My pandemic epiphany: learning my man bun didn’t define me

The attention I’ve gotten has always been to do with my hair – coarse, thick, curly hair, that I had no control over when I was a kid. I was the first to have hairy arms, hands and feet – aged 12 or so. Before long, a sweater blossomed on my torso and along with it, came the name-calling: Frodo, caveman, mop-head. Moms pulled at it uninvited, a couple of my high school crushes tousled it (which I liked) – I took out more than a few paper balls that had been spit into it without my noticing. Par for the coarse haired, I supposed.

Then, as a teen in a suburb of superficial Miami, I discovered rock and roll and its counterculture. While all of my friends were getting drunk listening to electronic chart hits in clubs, I defined myself in opposition to them: I grew my hair long and wore it messy – it became a staunch personal symbol for my reluctance to comply.

At work, I was often told I should cut it – always by older and more experienced colleagues – usually when I asked for career advice. My quick solution was to tie it up in a bun, but the comments only reinforced my desire to wear my thick, beehive of hair like a badge of honor.

I was annoyed that bosses were more invested in my image than my skills or work ethic. It might seem like self sabotage, but for me it was about control: I was not going to spend time trying to impress people who disliked me for something I never did wrong.

Then, last year, after five years dodging the barber shop, a practical consideration came up: my 16in long hair was starting to harm my scalp. It was unruly, impossible to comb; and had begun thinning at the top, receding at the temples. I struggled over whether to cut it or not. My hair had become such a part of my rebellious identity, I found it hard to think about letting go. But eventually I realized that what I once thought was non-conformity was in fact a cover for vanity; I was scared to be bald.

My year-long deliberations were finally cut short by an impromptu decision one day after a soccer match when – just before shutdown orders descended upon New York – a close friend suggested we shave the whole thing off. Walking off the pitch in our muddy sweaters towards my new uncertain fate I felt a weird sense of excitement.

We sat in his bathroom, in a Brooklyn hipster house full of men and the clippers buzzed. Niche Peruvian football players watched me from their positions on damp, curling posters on the wall. It was dim and dirty, the mirror was small. My big life change, in the most unceremonious of settings.

He took the clippers to my man-bun. There was so much we had to go at it in multiple bouts. We laughed the whole time. How did I let my hair get this bad for such a non-reason? It was pleasant, a moment of bonding. I was free.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Immediately after I shaved my head, the shutdown order in New York closed offices like mine for the foreseeable future. Without eyes watching on the morning commute or the stares of people in bars or friends at work, I could relax into my haircut. I had no hair, but somehow, I was still the same person.

Looking back, I realize that growing my hair had been freeing for a while, but also limiting. I defined myself in opposition to others, always. I so resented their expectations that I built my identity around not being like them. Now, I could just go back to being myself.

The Guardian

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