Twice in my adult life I have had short hair.
The first time, I had it against my will. This was 2009, and things were not good. The malnutrition, the double-barrell medicine regimen they had me on, the surgeries, the infections, the stress — after all this, my hair follicles were like, “You’re kidding, right?” and they quit. I remember sitting on the bench in the shower of my mother’s house as the water pelted down. I was maneuvering around the tubes and the ports in my body so I could wash my hair; it was among the first times I had been able to do so myself since going into the hospital almost two months earlier. It was exhausting, but I was stoked to be in a shower alone again (orderlies with sponges are appreciated but not ideal.) I was rinsing out the shampoo and felt something strange:
My hair was coming out.
I gently ran my fingers through the length of my hair and long strands came out, too, smoothly detaching from the hair that was still secured to my head. My jaw dropped and water came into my mouth. I spit the water out and shook the clump from my fingers. Splat, on the shower floor. My hand went back to my head to make sure what had just happened had just happened. Another long, wet rope of hair attached itself to my fingers. Splat. The clumps were too thick to go down the drain, so I saw them gather there as the water pelted my head and ran down into my eyes. I sat there a long time, watching that shower floor.
There can be no doubt that it’s hard for men to lose their hair. But I don’t think many would argue that it’s harder for women. I’ve had an ostomy bag twice, accidents of various kinds (in public and private) and the very nature of my condition means I wind up talking about the bathroom way, way more than most people could bear, but none of these dignity-crushing experiences have been quite as hard on my femininity as it was to lose my hair. I don’t know why this is, but it made me so sad and it still does.
There were bald spots. I had to do something, so when I was next in Chicago, I went to a nice salon and told the stylist my situation. I told her I needed to just cut my losses, literally, and that she had full permission take it down as far as she needed to to make me look more like a girl with a cute pixie cut and less like a girl with mange. I left with very little hair. A month later, my mom and I filmed a DVD called “Learn To Quilt.” I can’t bear to watch that video, though it’s very good. I can’t watch it because when I’m cutting or looking down at the patchwork we’re making on the table, you can see my scalp. We talked about getting me a wig for that shoot but decided that was overreacting. We should’ve done the wig.
Anyhow, the second time I had short hair was when I did my one-woman show, “Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli’s Daughter” in Chicago in 2011. I had to look like Liza, so of course I went short.
Well, I’ve cut my hair again. I took a picture of Anne Hathaway to Yuka, my stylist in New York, and I said, “Yuka, my relationship has failed. I have many work projects to focus on. Please make me look like this,” and I showed her the picture of Anne Hathaway.
“Ah! Yah!” sweet and awesome Yuka said, in her very thick Japanese accent. “When you come in, first time, I think-ah you look like her! We can do.”
It’s a cliche, I realize, to chop one’s locks when a relationship ends. I’m that cliche right now and it’s fine; I’ve been all kinds of cliches in life (e.g., white chick into yoga and sushi, etc.) and will be many more (e.g., fortysomething woman with interesting eyewear and a masters degree, etc.). My short cut won’t last long; the moment Yuka was done, I began the grow-out process. But right now, I need the focus that short hair brings. There’s less attention from men when a gal has short hair, I think. There’s less primping for me to do. Short hair, in our culture, is a way to distance oneself and I guess I feel like doing that in ways I don’t completely understand.
It’s just hair, except that it’s never just that.