My Hairstory

I had a haircut recently.

BEFORE

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AFTER

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I hadn’t planned for something quite so radical.

I had made an appointment at the hairdresser’s and was going for a trim.

That afternoon, I asked some of my colleagues what they thought I should do with my hair and how short I should go.

Unanimously, they told me that I was to cut no more than 2 inches off my very long hair. Long hair suits me, they said.

It was not until the moment I was seated in the hairdressing salon that I was going to take it all off.

It was pretty dramatic, especially considering the fact that I have had long hair for years.

That night, I posted a photo of my new haircut (see above pic) on Facebook and a flood of positive comments appeared on my page, some remarking upon how drastic the change was. And that got me thinking…about how much a haircut could mean to us.

Let me take you back to the 1970s.

I am the first born and only child to my Singaporean Chinese parents, and when I was born, I had already disappointed my parents and my grandparents in two major ways.

First of all, I was covered in hair from head to toe. My grandparents thought that my mother had given birth to a monster. Thankfully, I shed most of that hair within days, leaving a thick head of hair. Still, this was rather odd for a baby of Chinese heritage.

The second was not something that could be reversible like the first. The second was a gut-wrenching disappointment for I was not born a boy, and this was made quite clear to me throughout my childhood.

To start off, my grandmother insisted on taking me to the barber and ensured that I had a boy’s haircut, maintaining the illusion for as long as she could.

Why is anyone surprised that I grew up to become a bit of a tom boy?

(insert)

The barber totally freaked me out…
When I became used to being treated like a boy…

For the most of my childhood, my mother decided that I should have my hair kept short, and when I voiced my envy of my classmates who had beautiful plaited hair, she would lecture me on the conveniences of short hair, adding that it was the girls with long hair who got lice. The scare tactic worked because I never complained after that.

Celebrating my 4th birthday with a bob
Looking unhappy – ‘Why can all my classmates have long hair?’
Can you spot me in this picture?

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When I went to college, long hair became my preferred style. I wanted everything I couldn’t have when I was growing up.

Even the pigeons found my long hair more attractive…

And I realized the power of the long hair.

I could put it in a bun and look elegant;

I could tie it into two plaits and look naïve;

I could curl it, let it all down and look seductive.

I could flick it, toss it, and shake it.

I could headbang with it.

I could attract attention with it.

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But I was miserable.

I wasn’t happy with myself and constantly felt insecure.

I was depressed.

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I embarked on a journey of self-exploration.

I took up meditation, I reflected, I faced up to my demons.

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One of the many things I realized was this:

I had based all of my self-confidence on what others thought of me.

I had based my self-worth upon the attention I received.

Yet, I wasn’t willing to love myself or my own company.

And until I could enjoy my own company could I expect others to enjoy mine.

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So, I got a pair of scissors and cut my very long hair off.

I then shaved my hair off.

All of it.

Till I was bald.

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Now, I really looked awful.

I looked like a freak.

I felt less feminine than I had ever felt.

I had sought to be as ugly as I could be.

And if I could find confidence within myself, if I could love myself despite how others looked at me, I knew this time it would be true confidence.

Without any hair, I felt exposed…

The friends I met and got to know would treat me completely differently from the ones I met when I had hair.

The boys who came to chat me up in clubs were certainly of a different type, and expected different things of me, seeing that a bald head on a girl must mean she is daring and wild in some way.

The people I encountered in the shops and in the street regarded me with suspicion, some unsure whether I was a boy or a girl, and some openly expressing disapproval of my unconventional appearance.

After all, if people can’t place you in a box, they try to do so anyway.

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My self-esteem shrank to nothing.

I felt lonely, like no one understood me.

I was really depressed.

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I realized how much I had depended on something as seemingly insignificant as hair to boost my confidence, to create the illusion of being understood, to feel belonged in society.

I realized that I hadn’t been confident all my life after all.

For if it were true confidence, it wouldn’t have been deflated so easily.

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I kept my head shaved for 6 months.

I learnt to explore everything that I was and to find things about myself I loved.

I learnt to feel attractive and feminine in other ways.

I learnt to find true confidence.

Like the story of my hair, the story of my journey in teaching hasn’t been too different.

Placing your confidence upon tools, materials, and even your personality, can only take you this far.

