The She With The He Hair

   My older sister guarded her gorgeous blonde locks with a pitchfork. My brother was already a dude.The younger sisters had the good fortune of being black. My mother gave their sweet, kinky curls one good look and settled on me. A meager middle child with just the right head of fine hair to butcher, she reasoned that even if I looked ridiculous, no one would notice. Plus, with four girls and only one son, this might have been an opportunity to balance out the family tree.

  I couldn’t have known all of this, of course. I was five. So when my mom whisked me off to the fancy salon at JC Penney I was thrilled. A whole afternoon alone with my mother felt like a blue ribbon, a final acknowledgement that I not only existed but was, in fact, her very favorite. I spent the car ride twisting pink and purple threads, biting the tip between my teeth, before tying the knot and cementing this day with a token friendship bracelet.

    Best Mom Forever and I arrived to the salon. My heart ballooned as I took in all the glory: a shiny place with twirling chairs and giant, magical combs swimming in jars of liquid bluer than the sky. I marvelled at the gleam of polished vinyl floors, the glow of Hollywood lightbulbs shining a halo around  mirrors. I envisioned myself a short Reba McEntire once this hair heaven spilled its pretty on me. Stupid child.

It would take some minutes for the sparkling facade to crumble. My hopes fell to a pile of discarded hair that littered the floor beneath my feet.  “Oh,” I heard my dreams break like glass, “Lab. Rat.” The stylist, who I’d hardly noticed amid the glitz and glamour was no angel of beauty. Her melting makeup warned that she’d been out the night before. Her black-smudged eyes were vacant, still at a bar somewhere on the sketchy side of town. I startled at the feeling of her rough hands forcing my chin to stillness. Prison hands, I thought. No way Reba would put up with this.

Itch crept down my scalp, spread down my neck- my neck!- newly buzzed and naked. I looked at myself beneath the Hollywood lights and just like that, I knew my mother didn’t love me. Through hiccups and tears I croaked, ” WHY DO YOU HATE ME?”. She bit her lip. I never did get an answer.


   She will tell you it was a lovely look. She’d gotten the idea from a group of suspiciously masculine ladies who weight-lifted and jogged with her, and she insists they were all totally girly despite their interest in motorcycles. She just wouldn’t admit defeat. She pierced my ears and smocked and sewed and shoved a dress on my formerly feminine shell. I wandered through my fifth year of life desperate for a hiding place or a hat.

    My brother teased, delighted in calling me Boy. All I could think to say was “I know you are, but what am I?, ” a comeback which had never before so cruelly failed me. Playing with Barbie dolls and neighborhood girls became something torturous, another chance for me to see just how far away and different I was from them.  I mournfully watched them braid and curl and loop a happy finger through their luscious locks. I so desperately wanted in on all that sameness.

     But growing is a blessed thing. I grew and grew and watched the Boy Phase inch further away as strands ran from roots. I learned to lavish in the sameness. I stood in a long line of cheerleaders, our bouncy ponytails swaying in spirit and unison. I made a point to get married beneath a beehive, marvellous mountains of teased hair piled atop my head.

  Some might call it self-mutilation, a victim extending the cycle that first victimized her, even, when I hacked off my long, lady hair over the summer. It was much simpler than that. My head was hot. Sweat sticking hair across shoulders, I sat in a shiny salon, bit my lip, and watched my gender demons fall defeated to a floor covered in female fur. There I was, naked neck and proving that clothes don’t make the man, but hair sure can. I ran a hand over a bare shoulder and felt relieved and liberated with this break from the norm.


I’m the one in the necklace, jerks.

    As friends gave surprised ooh’s and ah’s, I felt surprised, too. Boy hair grew to manhood, embraced the brotherhood and could finally feel the pleasure of watching ladies spray and iron and beat their do’s into submission. “Ugh, women,” I could chuckle with the bros and actually mean it. I saved enough money on shampoo to send my son to college. I got a stellar shoulder tan. Also important, I liked the way I looked regardless of what was deemed “in”.  I wanted to tell that little boy me that it was okay to not fit the mold, that one day her short hair will be the trend, but by then she won’t even want what’s trendy. I would tell her all about sappy romantic movies and the anatomy of vaginas and all those other things that let us be ladies. We’d get to the part about period cramps, and she’d think for just a moment that the boy thing wasn’t such a bad deal.

