How not to grow out a pixie cut, or This is just to say

I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox. And this is just to say, this is a massive post about my hair and my life, and it is as weighty as it is lengthy. If you aren’t feeling up for it, I will in no way judge you for skipping this post entirely, or scrolling to the bottom where I have affixed a picture of an impossible man for whom you can leave a comment reading “delish!” or “knickersoaker!” or some variation thereof, or sitting through the slideshow, or not sitting through the slideshow and scrolling through the pictures of me and leaving a comment that says “at least ur hair finaly grew out gurl lol” or "damn ur face is crooked," et cetera, or marking this as read.

This is just to say that this post has been in the making since I started college, because if it weren’t for the series of unfortunate events fortuitous combination of events that jumped me and demanded my money over the past two years, I wouldn’t have been compelled to take to my hair with a pair of scissors and a plan no more specific than “really short,” resulting in a lesbian-mom-Vulcan-Beatle haircut followed by a succession of mullet growing-out stages, each more horrific than the last.

And that is just to say that in May of 2009, having just spent a year in the dorms at UC Berkeley with people I did not care about or grow to care about, taking general-ed courses and learning things I mostly did not care about, investing my time in people who were not worth it, who seemed to think that people could be picked up and dropped at will, watching the snarkiness I thought we had all grown out of after high school play out in dormitory drama, wondering if I had just wasted an entire year of my life and if I had settled for this, and sick of homeless men asking if they could worship the ground I walked on and the groping eyes of sweaty, overweight, middle-aged construction workers, I was so dissatisfied with my first year of college and with myself and with people in general and how utterly pointless higher education all was, I did what any sane woman trying to regain control over her life would do: I pulled a Britney Spears.


Now, there are actually two options in this kind of situation. The first is micro-managing your food intake. I tried that in high school and I ended up binging on chips and cookies all the time after throwing away my lunch at school, which was sort of counterproductive, so I decided to never do it again because my neuroses could be put to better use elsewhere. The other option was to do something drastic to my hair.

In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. I mean, something’s got to be wrong when a perfectly nice-looking girl decides to adhere to a once-a-week shampoo regimen for several months (because I was done with apple-picking), followed by a baking soda and lemon juice period, despite the fact that No ‘Poo is only recommended for curly-haired girls, and despite the fact that it is completely disgusting and requires pillowcases to be changed every two days. Take this as a warning, dear 2.5 readers: No ‘Poo is a cry for help.

This is just to say that as my freshman year at Cal drew to a close, my floormate lent me a book entitled Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which opened with the mysterious death of a mysterious woman, use of the past tense when the narrator referred to her father, and the story of the narrator’s mother’s death by car accident. I thought I related pretty hard to the narrator, Blue Van Meer. In her teens and still precocious, parent dead from automobile accident, introspective to a fault, fond of literary references and overly colorful prose – in short, I was her.

Then the year ended, all my things were packed away, and I was whizzed back home again, but the little pastel house I came back to felt more oppressive than home, as if I had to hunch over because the walls and ceiling were pressing in on me, but I was grateful for it anyway, because it wasn’t school. The first order of the summer was medical.

I think one of the worst ways you can find out your grandfather is dead is to be switching from your pediatrician to a doctor-doctor, and for her to be inquiring about your family's medical history and for your mother to say deceased for the status of your father’s father. I panicked briefly and wondered when he died and if I was supposed to have known.

Then my Big People Doctor asked my mother to leave the room and proceeded to ask about my nonexistent sex life and then she asked me something about how my father died, and I burst into tears. And then she told me that that was not an okay reaction for something that had happened eleven years ago, and that I should get exercise and therapy. I continued to cry because I was finding it very hard to articulate “I didn’t know my grandfather was dead until about a minute ago, and the people I have met at school are very artificial and unsatisfying, and I am finding it difficult to be Asian American in the kind of environment that expects you to be Asian or American but never both, and I have not picked a major and I might be at the wrong school, and my family is going to be broke when tuition goes up.”

