Wednesday, August 27, 2014

To Cut A Long Story Short

4:52 AM

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When I was sixteen, I befriended a sly, spindly boy named Benson*. Although he was only a year younger than me, he had lived through more wild nights than I predict I ever will in my entire life. He was girl-crazy, but our relationship never exceeded past a platonic friendship. However, I do recall that Benson would often (in his flirty way) tell me, “the prettiest part of you is your hair” This was usually followed with what he probably thought was a smolder (but in reality looked like a squint). Naturally, I didn’t know what to feel about this. Did I really have such amazing hair or was I just that ugly?

The truth is, I have a terrible, irrational fear of haircuts.

As far as irrational fears go, this is probably one of the mildest. I mean, they’re haircuts – what’s there to be afraid of?

It all started seven years ago, at the tail end of the sixth grade. I was twelve. For my entire life, I had been getting matching haircuts with my two sisters, and man, was I sick of it. I wanted to be cool, unique, independent - I figured, this is middle school, for crying out loud! I want people to see the real me (whoever I thought that was)!

At the next scheduled hair appointment, my mom gathered the three of us as usual and we headed over to our Tito Jay’s*. Tito Jay, a flamboyant, aging hairdresser who resembled a blue-collar Fanny Serrano, kept shop in his garage. He was a good friend of Mom’s. In retrospect, I should have known by the colorful circa-1980s posters on the walls and the equally aging hairdressing assistants that this could only end in disaster. Alas, I was young and naïve then.

I told him exactly what I wanted – a short, choppy, rockstar haircut like Winona Ryder! I wanted to look interesting and mature. Tito Jay smiled, nodded, and assured me he would see what he could do. I trotted over to the sinks where I had my hair washed by a middle aged assistant who had long, painted nails. There was waxy, bright pink lipstick stuck on her teeth.

An hour and a half later, I was in front of the mirror, crying.

It was awful. A monstrously layered, textured, poufy thing had set up camp on my head. It looked more like a grown-out mullet than a trendy bob. I didn’t look like Winona Ryder. I looked like Billy Ray Cyrus circa 1991. I remember bemoaning to my sisters, “It looks like I’m wearing a wig made out of road kill!” They tried to comfort me. “It doesn’t look so bad, ate,” they said reassuringly, sitting in the car next to me with their safe, matching haircuts. I was inconsolable.

From the driver’s seat, my mom suggested that my hair was probably only so poufy because it had been blow-dried after the haircut. “It’ll flatten out after you shampoo,” she said.

As soon as we arrived home, I bolted for the bathroom and stepped into the shower, thinking, with desperate hope, that my hacked-up hair still had a fighting chance – perhaps I could wash the ugliness away. Unfortunately, this was not so. I came out of the shower, frantically dried my hair with a towel and a hairbrush, and looked in the mirror to find it just as disgustingly poufy as it had looked before. I began to cry again. My mom, seeing that there was nothing more she could do, wrapped her arms around me in a comforting hug as I sobbed. My pride and vanity retreated, tails between their legs. I was hideous.

And then school happened the next Monday morning. Let me tell you, kids are vicious. Walking into the hallways of my middle school that day, I was scared about what my classmates would have to say. I walked up to my locker like everything was normal (looking back, it probably was). The fluorescent lights shone above my head like spotlights, as if to say, look world, this girl has an embarrassing new haircut! (I still maintain that fluorescent lights are the least flattering lights of all). I rearranged my books in my locker, thinking with relief that no one had noticed. And then someone called out from behind me:


I turned around and whoever it was (I’ve forgotten now) gasped and said, “Whoa! Niki, your hair! I thought you were Angelo!”

All I could manage was a weak laugh and a strangled “yeah.”

But first, some Beacon Middle School history: Angelo Martinez was the only guy in our batch who had long hair. Aside from his height (or lack of - he stood inches shorter than the rest of the boys and even some of the girls), Angelo’s distinct trademark was his hair: long, layered, and disheveled, unlike any of the other boys’. Probably a lot like mine though - only it looked a lot better on him because he was cute and, also, a boy. I still had a crooked, crowded overbite, unflattering baby fat in all the wrong places, and bushy eyebrows (I had yet to discover the wonder of tweezers). If there’s something many twelve-year-old girls have yet to develop, it’s self-esteem. Believe me when I say that a terrible haircut at this crucial stage in a female’s life can and will be damaging.