   I enjoyed a season of this feeling new and refreshingly different.  Then Fall fell cold and with one mild compliment from a teenager I knew that this short hair session had run its course. “La-ove your hair. Pixie cuts are , like, so hot right now. Oh muh gawd, like Miley…,” she keeps talking . And here is a full circle. It took twenty years  and two bouts of boy-dom for me to  resent being one with the sameness.


Have you been accidentally trendy, or do you follow trends on purpose?



[writing prompt] a trend that you hate

Mama’s Losin’ It

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85 thoughts on “The She With The He Hair

  1. I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with my hair. It loves to hate me. My hair fights me no matter what I do. If I get a perm, the stylist has to perm it twice because chunks of it literally wage war and refuse to curl. If I color it, regardless of the shade (excepting only flat black) it turns red. It cannot decide what my natural color is, beginning in toddlerhood as blonde, changing to mousy brown in elementary school, to a dark auburn in high school and, now, after babies and hormones three shades off true black. If it weren’t for the fact that I’d look like my dad with boobs, I’d shave this shit and wear funky hats!

  2. I must confess to hating my hair—really hating. I’ve done more than one post about it———thin, fine—–and now, gray! But, Tori, your short hair is darling! Really, really darling!

  3. Okay I’m going to make you feel better today, I promise.
    I’ve always kept my hair short, shoulder length at most, because it’s not very thick but then…
    I shaved all my hair off tow months ago because of a long list of reasons. I thought it would look okay in a few weeks. It didn’t. I still haven’t reached the pretty Ginnifer Goodwin look.

    You look beautiful with short hair. For real :)

  4. Being a child of the 60′s and 70′s (oops, dating myself here), EVERYONE had long hair. Not me. Mom never let me have long hair. It was always shoulder length or shorter. I guess she didn’t have the patience to have her “doesn’t have patience” daughter sit and her hair done every morning. So I have a pretty good feeling of what you were going through. I was far from feminine, but I had a girly side. She finally let me grow it out somewhere in 5th grade. It’s still long to this day. Oh, I did go through the “80′s Perm” phase. Got pregnant both times with perms. I’ve avoided perms since. Haven’t had any more babies. I could never shave my head though.

    • This is a scientific breakthrough! You heard it here first, folks. Perms get you pregnant!
      The funny thing about my boy phase is that I was so dismayed that the boy hair made me boyish. I conveniently left out the part where I climbed trees and held spitting contests and loved throwing mud :)

  5. So fantastic, Tori. I have had a love-hate thing with my crazy curls all my life. Your hack-job looks like what I’d hoped would be a Dorothy Hamill ‘do. I thought I could really cut off the curls. Not so. I just got my Jew-fro on. It was awful.

    In high school, I seemed to forget and went to get a buzz cut. Number 2 on the shaver. I went to prom with a buzz cut that was growing out. There was nothing pretty about it.

    Trends I hate? Mostly I hate shopping. I don’t like hearing people talk about name brands and I’m kind of clueless when it comes to fashion. It’s hard to understand why the $357 black turtleneck is any better than the $35 one from H&M. In my experience, both only last one or two seasons. (I’m tough on my clothes.) Am I allowed to hate UGGS? They make people walk like Sasquatch.

    • UGGS irk my soul. They’re like very expensive bear feet. I just don’t understand. And I’m with you on the brand names. I am chronically cheap, so I compare all purchases to how much food or electricity it could buy me. I like jeans not to cost more than the mortgage, ya know?
      P.S. Would like a picture of your Jew fro ASAP. Something tells me it might help heal my Boy Phase wounds.

  6. I’ve gone up and down with my hair over the years, probably to greater extremes both short and long than either of my sisters. I learned long ago that I had no idea what to do with it and if I didn’t like what the stylist did it would grow out. Your short do is great.

  7. I do not follow trends at my age, 65, I’ve worn my hair short since High School and love it. It has been a blessing since the Change, I have been disappointed to find that hot flashes are a way of life now.