Then I asked my mother to let me go buy something to make myself feel better. Shopping is cheaper than a therapist. We went to Border’s and she paid for my fresh paperback copies of The Kite Runner and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and I immediately devoured the latter and cried and cried because I was amazed at Jonathan Safran Foer’s ability to capture, albeit not succinctly, what it felt like to be a child too old for her body, and how heavy it was to contemplate death when you were so small, and to think that your surviving parent was having all the wrong reactions, and to be so angry and repressed and desperately in need of figuring-out space, and I had never related to a book character so hard before.

Then I attended my grandfather’s funeral and cried some more, but not as hard.

Then, in a fit of nervousness and violence, I cut my hair. Partly to give the finger to men everywhere, partly because like a child of two pushing things off tables, I wanted to know what would happen if I did. Maybe, armed with my new haircut, I was going to have a sexuality crisis and it would turn out that my girl-crushes would become full-blown lesbian infatuations, which would explain my year of discontent and my tendency to fall for extremely unavailable (read: gay or taken) men! Or maybe it would turn out that with a shitty haircut, I would be significantly less attractive and I would find out why guys actually bothered to spend time with me! Or maybe my haircut would turn out to grant me magical powers like the ability to read minds, or to stop losing my tubes of lip balm in the car!

Then I read The Kite Runner and then I felt oddly absolved, because Hosseini does self-torment and relationships well, and I knew that I knew what “For you, a thousand times over” meant, because I had felt it, and I knew I couldn’t be irreparably broken.

The second order of summer was to crank out something for my theater group to perform. Having been introduced to Spring Awakening recently, I stole my friend's idea about an alternate universe in which Harry Potter was interpreted literally and revered as a holy text, and it had to do with parent-child relationships, blindness to authority, sexual predation, and innocence.

This is just to say that I had some of my friends proofread for me, and then I wrote “This is dumb, but I can't really explain why I am so happy that my first non-funny, full-length play is... was well-received by them.”

And then, apparently high off the success of my serious theatrical endeavors, I committed myself to more bad fiction, like the scene in my head that read, “She swallowed, hard. Then she thought of other kinds of swallowing, and other kinds of hard, and tensed, as if the depression he was making beside her on the mattress were the result of a newfound, godlike power that not only rendered him inexplicably heavy, his weight causing her thigh to ease toward him like gravity, but bestowed upon him a torch with which he could illuminate the recesses of her mind, drawing slimy things and creatures with too many legs out of their alcoves and niches, their nooks and crannies, blinding them with his omniscience like a god clearing out the gutters. He stared at her, his gaze penetrating. She swallowed, hard, and thought of swallowing, hard things, and penetration,” and I was delighted with myself for remembering what it was like to write with unapologetic ornamentation.

I thought some more about sexuality and about writing.

One morning that summer I woke up unhappy and ugly and wrote “I HAVE NEVER FELT THIS STUPID ABOUT MY BODY BEFORE.”

Another morning, I woke up nonplussed and wrote about the dream I had just had. “and then we got busted by some adult male who was like WHAT ARE YOU DOING and i said I HAVE PEANUT BUTTER ON MY PANTIES AND THERE IS A GIRL IN THE STALL WITH ME, WHAT DO YOU THINK WE'RE DOING?”

And then I woke up and wrote “So I think I have realized something. Not only am I a sucker for boys in lipstick, boys in eyeliner, boys in dresses, boys with bad socks, platinum blondes, and redheads, but I am a sucker for BOYS WHO AREN'T ATTRACTED TO ME! To the boys who aren't trying to get into my pants, to the boys who make me feel like the center of the universe, to the boys who want to be my friend before they even let on that they're thinking about my body. In some ways, I think I must be afraid of my own sexuality if this is what it comes down to” and “i panic a little thinking people assume a girl with this haircut is a DYKE IN A DRESS! ... but really, why should i panic? PART OF ME IS GAY.

And then my friend was so helpful when someone said “You cut your hair!” to which my friend responded, “Sam’s a lesbian.”

This is just to say that in the middle of the summer, I decided that rather than spend a semester taking a cognitive science class to gauge my interest, I would ask my friend, who was in Berkeley, to add my name to the auditions roster for the intro to acting class in the fall.

This is just to say that one day I woke up pissed off, and went out to have lunch, and took it all out on my friend and shot down everything that was said, and was told it was okay, it was okay, I was forgiven, and I was struck dumb and full of love.