Find your confidence from within, and it will stay with you forever.

Could you see why?

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Author: chiasuanchong

I am a freelance communications trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. With 13 years of experience training students from all over the world to communicate better in English (and in particular, Business English), I am also a professional blogger, materials writer and intercultural trainer.

30 thoughts on “My Hairstory”

  1. I opened this just to check out your new hair do and was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely story attached. I really enjoyed reading it and it bought back to many of my own hair memories. I had even realised the significance of my hair in different eras of my life. My mum forced me to have short hair like a boy my whole ‘home’ life and I then had very long hair before shaving and colouring and all sorts. Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Kylie,
      Thanks for being the first to comment!
      I think most girls, if not most people, would have hair stories of their own, and they are often linked to the different stages of their lives.
      Some people change their hairstyle to rebel.
      Some do it to conform.
      And some just need a change.

      Like language and accents, hair forms part of our identity…and what we hope to portray to the rest of the world.
      As a result, it can have a real impact on our psyche…
      Fascinating stuff…language and hair…

      C

  2. Amazing how the story of your (one’s) hair is the story of your life!! You realise that this is going to start a rush of copy-cat hair/life stories, don’t you?? I’m busy looking through some old albums to find a compilation to compare with yours.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Ken!
      And totally honoured if this starts a rush of copy-cat hair/life stories…or ‘hairstory’, as I call it…
      (Okay, my weak pun on ‘history’ is completely lost on most…damn!)
      After all, imitation can only be the best form of flattery!
      Case in point: I’ve recently seen a spate of classroom experiments and action research being tweeted and blogged about…
      Very very honoured.

      So I’m looking forward to seeing your photos and reading about your ‘hairstory’…
      (Okay, I get it. I need to find another pun…Wit is just so not my thing…)

      xC

  3. Love you just the same, but I still prefer the long hair 😉
    You know, it was the reverse in my case – they were expecting a girl, but, strange, they never allowed me to keep my hair long!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Chiew!
      Funny you should say that…
      I’ve noticed a few male toddlers in Singapore lately who have long hair…like a mini-mohawk…
      Not the best look, I must admit…Not on the adult males, nor on the toddlers…

      xC

  4. Wow what a story. I was a disappointment to my dad’s side of the family (not my dad himself but his family!) due to not being a boy too. Because my elder sibling is a girl and my parents were stopping at 2, so no boys…
    I also had short hair for the majority of my childhood. But I think it was for convenience rather than trying to make me look like a boy! Since then I’ve had long hair sometimes and short hair other times. But I’ve not shaved my head (though my latest hair cut felt close!) or coloured my hair as yet.
    Liking Ken Wilson’s idea!!
    Thanks for sHAIRing! 🙂

    1. Hi Lizzie,
      Thanks for taking time to comment!
      I think many girls might have had similar experiences in their childhood, especially if they grew up in more traditional families.

      Oh, and yes, I have coloured my hair…
      The first time I did it, I tried to do it at home on my home and patches of it turned orange.
      I had to live with it for ages!

      Another time, when I was still an actress, I had it coloured dark purple, and changed it months later to dark blue.
      I actually really like those colours.
      But they don’t show up very well in photos because they just look black except under very bright sunlight…

      Would love to hear your hairstory (and Ken’s) too!
      Let me know if you decide to blog about it. I’ll include a link here!

      C

      1. Will let you know if I get round to taking up the challenge! 🙂

        Meant to say, love the new haircut. And, I was very surprised to learn that you were lacking in confidence/self-esteem: You seem to have been very successful in overcoming it.

        By the way, I watched your IH 2012 ELF talk, cos I was reading about ELF today so it tied in nicely, and found it very interesting. I wanted to watch your IATEFL 2012 interview one but the video clip wouldn’t play. There was an error message, though I forget what it said exactly, that suggested I wasn’t allowed to watch it!

        🙂

        1. Yes, Lizzie, I think everyone of us feel insecure in our own ways. It’s part of the human condition.
          But it’s becoming aware of it and how we deal with it that is what matters.
          It’s often easy to label shy characters as lacking in confidence and louder ones as high in self-esteem…
          But as you and I know, this is often not the case at all.
          Many louder characters, like everyone else, need to be liked by others.
          The danger is letting that rule your life and who you are.

