I have a complicated relationship with gender identity. I have a complicated relationship with my body image. And for the longest time, I have had a very complicated relationship with hair.
I’m kind of a hairy person; I have very noticeable hair on my arms, and I have faint little bits of dark facial hair you can see if you look close enough. Before coming to terms with the irrelevance of gender roles, I used to be quite insecure about it, but now I kinda think it’s pretty sick!
But this is a story about Head Hair. Until age 13, I had hair past my waist. I could sit on it; I could use it as a scarf; I could pretend to strangle someone with it as a cruel and unusual weapon. My ponytail was often the first thing people noticed about me, with variations of the nickname “Rapunzel” being very common.
But hair like that also comes with a certain lack of autonomy: other children and some adults braiding it or playing with it, with or without your consent. Bullies pulling it for fun. Fearing things like go-karts because your mom is worried about your hair getting caught in the wheels (you could get your scalp painfully ripped off your skull, as one does). Creepy grown-up strangers brushing their hand through your ponytail quickly as they walk behind you in the supermarket. Taking like an hour to wash it, often needing assistance, taking forever to learn to wash it yourself. Crying when a school bully steps on your head, not because of any humiliation, but because you’d just washed your hair the previous night, and now you’ll have to spend a very long time washing it again.
And I was never able to admit that that one scene from Tangled where Eugene saves the day by SLICING RAPUNZEL’S HAIR WITH A KNIFE… made my heart Feel Some Kinda Way.
There was a reason I always had it tied up.
For a long time, I’d internalized the message that cutting my hair would be “a waste”. After all, my hair was long and thick, central to how my identity was viewed, and I was young and thought cutting it would be a disrespect to sick people with hair-loss. Until the day a friend reminded me: “you could just donate it”. I’d apparently never thought of that.
On my 13th birthday, I got it cut to “normal girl length” for the first time, and finally felt the freedom of my hair not being a (almost literal) ball-and-chain. And yet still, every time I watched or read about a character defiantly chopping their hair off, I felt a pressing urge to do the same. Like that scene in the Shade the Changing Girl comics, where the alien Shade takes full ownership of the bodily vessel she’s possessing, chopping the long hair as a symbol of pursuing her own fate.
I was 19 when I finally got the whole ponytail chopped off, taking control of my own physical vessel and getting a style people said would make me “look like a boy”. I have thus far never been happier about my own physical form. It was the first time I could ever accurately draw myself without feeling uncomfortable. It was the first time since my pre-teens that I felt happy appearing on camera. I’d started taking selfies.
But my hair is very fast-growing, and after every cut and trim, I still fret about how long it will take to eventually grow back.
I fear its return.
Hi, I’m Can and I draw comics! Thank you for reading my work here at GenderTerror! If you would like to see more of my work, feel free to check out:
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