This is just to say that my sophomore year of college began with a bang and everything was going so beautifully I could hardly believe it, and being a waterworks system in a theater class was considered being emotionally available, not unstable, and I had forgotten that two hours of intensely focused rehearsal were equally exhausting as a six-hour study session.

And then my friend’s mom had a stroke and wasn’t going to recover, and the phone call I had with my friend left me cold and sobbing into my knees, crouched on a folding chair in the kitchen of my apartment, shivering and systematically working my way through half a box of tissues. Because I didn’t want to tell my friend it was going to be okay, because it was a lie, and I had been there, and I couldn’t do that to anyone, and I was staring at my phone in the dark on the kitchen table, willing myself to stop inhaling in gasps and exhaling in choked sobs, and then I was too tired to fight it and just cried. And thinking of my father’s death, I wrote.

“This drags up so many old feelings. I am angry, sad, I feel cheated, picked on, why me? Why now? Who could have expected it? I remember why I told myself to always expect the unexpected. Because I didn't expect it once, and the world fell out from under my feet, and I was so lost, and how do you function like that? How do you pretend to be normal? How many years does that add to your life? I am emotionally fucking retarded because of it.”

The next morning I pressed spoons from the freezer into my puffy eyelids until they were burning and went to class and had an assignment handed back and was told “good job” and I wrapped myself up in those two warm words and my shivering slowed and then stopped.

And this is just to say that I had a really hot scene partner last semester, and we had to both grieve and mack in our scene, and how incredibly appropriate the Universe is, for handing me life in a sequence, obviously, in retrospect, as structured and ordered as a course syllabus.

And then I couldn’t tell where my daddy issues ended and my college issues began, and I was full of questions about life after graduation, and then I attended a blogger meetup and met girls who were psychology majors and ended up modeling, and girls who were studying nursing but were going into fashion PR, and girls who paid their rent through blogging and selling vintage, and then I realized that UCLA had been the less expected option compared to Berkeley, but it wasn’t what I’d really wanted to do, because costume design was a compromise between theater and clothes, and I was thinking about an incredible student actor with more than a few professional shows under his belt, and his crying in class when our instructor admitted that it was next to impossible to raise a family or ever get settled as a stage actor who had to follow the theatrical seasons across the country, and I knew I wasn't going to pursue theater anymore.

And then I wondered that since I hadn’t chosen UCLA because it was risky, if it was dumb and risky for me to not want to go to grad school, and how my brother’s being in grad school was sending my family into debt, but it was necessary for his field of study, and if I shouldn’t be doing something that would make money.

And someone had said, You know. I think you have to try it. That's the only way you're going to know if it isn't for you. Try everything. You have all the time in the world. And I had thought to myself, But what if I don't have time? What if, as a woman of color from a single-parent family, I can't afford to try everything? What then?

And then I thought I was supposed to figure out my life’s purpose, so I trawled the internet until I found this question and answered it.

What gets to the core of my core?

Lonely kids.

And then I remembered that I was born with a phonics book in one hand and a pen in the other, and I knew that if I did not start writing again I would explode or implode or otherwise die.

And then I was gobsmacked by an offhand remark that my writing was worth something and that maybe I was capable of more than I thought, and I wrapped myself in those words and told my daddy issues to fuck off and tried to weigh fashion, blogging, and life as a creative against the insistent cry of “There must be more money!” and was told that I could spend my days copying Thomas Kinkade paintings to pay the bills, or I could get an easy day job and moonlight as a creative, and the Universe had given me all the words I did not want to hear but needed to.

And then right before finals I was crying up a storm because unlearning the direction you are headed in is like slowly pulling off a Band-Aid, and then people unknowingly offered hands and I cried harder because they were trying to help, and they took me seriously, and it was hard to be lost.

Then I forgave myself, put on some high heels, and went to class.

And this is just to say that these crying spells have been so fucking dramatic, but I never let myself before, and I know myself well enough now to let myself.

And then I was afraid that I was doing life all wrong and backwards because college is supposed to be a time for fun, but then I remembered that I am crazy incredible and the only reason that hasn’t shown itself for a while is because I need to let myself be lost, because unlike me as a child who had just lost her father and didn't let herself grieve because she didn't see her mother grieving, I know that I have to let myself be lost right now, and there is nothing weak about it.

