Secret Identities and Haircuts

hair salon ladies

Last month, I took a vacation. What?! Yes, it’s true. I put my crazy life on hold for two weeks and gallivanted (I love the image that that word conjures) off on a Caribbean cruise with 3 of my very favourite people. It was a long time coming and a very well-timed getaway. It was a blast. And just what I needed.

One night while the ship was making its way to its next glorious port of call, I was ending my night solo at my favourite bar. I can’t remember what it was called, but it was on the 15th deck at the back (or stern, for those of you who are particular) of the ship, and I have to say, I was enjoying a shameless flirtation with Barrington, the bartender. Sidebar – isn’t that such a GREAT name? I’m an admitted and proud name nerd, so this delights me beyond measure. Suffice it to say, I ended most nights up at that bar chatting with Barrington, long after my friends had gone to bed (I’m a night owl, what can I say?).  So, one night I was there, chatting/flirting with Barrington, and a pleasant, middle-aged couple ambled up to the bar beside me. They were a friendly, albeit pretty drunk couple from Florida, by way of Michigan, I learned. The man, whose name I promptly forgot, was regaling Barrington and I with stories and bad “dad jokes.” He was taking particular pleasure in telling us about how he is a Judge back home, and all about the stress and difficulty of such a profession. The couple eventually took their leave; I went to bed and didn’t think about them again.

A few nights later (I think? I have no sense of time on vacation), I was enjoying my evening flirtation with Barrington, sipping my Gin & Tonic, when Mr. Drunk Judge appeared at the bar. He didn’t seem to notice me, or more likely, totally noticed me, but had no recollection of speaking to me earlier in the week. He was alone this time, but equally, if not more drunk. Anyway, I wasn’t engaged directly in conversation with him, but I did overhear bits and pieces of his conversation with Barrington. My ears perked up when the man began telling the imperturbable bartender about his profession…as an Aircraft Engineer. He launched into a testimonial about the immense pressure he feels at the thought of the lives that hang in the balance when he’s working on an aircraft. He was really convincing.

While I let the realization that this guy was completely full of shit sink in, I had to chuckle to myself because I realized that he was essentially playing make-believe on his vacation. Here he was, interacting with people he would likely never see again, indulging in the opportunity to present his identity in whatever fashion he chose to. It didn’t matter that he had constructed a false identity – what harm was it doing? He didn’t even realize that Barrington and I could have called him out on his duplicity, or perhaps he did, but he just didn’t care. There’s a certain freedom in that, I suspect.

I told my friends about it the next day and we all had a laugh about it. And then we jokingly came up with alternate identities. I asked if I could pass as an Astrophysicist. For reasons unknown to me, the answer to that was a resounding “NO.” All this talk of secret identities got me thinking about identity in general; the ways in which it’s formed, the things that shape our identities, small and big, internal and external, and how easily (or not) we can disengage with our known identities whether we’re on vacation or in real life.

I started to wonder, how much of what we do for a living, for example, or how we dress, or our marital status, or any other seemingly innocuous thing about us is actually tied to our (perceived) identity?  And I also wondered how much we are “trying on” a different identity when we change any one of these things up.

For instance, I’ve always had long hair. Most of my life, since I was a toddler, I’ve been The Girl with the Hair. And, quite frankly, I like it that way. It’s my thing, my identifier, my descriptor. I can only recall a handful of times in my life when my hair sat above my shoulders.

me at four
See? That’s a lot of hair for a two year old!

It wasn’t always good hair – before I really knew how to take care of it and how to style it, and that, oh my goodness, it’s actually kinda curly (seriously, I was pretty clueless about this stuff when I was young), it was rather unremarkable aside from its length. But, as I realized that my hair was actually pretty awesome, it became a really big part of my look, and somewhere along the way, that got internalized and wrapped into my sense of identity.

Well, this past weekend, I chopped it off. Probably about 8 inches or so. It just barely sits on my shoulders now. I’m still getting used to it, but I think I like it. I was mentally prepared to do it – I had been thinking about it for a while – and I’m happy with the quality of the cut. But, it’s still a big change. And you may be thinking, what the hell Ange, it’s just hair, it will grow back. And of course that’s true, of COURSE it is. But, I don’t think I’m alone in my emotional (and perhaps a little complicated?) attachment to the importance that my hair plays in my identity. At least, outwardly.

And I know this seems shallow, and kind of stupid, especially to those of you who know me to actually be pretty deep and intellectual about most things, and I suppose, to a certain extent, you’re right. Why am I talking about my hair in relation to my identity? Am I being ridiculous? I’m thinking now of India Arie’s song “I am not my hair” and that of course my worries about who I would be without my long, luscious locks are unfounded, because of course I’m still me. I’m still Ange.

But, the whole process has prompted me to think about my identity. Perhaps there is some truth to my sense of “pretty” being unfairly (and somewhat ridiculously) tied to my hair and the particular aesthetic that it projects. It’s as if I have believed, on some level, that I’m not pretty unless my hair is long. This is hard for me to admit. I feel sheepish and kind of foolish, but there it is. I never thought I was one of those girls. You know, a girl whose security and self-esteem, her power is derived from the length or the state of her hair. How very Samson and Delilah of me. I don’t think it was the femininity (or the imagery of femininity) of my long hair that I was attached to, but the actual image of what I look like, or more importantly, having that descriptor of “Ange with the long, great hair.”

The truth is that now that it’s all chopped off, I really don’t feel differently at all. Aside from the occasional glimpse in the mirror that prompts a double take, and the fact that I used way too much shampoo the other day in the shower, I feel exactly the same. It’s surprising, to be honest. I’ve had dreams in the past in which I had cut my hair off and felt actual regret and horror in the dream, and would wake up relieved to find my long hair still intact. Perhaps it’s a sign that I simply wasn’t ready then.

But I am ready now. I feel the overwhelming need for change in my life – in almost every facet – and I suppose I thought, consciously or not, the best place to start was with the thing that most visibly identifies me. So, I took the plunge and made the metaphorical (and literal) cut.

Maybe I’m full of shit, and none of this matters and I’m totally overthinking this. Perhaps it’s a little from Column A and a little from Column B. Either way, I can’t help but think of that drunk guy on my cruise ship vacation and his brazen employ of his alter ego(s). It’s an interesting exercise.

I have always believed that change is good for the soul, that it’s good to shake things up every now and then and do things that challenge you or make you uncomfortable. In the grand scheme of things, cutting my hair is really pretty minor…but I feel like it’s a good first step.

Who knows who Ange with short(er) hair is going to be? But I can’t wait to find out.