  8. Y’all, she’s lying. It was a really NICE swanky salon in Murfreesboro. A totally in style (at least then) Dorothy Hammill cut, cute as can be. Kids can be so difficult.

    • I was pretty horrified when I realized I was rocking the Miley haircut. I was all proud to be different! and free! and looking like a teenager wasn’t part of my plan! Thanks for stopping by, Maggie!

  9. My Mom did the same – had my hair brutally chopped shortly after the arrival of sis #2. Her defence: “I didn’t have time to do your hair anymore!” My Mom is a lovely woman but she still defends my hair butchering as a necessity.
    Since the commenters above me are sharing hair secrets, I’ll share mine: I had a rat tail. Yes. Seriously. On purpose.

    *clickin’ in from MamaKat*

    • YES! One of my best childhood friends just commented on Facebook about her rat tail. It was a masterpiece! Did you ever put beads on it?
      Also, thank you for sharing about your mom’s hair murdering ways. I think you might be onto something. I never considered that maybe my mom just wanted one less head of hair to braid. Always sacrifice the middle kid :)

  10. My mom always gave me short bowl cuts growing up so I’ve always tried to grow my hair long. However, with moving to new locations over the past three years I’ve had my share of bad haircuts. In fact on cut ended up being a mullet – or as my hubs referred to it – the arrowhead. So no, I have never been trendy. My hair is one of my worst enemies.

  11. Does it help you in any way that I spent the majority of my childhood looking EXACTLY like Henry Thomas from E.T. Old pictures recently located in my father’s attic completely confirmed it.
    By the way, your hair now looks FABULOUS!! :)

  12. I love this story! You are so beautiful! And what a cute kid you were. My mom always gave me a bob haircut up to age twelve. TWELVE. In high school my hair was shoulder length and in college I grew it out nice and long. I always got so many compliments on my mane. Now I’m back to shoulder length, but you’ve inspired me to take more risks!
    I try not to mess around with trends because they come and go. If I like something, I’ll wear it. And I won’t stop wearing it if a trend goes out the window. If I feel good in it, then it’s timeless to me!

  13. Never followed a trend. I did crew cuts when long hair was in. But I did lead the trend in shaved heads! I’ve been a chrome-dome for years now, out in front of the whole bald battalion.
    (Just don’t tell anybody that, between my receding hairline and the grey invasion, it was just easier to get rid of the stunted remains some people call “a head of hair”, :D )
    And I happen to think you look ROCKIN’ with short hair. Or long. Just sayin’. ;)

    • Hahahaha. Ok. So my mom is saying it was NOT a JC Penney, but rather a “swanky” salon. I just remember gold everything and those rough, cold Prison hands. Swanky or not, I would bet a dollar there was a Sbarro nearby :)

  14. Those bad haircuts we all have in our back pocket were created to make us stronger, at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! But this new do of yours is gorgeous, or “gorge!” as my daughter would say, not that you wanted me to weigh in on that…

    • I’ve been consoled by everyone’s tales of awful haircuts. It really is starting to seem like this is just a rite of passage. I will make a point to give Thomas a crooked bowl cut ASAP :)

    • Lucky kid :) I kind of love that you said that because everyone has always said he takes after Tom so much. I felt left out of the gene pool. They just hadn’t seen photos from my days as a boy, I guess :)

    • Mother Pearl! I’m getting a whole lot of comments that everyone got the Bad Cut around age 5. Is this like an unwritten kid initiation I don’t know about? Sisterhood of The Dude Hair?

  15. Don’t hate me, but the 5 year old haircut is kind of cute. I do get how it would be a shock going from long hair, though.

    My mom took me in for a hatchet job, but she waited until I was much older and much more concerned with what others thought of me. I was eleven and painfully shy. It was right before sixth grade, starting a new school in a different part of town. I conceded that I would get my hair cut to shoulder-length. She took it to mean that the very back was to my neck. Everything else was so short, not even the skinny curling iron that looks like a hummingbird’s beak would wrap around it and curl them under. Worse – the hair cut was just like hers. Still a sore subject :)

    • Oh, that’s just cruel! Right before starting a new school, no less. After reading these comments I’m starting to think there is a secret Motherhood Handbook out there and maiming your kid’s hair is a golden rule in it. I’m fairly certain my grandmother chopped off my mother’s hair and I’ve already butchered little Thomas’s hair more times that I can count. It’s practically family tradition!

