By Paige Srickland
I’m not sure why, but I have always been partial to long(er) hair. Today, when I see a friend or colleague who had lengthy or “big” hair suddenly appear with a short bob I often feel a sense of loss because my mental image of them has been marred. I grieve for the likeness that once was. It’s partly disliking having to acclimate to another change, and it’s partly because I genuinely prefer seeing more hair than not on people.
When I was small, my (adoptive) parents were big believers in short hair. In fact, I didn’t have a single adoptive family member with long tresses. Perhaps for the men it was the norm of the day plus the influence of having been in the military. For the women, I think they were just into keeping low maintenance and simple. I felt differently.
I wanted my hair like Cher’s. At the very least I wanted pigtail braids or a long ponytail past my shoulders like Laura Ingalls Wilder or Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I never had that experience. Instead, as soon as my hair began to cover my ears, my mother would either schedule a trip to her hairdresser or take me out to the backyard and snip away. It was never just a little trim.
I learned to distrust beauticians anywhere when it came to scissors, lest they attempt to also coif me in what they believed to be their preferred image, and not what I wanted for myself. There were far too many times in my life when I was mistaken for being a boy because of my short ‘do. I remember once very clearly being with my brother at a Reds’ baseball game. We were leaning up against a fence getting a closer up view of the players. (Johnny Bench was my celebrity crush back in the day.) An attendant, (an older man), approached us and said, “Hey fellas, you have to move away from there!” “I’m a girl!” I yelled back at him before stomping off. I was more irate about being called a “fella” than I was about having to go back to my real seat. Identity was and is a powerful thing.
I was too small in the 1960s and most of the ’70s to tell my parents that not just trimming but cutting OFF my hair made me feel worthless and unaccepted. It made my body feel invaded and violated. I felt naked, scalped and cold. Forced hair chops did not help me feel secure and cared for because there was no negotiating. The whole experience created unfair communication practices. It was a control measure for the convenience of adults.
Instead of taking the time to help with styling or teaching me what I could do with my fine, fly-away hair and fragile self image, my parents would have it all cropped short and simple. It was for them; not for my benefit. Hair-chops caused me to detest my appearance and created a negative body image. In my child-mind it convinced me that something must be undesirable about me because the important people in my life couldn’t accept me for the way I was. Maybe hair cutting was a way to make me look more like my adoptive family and less like the real me.
I wanted to see the Real Me. I needed to see the Real Me.
© 2021 Paige Strickland
Paige Adams Strickland is an adopted person who grew up in the closed or “Baby-Scoop” era. Today she is the author of two memoir books: Akin to the Truth and After the Truth, which are about life as an adopted child and adult respectively. She is married with two daughters and two grandchildren, a teacher, pet mom, Zumba Fitness ™ instructor and in reunion with her biological family.