Going to the hairdresser has always been hard. I have used a lot of different hairdressers. I sit in the chair, I feel anxious, and I say nothing. They say nothing. I can tell that they are trying to figure out what to do. And, because of a mixture of politeness and awkwardness, I have left the hairdressers with a lot of awful haircuts.
But this time was different. The hairdresser had lots of great stories, he took his time and was really comforting. He did a good job. At the age of forty it was the first time in my life I had had short hair.
When I left the hairdressers. I felt exposed. The fresh air had been where it had never been before. Although I was pleased that the hair cut looked good, I had always wanted short hair, the cold sensation was telling me that what I had spent a lifetime hiding was no longer hidden. I felt fear.
I was born different. I don’t think I realised I had been until I went to school.
When I arrived, I was put on a table in the corner of the classroom with other classmates who appeared to be different. A boy with a withered hand, a girl with a cleft palate and a boy with calipered boots. We were treated differently. It was as though it was assumed that our physical differences limited our capability.
We were largely ignored. I have a memory of a girl with a harelip putting her hand up for the toilet and being ignored and wetting herself. This made me not want to put my hand up for anything. I never asked for anything or answered a question. That stayed with me throughout my education. I might have had something to say but, I never put myself forward to say it.
When I was young the fashion changed from the long hair of the 70s to the crew cut flat-top of the 80s. A decision had to be made as to whether I could join the fashion or not. My parents encouraged me to keep my hair long. My mum often told me I was beautiful, but she would find different ways to cover my difference with haircuts and hats. I suppose she was trying to protect me from the cruelty and intrusion of curiosity. I got to believe it was a good idea to hide my true self.
Hiding became my theme. I would choose haircuts suitable for a culture or a time, but always long. I created a gregarious style that people thought was cool and wanted to follow. But it was a style I was hiding behind. It was my coping mechanism, I thought I was grotesque.
I became so adept at hiding from others that I ended up hiding from myself. I was just projecting what I thought others would want to see.
When my eldest son got to a more enquiring age and I started to see his personality forming I started to question the personality I was projecting. I recognised that hiding didn’t feel good. Hiding my true self wasn’t a good thing to do for me, or for the people I love. Hiding isn’t a good thing for anyone.
So, in my forties, I cut my hair. I might have wanted a hair cut like it before, but I could never do it. The message I wanted to project to my sons was to be comfortable with who you are. I wanted to encourage them not to repeat anything I had done.
I did expect people to respond to my hair cut. Some guys I’d known for along time asked what I’d done to my ear. They had never seen it. I hadn’t realised I was still hiding. I’d become so good at it.
I’m on the journey to acceptance. I still feel fear. I have social anxiety in all situations and often get drunk the quickest to feel comfortable. I still semi consciously find a place to sit in a room that shows my best side. It has been such a long time. The feeling won’t go away, but I’m making progress. The more I cut my hair, the less anxious I get.
The message of Unique & Loved is such important stuff. We can’t take for granted that attitudes are improving. We need to keep it up.
I am Unique & Loved.
NB: The photos of Paschal include one of him stood next to his campervan. Paschal is a nurse and during the Pandemic he worked on a Covid ward. He would return from his shifts to his campervan to protect his family, he did this for the entire first lockdown. What a hero.