I think what makes things worse is that I actually had a crush on Angelo. There’s nothing worse than being jokingly compared to your crush in a negative way. You’re insulted for your looks, because you look like a boy (when you didn’t even mean to), and you’re insulted for your “standards” because your crush isn’t attractive enough to avoid being compared to an ugly girl with a bad haircut. Poor Angelo.

It got worse later on. A couple of boys from my class hollered at me from behind a classroom door: “HOY! UNGGOY!” Minutes later, Kevin Chan* laughingly told me that my haircut looked like an “aswang’s pekpek.” The nickname, unfortunately, stuck. For the remainder of the school year, a select group of delightful boys called me “aswang’s pekpek” whenever the teachers were out of earshot. Needless to say, I did a lot of girls’-bathroom-crying in the sixth grade.

The rest of the day was filled with amused looks and forced, polite comments about my hair. I heard a lot of “You cut your hair!” and “There’s something different about it!” and “How interesting!” that day. I also got a lot of painfully blunt, honest remarks from my friends. My friend Sam (known for her long, perfectly straight brown locks) took one look at me, and, wincing, said, “Duuuuuuuuuuude.” I sighed. Another friend, Gaby, told me that I should have gone to a better hairstylist. I knew they were both right, but it was just too late. The damage had been done. All I could do was wait for it to grow out.

The trip to Tito Jay’s in the 6th grade was my last. Nevertheless, every time I sat in the chair at a hair salon I would be overcome with worry. I tried to postpone haircuts as much as possible. I’d wait 6 months, a year, before I begrudgingly hauled myself towards the much-dreaded salon. An unopened magazine on my lap, I would ask the hairdresser to keep it long, maybe only allow them to trim off three inches at the very most (and even that was excruciating). Palms sweating, heart thumping, I’d absently flip through the magazine while I scrutinized the lengths of the wet locks falling on my arms and lap. Were they too long? Had the hairdresser cut off too much? I even had a technique to prevent having my hair cut too short by accident. I would lean forward, away from the hairdresser, naively thinking that if I moved away, they would cut off less. Completely irrational, I know. And it didn’t even work, either. Once, a frustrated hairdresser called over her assistant and had her actually hold my head in place while she resumed her work on my split ends.

Having the same hairstyle for years made me feel safe. Yet I’d come home after a haircut feeling somehow empty and unfulfilled. Sure, these generic long hairstyles looked nice enough – certainly nothing to be called “aswang’s pekpek” over – but I wanted more! The twelve-year-old girl in me had somehow never been quite satisfied. I still wanted to look unique and cool, but scarred from my last attempt, I was too afraid to do anything about it.

At fourteen, my hair reached my navel. Sitting at the dinner table, I rolled my eyes as my dad told me, “I don’t like your hair, it’s too long.”

“Well,” I retorted ferociously, “I like it!”

I got into a bit of trouble that night. My dad was upset at me for being so aggressive and forthright about my hair. All I could think of was, well, it’s my hair, not yours! I just wanted to live my life in peace! But for rest of my teenage years, I would never hear the end of it. My dad complained a lot about my hair, though sometimes jokingly. For many years, “Can you please comb your hair?” and “You look like a witch!” were probably the two most frequently uttered phrases in our household.

There’s a file in my computer labeled “HAIR.” In it are screenshots and photos of hairstyles I like, which have been ripped off from movies, online magazines, and fashion blogs. Most of them are short: pixie cuts, asymmetrical bobs, shoulder-length ombrés, you name it. I have spent many collective hours wistfully wishing for the courage to pull off the kind of hair I really wanted to have. I know that to many, this seems petty, but it took a lot for me to muster the courage to have most of my hair chopped off. It involved taking a chance: I could do what I had always wanted to do but run the risk of looking bad, or I could stick to my long hair and stay safely and boringly generic forever. If you walk around my college campus on an ordinary day, you will notice that a large majority of the girls have long hair. There was a part of me that wanted, in some small way, to stand out.

In the end, my Tita Gel told me, “It’s just hair. If it’s bad, it’ll grow back.” I remembered my Grade 6 days and realized how long it had been it had been since the last hair-related disaster. Okay, I had a bad haircut and a horrible nickname once. I recovered, didn’t I? The worst thing that could happen was for history to repeat itself. If this next cut proved to be just as awful, I would survive.

