How did I grow up from growing my hair out?
I sat in my hair salon and recalled the very first time I told my hair consultant: “我要留长发” (I want to leave my hair long). And her response was “你确定吗？你的头皮很薄”, which just translates to her casting doubt on my intentions as my scalp was not in a healthy state. I had second thoughts, but swallowed my saliva and just repeated myself. That was my second attempt to try growing out my hair in Dec 2020. My first attempt was in May 2020.
I wanted to try something new, in this case a new look. But I was so afraid of judgement from the people around me. Back in May 2020, I had just started my first software engineering internship. So I thought, since it’s a new environment, none of my colleagues knew me beforehand, which means they don’t have any pre-conceived notion of me. As such, it felt like the “right” time to change into a new appearance. Perfect condition right?
But then when the new semester started again in August, the fear of my schoolmates judging my new look, or rather my hair state in the “growing out” awkward transition phase, held me back. Not only that, my mother had constantly bugged me to go for a haircut because my fringe grew to a length which constantly touched my eyes and she commented that I looked like a hooligan. People kept asking me when I was going to cut my hair and I felt like I was being pulled back to my “default” state: short hair. I didn’t dare to speak up for myself and make it clear that I wanted to grow my hair to a longer length.
In retrospect, I would attribute that behaviour to a lack of confidence, loads of self doubt, and plenty of fear of judgement. I was comfortable having short hair for as long as I was born and didn’t know if I would like having long hair. I am not a very feminine person and so it certainly felt awkward (working towards) embodying a supposedly feminine appearance trait of long hair. By August 2020, I had cut my hair back to my “normal” short length and reset.
Come December 2020, after the semester had ended, I still really wanted to experience having long hair and try on a new look. I shared my intentions with my very close friends and thankfully, they encouraged me to just try it simply because I want to. With phrases like “why not?” and “just do it!”, I felt more reassured knowing that I had their support and therefore decided to give it another shot.
The power of support from my inner circle became my shield and anchor when I faced the same familiar wave of doubt and skepticism from other people around me. On top of that, the December and February period meant family gatherings for Christmas and Chinese New Year. It was a huge mental hurdle for me because my relatives would ask me when I was going to cut my hair and give their opinions on my “not short but not long” (awkward) hair length, unprovoked. Sometimes, when we attend family gatherings, we subconsciously revert back to our old selves because that’s what everyone is used to from when we were young. But my second attempt was different because I had a stronger conviction and was less affected by their words. I learnt to block out noise.
Throughout the year of 2021, I requested for hair trims a couple of times (as my hair was very layered). It felt quite odd asking for hair trims instead of my usual haircuts. But along the way, I also had some fun experimenting how to live with the awkward hair lengths! I used headbands, hair clips, bobby pins and claw clips to keep hair out of my face and let my neck “breathe” in the humid weather. Luckily, those hair accessories could be bought at cheap prices. I also started using boar bristle hair brushes because they can better distribute natural oil, called sebum, from our scalp to our hair! Oh and, my bathing time un-surprisingly increased with longer hair, but then again, I’m not in a rush to wash myself clean. Bathing is a great time for solace and peace.
Slowly but surely, my hair grew as the months passed, down to my neck, shoulder and my shoulder blades. My close friends continued to encourage me on my journey and told me really positive messages such as “ur hair rn damn nice, I think it frames ur face v well” and “your new hairstyle really suits you”. Hearing those words from them really warmed my heart!
And then, the people from the hair salon started to change their views of me and started to give me compliments, such as “你变成熟女了” (you transformed into a lady), “你长发很漂亮 leh, 以前你短发很乱” (you’re pretty with long hair, your short hair was so messy). A comment I received from a neighbour was “your hair is so long now, you look so girly, I couldn’t even recognise you”. I didn’t feel the slightest bit comfortable in any of those situations, but I managed a smile nonetheless. I knew that society was largely superficial and looks mattered, so I wasn’t completely taken aback by how “the tides have changed”.
On top of that, I no longer attracted stares when I entered the female public washroom. Back when I had a “tomboy” haircut, I would always have weird glances sent my way when I was using the “ladies”. I even had an encounter once where a young girl told me that the “mens” was on the other side and body blocked me from the “ladies” entrance. With 2 decades of my short hair, I was already used to those situations. When I no longer met those situations with my longer hair, it was weird and I felt strange. As I got accustomed to the absence of stares, I felt more relieved, but hardly elated. It was awful to experience the true realisation of how judgmental society is. Sometimes, I would even joke to people that I grew out my hair so that I could climb the corporate ladder faster…
Come December 2021 and January 2022, it was another round of family gatherings. By then, my hair had reached shoulder length and there was no doubt that my intention was to have long hair. Instead of asking when I was going to cut my hair short, I received questions such as why I wanted to grow long hair and how long I wanted my hair to be. The first question was so personal that I wasn’t very fond of sharing so much. So I just gave a simple answer like “I wanted to try something new and save haircut costs”. Sounds acceptable enough right? As for the second question, I don’t have an answer, neither do I need to account to anyone else on that. Interestingly, some of my aunts told me how short hair was better and long hair was a hassle, something I’ve never heard from them before. It seems like with every step I took, someone had something to say. Again, I chose to simply filter noise.
One and a half years later, now May 2022, I am very happy that I took the bold move to change and stayed patient with my progress! Although I am not very used to my new look yet and still occasionally think the person I see in the mirror is someone else, I know I will eventually. More importantly, I am proud of my personal growth journey. Caring way less about other people’s judgement and believing in myself (tons of times) more enabled me to set healthy boundaries and made me a stronger person. Of course, having a strong support system was very crucial as well!
In life, change is constant. Change is always happening. We can change in good or bad ways, the choice is ours to make. As people tend to be comfortable with the status quo, they may (subconsciously) want to hold onto your past self and even try to contain you in that state. If and when that happens, recognise that is unhealthy for you. Choose to focus on working towards the future self that you want to become! In time to come, people will get used to your new self because that’s literally the only thing that they can do.
Thank you for reading!