I had a haircut recently.
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?
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.
When I went to college, long hair became my preferred style. I wanted everything I couldn’t have when I was growing up.
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.
But I was miserable.
I wasn’t happy with myself and constantly felt insecure.
I was depressed.
I embarked on a journey of self-exploration.
I took up meditation, I reflected, I faced up to my demons.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My self-esteem shrank to nothing.
I felt lonely, like no one understood me.
I was really depressed.
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.
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?