At the last usual appointment to the hair salon, I decided to cut my hair short. I made the decision the night before and stayed up late downloading photos of short haircuts to add to my “HAIR” folder. I saved them onto my phone and crawled into bed, antsy and excited for what was to come the next day.

The haircut appointment couldn’t come soon enough. For the first time in years, I was actually looking forward to it. On the way to the salon, I glanced at a decorative mirror paneling the side of a kiosk. My long hair looked bedraggled, making me seem more tired than I actually was. I finally understood why my dad kept on teasing me about looking like a witch.

A demure, softspoken man named Oreo approached me at my chair and, untangling the knots in my hair with a comb, asked me what I wanted. Oreo had short, curly hair and wore a collared shirt tucked into his jeans with a cowboy belt. He kind of had a Cameron Tucker thing going on, but definitely no traces of Fanny Serrano here. I decided to trust him. Taking a deep breath, I said, “I’m really nervous.”

Oreo laughed. “Why?”

“Because I want to cut it short.”

“Okay…” Oreo was clearly unimpressed.

“It’s just… I haven’t cut my hair short in a really long time.”

“Do you have pictures?”

I smiled. Oreo read my mind. I showed him the photos on my phone and he told me not to worry.

The cutting began and I was nervous. Oreo was slicing off huge chunks of my hair at a time. I watched, slightly pained, as they fell to the ground. Goodbye, hair. And then he started on the second layer and I suddenly felt free. It was so weird! With every lock of hair that was chopped off, I felt like a weight was being lifted from my chest. My head felt lighter and so did my heart. Which is a strange and hokey thing to say about hair, but I don’t know how else to articulate the feeling. Perhaps I was relieved to let go of the pressure I had put on myself to be generically acceptable for so many years. I hadn’t realized it until then, but my hair was weighing me down, and not just because it was so long and heavy. To this day, I don’t even fully understand why my hair meant so much to me. Maybe to my subconscious, my hair represented some sort of independence or whatever. I could be overanalyzing it. But the parallels between my hair and my self-confidence are uncanny. Like, at twelve, I wanted to be different because I had this aversion to being cookie-cutter (I still do). That, and I really just wanted to look like a rockstar, because I figured people would think I was cool. So I tried to do something new, but it only made the other kids practically shun me for it. So I grew it out to be normal, accepted by my peers and such. And then my parents had a problem with it! But later on, after many Friday nights spent taking screenshots of people with cute short hair, I just (figuratively) threw my hands up in the air, caring less about what my parents and friends thought than I did before, and decided to chop it all off.

You kind of depend on the people around you to tell you what to do with yourself until you realize that the only person who should really tell you that is you. I felt so happy and free with the short hair I had chosen for myself simply because I liked it.

When Oreo had finished blow-drying my hair, I took off the hair-protecting poncho around my shoulders, brushed the debris of hair from my clothes, and looked in the mirror. I didn’t look like Billy Ray Cyrus, but I didn’t look like Winona Ryder, either. My new hair didn’t look like road kill or a grown-out mullet. It just looked like hair. I thanked Oreo and told him that he had cured my fear of haircuts. I said it like a joke, but I meant it. “It suits you,” Oreo said, smiling.

I stepped over the thick layer of long locks discarded on the floor around my chair on the way out. It’s been fun, hair, but I know you will come right back when you start to miss me. My sisters loved the new hair and so did I. It was refreshing and finally, different. I walked out of the salon with a smile on my face for the first time.

And for the record: no one has called me an “aswang’s pekpek” since.

*Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Article by Monica
Art by Bea

Bea (conyo nickname: Bea Ven) and Leonardo Da Vinci have one thing in common: they are both master procrastinators. Bea has a terribly long list of awesome art projects she’s been planning to do for a while but has sadly only managed to cross out less than half of it. Bea draws most of her inspiration from the olden times and sustains herself by fawning over famous people who nobody her age (and sometimes even her parents) have ever heard about.  Her favorite cities include New York and Tokyo and she wants to be 50% Peggy Olson and 50% Lena Dunham when she grows up, pretty please.

Monica grew up in Manila and is currently a college student majoring in Creative Writing. Her favorite food in the world is chocolate, but bacon is a close second. She loves fashion, art, travel, old TV shows, films, and music. She is also a singer-songwriter. You can check out her music at :)


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