I also discovered Muxes, a culture found in southern Mexico which didn’t see gender as non-linear, but rather on a spectrum. These beautiful and rich influences helped me come to terms with myself and how I presented myself to the world. It helped me dismiss this machismo culture and be proud to be of Mexican descent. 

I rocked that coconut head until highschool, when I finally decided to go a different direction with my look. Not because I was pressured but because it was my decision. 

When the pandemic first hit the states last year I went home before the New York lock down. I rode out the initial quarantine with my parents and stayed there for many months. Time in which my hair began to grow to the lengths I used to wear back in my younger days. The combination of being home and having the same look was a bit emotional. However it filled me with joy that I was brave enough to be that outlier in town, that besides all the negative comments and looks I would receive I still lived my true self. And in celebration of that I decided to pick up the look again. 

The difference this time around I have access to different products and have better style to not make it look so…coconut-y. I don’t do much to it, I still see it as an extension of me but more like a friend. It does what it wants every day and it tends to look a little different. It grows very thick so it oftens needs a little love from thinning shears to remove weight and help with texture. After I wash and condition, I do an initial dry with just a clean towel but then try to let most of my hair air dry. I help it by running my fingers through it in the direction I intend to style it so that it slowly craves waves naturally. Once it dries I use the same wax I have used since highschool– it helps give it hold and defines the small waves I aim for without making it look too styled. The messy look is my brand. 

Something as simple as long hair did not cause such a weird hit with my family this time around, and they probably didn’t think twice about it either. But to me, re-growing my hair was special, reminded me of how it was the first step in accepting who I am and a celebration to my story.