          I wouldn’t dare say I’ve ‘overcome’ it, but I’m definitely taking steps forward in terms of understanding myself better and making progress every day.
          But this journey never ends…because there’ll always be new areas to work on…it’s all part of being human, I guess.

          And on a different note, thanks for flagging up the error message on the IATEFL Glasgow Online interview.
          It was working before but you are right, it now only shows up an error message, and I can’t seem to fix it.
          If any IATEFL Glasgow Online members are reading this, do you think you could advise me on what to do?
          The embed code doesn’t seem to work and the video is listed as ‘private’ and therefore restricted on my blog.

          Lizzie, try going straight to the IATEFL Glasgow Online site and watch the interview here:
          http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2012/sessions/2012-03-19/interview-chia-suan

          Also, you could watch the actual PCE talk I did on ELF here on the BESIG website.
          http://www.besig.org/events/conferences/pce/glasgow.aspx
          It’s more comprehensive than the IH DoS conference one you saw as I go through what ELF is and what implications I think there are to teaching.

          Hope this helps you.

          xC

        2. Spot on with your thoughts on the human condition, complex as it is.

          Thanks v much for those links, they will be most useful. (I’m preparing for an interview to do an M.A. in ELT during which you also do the DELTA!)

          Good luck in continuing to make positive steps! 🙂 L x

  5. I think the new hairstyle is fantastic. And I have also gone through story after story with my hair which I tried to iron or wrap up in large soda cans to make straight in my highschool years to look like the popular girls and now have just changed hairdressers because the last one didn’t do what I wanted and butchered my hair. I understand totally the feeling we get when we are happy with our hair – after all, the expression ‘bad hair day’ didn’t come out of nowhere! Like it or not, it is part of our identities as your lovely story so eloquently points out.

  6. Chia!
    You could start a whole new blog dealing just with the different places you could go with the hair. Look how many you touched upon just in this piece of beautiful writing!
    To add my two cents:
    My mother had really long hair all the way till she was married (at 19!). She detested it and swore that if she ever had a daughter there would be none of this nonsense. Therefore I had REALLY short hair till I was twelve or thirteen (not quite bowl overturned on the headbut almost).
    Then, to make a long story short, I grew out my hair and made a horrible discovery. Remember all the things you said one can do with long hair? I couldn’t do A THING with mine. its very straight and very thin, nothing (and i mean nothing) holds in it.all pins slide out anywhere between 3o seconds to five minutes after being placed.And its so thing that it always gets mussed within minutes of the slightest wind.
    So at some point I accepted the fact that part of me being me means not having long hair!
    Now to the other side of that:
    It sounds good to talk about accepting who I am and utilizing my strong points. The tricky thing is to tell the difference about what its good to accept and what I should fight to change. I’ve always preferred working with words to being physically active and that isn’t something I can just accept – I have to fight it! I will now leave the computer and take a power walk!
    Leaving you humming music from “hair”
    Naomi

    1. Thanks for your very interesting comments, Naomi.
      Indeed, hair is a strange one.
      It doesn’t always do what you tell it to.
      And sometimes, you’ve just got to accept it for the way it is…

      Very much like life, isn’t it?

      C

  7. Chia the Chinese monk eh? I always knew it. I grew mine for years as it was trendy but by the time it got long enough to be cool, the trend had passed so off it cam, gradually though. I’ve often wondered about that. I mean if long hair suddenly becomes popular it means those men have been growing it for years. They didn’t just say “hey today I will get hair extensions because it’s cool”.

    I think you have missed out on a mullet though, my dad swears by his.

    1. Ah the mullet, Phil…scariest thing…
      Hmmm…

      Good point you are making about people ‘preparing’ to follow the trend though…
      Isn’t that the case with everything…
      Those to follow the trend first are usually those who already were doing it before the trend started.
      The trend followers then try to cash in but by then it’s just too late…hahahaha

      C

  8. absolutely , finding confidence within is all
    loved this piece Chia – really resonates for anyone who has begun to find confidence through Dogme

    1. Emi,
      Glad you saw the connection I was making with Improvised Principled Eclecticism and going Dogme. Didn’t want to patronise but also wondered if it was obvious enough…
      xC

  9. Im proud of your confidence you were still beautiful bald & short Bob look great on you don’t let anyone bother you stay strong in who you are

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