  16. That was me! But asian! And what my mom imagined was a Dorothy Hamill haircut! GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH! Why must I relive that nightmare?! HAHAHAHA! Since I was so traumatized by that event, I’ve always had long hair – except when I rebelled in college and cut it SHOULDER LENGTH.

    I don’t like risk…

    • My mom said she was going for the “Dorothy” look, too, but as we can all see, THINGS DID NOT WORK OUT! Ah, I kind of suddenly wish we were childhood friends and could’ve skipped and played about like two little boyish Dorothy Hamill’s.

  17. When I was five and my sister was ten (somehow the teenage sisters got out of this!) my mom let her friend “practice” the pixie cut on us…we were humiliated!

  18. I’ve always had hair that looks like Brian May…. or one of the hair bear bunch…. I go through phases of getting it cut short but it bugs me me so much I can’t wait for it to grow long enough to tie up.

    • See? I didn’t think I was pulling the whole pixie thing off. When I think pixie I think fairies, dainty little fairies. At 6 feet tall and big-boned, I felt a little too lumbering and large for the role.

  19. This post was so entertaining! I had a similar hair experience that resulted in a mullet as a child. Rough- I look back and cringe! btw I LOVE your hair now!!

    I just decided that I need a personal hairstylist to do my hair daily- then maybe hair drama can be banned from my life!

  20. “Oh,” I heard my dreams break like glass, “Lab. Rat.” Love it! My mom could not, for the life of her, get barrettes to stay in my hair so she decided the best solution was to chop the sides off entirely. Into a horrid, horrid mullet. She still defends that indefensible haircut. By the way, you look awesome with short hair!

    • The horror! The funny thing is that just about every single woman I’ve talked to was at one time or another hair-maimed by her mother. I’m starting to think this is just a humiliating rite of passage.

  21. Oh, Tori. This resonates with me so much because I, too, have had the dreaded boy hair a time or two as a child. Not on purpose, just mainly the fault of an over-eager stylist taking too much liberty with my locks.

    I think your short hair is and was adorable – but I understand the desire to grow it back out. I have that same sort of relationship every few years with bangs.

    • Can’t stop changing all the time! That’s my motto at least. It confuses the hell out of my husband because every few months I’ll announce that yes, I love this haircut, but I’m over it. Onto the next one!

  22. Love this.Got my hair hacked off when I was a kid,I remember wearing a mullet to first day of school…never understand why my mom made me do that but I get it now so much less mess and time wasted.

    • Takes time to see past the pain of a mullet for sure. I could see later that my mom was a genius. A mean genius, but a genius nonetheless. With four little girls running around she had to save time somehow. I was the sacrificial ‘do.

  23. I definitely do not follow trends. Somehow I was blessed with the liberating character trait of *not caring* what people think about me. It’s heavenly. I’ve always felt I couldn’t pull off a short ‘do being 6 feet tall and not shaped like a model. You, however, have definitely pulled it off. I love your grown-up “boy” cut — you are gorgeous!

  24. I LOVE your short hair, then and now. My youngest had one long, lovely, auburn braid until she was 6. She wanted to cut the whole thing off, and we did. That’s how it has stayed forever – it’s just her.

    • I love the short hair now. Funny thing is, I was so, so worried about that haircut making me look like a boy when I was five. I maybe didn’t consider that even with long, flowy hair I was still the tomboy who climbed trees and held spitting contests.

  25. I, too had he hair in the 5th grade. Mine was punishment for refusing to sleep in sponge rollers. “I had been warned”. I just didn’t believe it would really happen. It was a terrible year. Not only did I have boy hair, my hair was red and I had freckles. Not a cute look. Luckily it grew back, but it took reading your post to realize that it left a more lasting scar than I thought. When I get a bad hair cut I get really, really angry. I pretty sure this is why. :)

    • Angie, I think you’re onto something. I got all red in the neck and irate one time because a lady cut my bangs about 1/2 a centimeter too short. It was not a logical reaction, but I couldn’t control the fury. I should write that poor stylist an apology letter from my mom.

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