The Hair on My Head

While I haven’t been updating this blog regularly, I have been writing and reading quite a bit offline. The piece below is the start of an essay that I hope to develop further. After reading an essay by Donald Hall about his beard in Essays After Eighty, I felt inspired.

I could map out my life by the story of my hair. When I was little, I couldn’t figure out how to brush it properly, and I’ve been told that I wouldn’t let anyone else brush it either. As a result, my hair knotted into the most intricate, painful rats’ nests imaginable. Finally fed up with the mess that was my blonde locks, my mother carted me off to the hairdresser’s and gave me a bowl cut in the third grade. She remembers the cut fondly. Me, not so much.

My grandpa called me the blonde bomb. Out of his four grandchildren, I’m the only one with a mop top of gold. My hair grew so thick I had to have it thinned whenever I got a haircut. Hairdressers told me that clients would come to them, asking to dye their hair to the golden that I came by naturally. I took this as a sign that I should never dye my hair. And so far, I haven’t. I may need to revisit this decision when it starts to grey.

When I began to date seriously, my hair length matched the preference of the boy I was dating. One boyfriend liked long, flowing hair. My hair practically touched my butt. Another boyfriend preferred it short, and I regularly kept it above my shoulders. The women’s studies major in me cringes to think back on this. My new husband supports me in my decision to do whatever I want. I think I’ll keep him.

Right after college I taught reading, writing, and math in a predominantly African-American school in southeast Washington, D.C. I remember feeling hands pet the back of my head as I tried to unlock my classroom door one day. A crowd of middle-schoolers was walking down the hallway, and they couldn’t resist feeling hair that was so different from their own.

Long Hair

A photo of me during the second of my two years teaching in southeast Washington, D.C. My hair made it nearly to my waist before I donated it.

During those years in the classroom, I found that if I changed anything about my appearance, I completely lost my class’s attention. “Ms. Mallory, why’d you buy that new shirt?” “Ms. Mallory, where did your hair go?” “Ms. Mallory, why isn’t your hair pulled back?” Class would be over for the day, and we might as well talk about my hair, my new glasses, or my choice of footwear. So, I changed nothing for two years: same rotation of clothes, same glasses, and same blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. My hair just grew and grew, and after two years, I moved to a new school, cut my hair, and donated it to charity for the first time.

Today – May 31, 2016 – I cut my hair and gave it away again. This marks the third time in my life that I’ve chopped my blonde locks and sent them to a charitable organization to help others who need wigs for a variety of reasons – hair loss due to cancer treatments being one of them.

I take this donating decision very seriously. The first donation went to Locks of Love, and the second two have gone to Pantene Beautiful Lengths. I’ve chosen my donation destination each time based on research I’ve done on each group’s website, reviews I see on Charity Navigator (which reviews nonprofit organizations), and the length required for the donation.

In the months leading up to getting it chopped this time, I asked my husband to measure my hair every so often just to see how much longer I would have to wait to donate. My husband’s hair is also blonde and thick, but since he keeps it short, he has not had the pleasure of rats’ nests of pain or the infamous bowl cut. We joke that our future children will be able to make rope out of their own hair one day, and as I think about who might receive my latest donation, I can only hope that my future kids will be that lucky – lucky enough to experience ringlets so thick you can’t run a brush through them, detangling sessions serenaded by shrieks as the comb digs into the latest knot, and feelings of joy mixed with dread as you see that bowl cut in the mirror for the first time.

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