I’ve had long hair for pretty much my whole life. I had a bowl cut, as my brothers like to call it, when I was in first grade. And I had bangs up until eighth grade, but then I hit high school, grew out the bangs, and never looked back. For the next twelve years, I pretty much always had the same exact hairstyle—about shoulder-length, straight cut across the bottom.
I like to keep things simple. I’m not super into style and fashion, so I’d only get my hair cut about once a year, nothing fancy…in fact, my mom would cut my hair for me. I wasn’t picky. I’d often just put my hair back in a ponytail, anyway, so if I’d had layers or something of the sort, no one would have noticed.
Well, recently I started to think, why not try out short hair? Sure, it’d be a big change, but change is exciting. And showers would be so much faster. My hair would dry quickly. I would be cool in the summer. When I’d go swimming, I wouldn’t have to worry about hair getting in my face.
On the other hand, I have to admit, I was a little nervous about getting a “boy’s” haircut. What would people think about me? Would I look bad? Would I have to get a haircut every few weeks to stop it from growing out in weird, awkward ways?
All of this was running through my head one day during my recent trip to Europe. I was in Görlitz, Germany, a town just across the river from Poland. Amazed at how easy it is to cross borders in Europe, I decided to cross a bridge over the Lusatian Neisse River to get to the Polish town of Zgorzelec on the other side. I have Polish, German, and Irish ancestry, and Poland was the only country of the three that I hadn’t yet visited.
It was a hot day; my hair had grown longer than I wanted; and I thought to myself, if I see a place to get my hair cut, I’m going to go for it. Unfortunately, the town wasn’t nearly the hub of activity that Görlitz was, and I thought it unlikely that I’d come across any salon. There was some activity along the waterfront, though, where a few restaurants were attracting some business, so that’s where I headed first.
I was hungry, and curious to try Polish food, so I sat down at a lovely little place and ordered an unknown item off the menu. I can’t remember the name of the dish right now, but it had sauerkraut and sausage and plums. For dessert, I ordered “the forbidden fruit.” It was a baked apple with ice cream and cinnamon.
When the meal was over, I continued walking along the waterfront to see if anything caught my eye. I didn’t have far to go! Just a few blocks along, I saw a tiny storefront window with the image of a pair of scissors on the glass. This must be it, I thought, and ducked inside.
The hairdresser, Ania, was finishing cutting a woman’s hair, and she didn’t take any note of me when I walked inside. In the states, this would be a bad sign…terrible customer service. But I thought, I’m not home, and this is probably normal here. I’ll wait till she finishes cutting this woman’s hair, and then I’ll tell her that I’d like a haircut. A man was sitting in one of the seats next to me (he was the only other person in the place), and it appeared that he was with the woman getting her hair cut, because he kept on looking at her with a huge smile on his face. (He also didn’t say a word to me.)
About five minutes went by. Then a young man came into the place and, in German, presumably asked the hairdresser if she could give him a haircut. At this point, she turned to me and asked me, in Polish, if I was waiting to get my hair cut.
I was pretty certain that I knew what she was asking, so I started nodding my head, but the confusion must have shown on my face. The young man who’d just walked in translated into German what the hairdresser had said in Polish (at various points on my trip, I was mistaken for German, Polish, Irish, Scottish, English, Icelandic, Canadian, Portuguese, Danish, French, etc.). I still had a confused look on my face, and I started to say, in English, that I didn’t understand.
Well, it turns out that the man sitting next to me was American, and he translated into English what everyone else had said. When I said that yes, I wanted a haircut, he and everyone else seemed to be amazed that I’d want to get my hair cut by someone who I wouldn’t be able to communicate with.
But that’s just what I did. Everyone else left, and it was just me and Ania. I showed her a couple photos of women with short hair, that I’d found in some magazines that were lying around. None of the haircuts were exactly what I wanted, but then again, I didn’t even know exactly what I wanted. It was the first time I was doing this.
Ania, clearly not wanting to make a drastic mistake, verified with me several times that I really wanted my hair cut short. She was a little shocked, but also excited. We both ended up laughing a lot—me, because I could barely believe what I was doing, and Ania, because she could barely believe what I was doing.
She was also amazed that I was from Chicago…she’s probably telling this same story, but with a different twist, back at home.
Anyway, I remember sitting there, looking at myself with long hair in the mirror, and getting a little teary eyed. I almost decided not to go through with it. Long hair had become part of my identity. It was part of what made me feminine. And then I thought, ridiculous! Ridiculous, Mary. The length of a person’s hair has nothing to do with a person’s femininity…f*#% societal beliefs. If anything, the realization that other (unknown!) peoples’ shallow opinions were threatening to interfere with my own actions made me decide a hundred percent to follow through with my plan. I gave the nod to Ania to start doing the scissor work.
I took a photo of all of the hair that I left in Poland….
And Ania took a photo of me!
A month later, my hair had already grown out a bunch. I’m loving it.