This is just to say that I am afraid, because I made a decision about how to deal with my past and about my major and as its repercussions are unfolding, my hair is coming into a socially acceptable form, and my hair has been a direct reflection of my inner turmoil for a while now and I think I am at the end of this leg of my journey hair-wise, school-wise, and life-wise, and the next one looks terrifying but I have a lab partner for this summer and for fall and who says things like

and, you know, that makes it less terrifying.

And this is all just to say that here are some things I have learned from growing out a pixie cut, along with clinical observations about my physical imperfections, which I have since gotten over:

ONE: Do not No ‘Poo and pixie cut at the same time. While grease is good for a pixie, there is such thing as too much grease, especially for a straight-haired girl. Go with the poo. Always go with the poo.

TWO: I think I only kept my pixie for about two months before wanting to grow it out again because I felt like the look was not very me.

THREE: My face is crazy asymmetrical. To anyone who knows me in real life and ever thought I was pretty, let me disabuse you of that illusion with this awful picture of me:

Above, taken October 2, 2009

As you can see, the side of my face on the right in this picture is significantly ... just bigger than the left side, except for that angular part of my temple on the left. The left (my right) eye doesn't open as wide as the right. My lips are fuller on the left side. In short, the side of my face on the left of this picture is both pointier and more feminine than the right, which is broader and less harsh-looking. Dude. This cannot be unseen.

Here's my face with a badly edited version of the beauty mask (facial proportions based on the Golden Ratio!) superimposed on it:

Above, taken October 9, 2009.

Um, I probably shrunk it incorrectly, but you can see how lopsided my face is, no?

FOUR: No matter how much sun I get, my skin is still fair. My whole family is fair. This means acne scars take very very very long to fade, as shown by the same scars showing up on my face for months. This means I should just not break out in the first place. Duh. Expensive skincare products and skin of eternal youth, here I come!

FIVE: In terms of hair and my face, "off" is always better than "all up in."

SIX: Mullet is bad.

Above, taken October 24, 2009.

Above, taken October 20, 2009.

If your hair is asymmetrical, pin it up so it looks more symmetrical. Not more asymmetrical.

Above, taken November 7 and December 31, 2009. Note that θ1 is significantly larger than θ2, where θn is the angle between the ends of my hair and the horizontal.

EIGHT: Strong shoulders (aka those ubiquitous blazers with rolled sleeves) and hair that broadens the face are bad companions.

NINE: Smiling makes my face look more symmetrical.

Above, taken February 25, 2010.

TEN: If you have an atrocious haircut, invest in really good eyewear to provide visual distraction.

Above, August 2ish, 2009, courtesy of Mique.

ELEVEN: A pink lip and blush is better than no makeup, but no makeup is better than super bright or super dark lipstick, most of the time.

Above, from top to bottom: October 21, October 22, October 15, all 2009.

TWELVE: Pin curls.

Above, April 9, 2010.

THIRTEEN: If you can't curl it, braid it. Especially French braids.

Above, January 15 and March 31, 2010.

FOURTEEN: Bang poufs.

Above, taken April 3, 2010.

FIFTEEN: Headbands might be a sign of giving up on your hair, but they certainly are socially acceptable.

Above, October 13, 2009.

SIXTEEN: My eyebrows are crooked.

Above, taken November 23, 2009. My eyebrows might not look atrociously crooked here because they match my crooked face, but if you take the mirror image of them, you can see just how mismatched they are.

SEVENTEEN: Grease is gross, period.

EIGHTEEN: If ever I need to convince myself not to cut my hair this short again, all I have to do is think of the ponytail and how many sins it hides.

NINETEEN: I have a good side.

TWENTY: Ghetto dry shampoo. Confession: Three mornings after I washed my hair, I woke up and rubbed baking flour and peppermint hot cocoa mix into my roots. And it worked. (Baby powder didn't for me.) References: No 'Poo chart. [Source]


Here's an enormous slideshow of my face and the progression of my hair:

I wrote previously that "My hair is not an essential part of who I am, which is to say that how I look is not essential. And let me tell you, this is a revelation to me." BUT THIS IS NOT TRUE! Either my hair is a reflection of how I feel, or how I feel is a reflection of my hair. Probably both. But it's really hard to feel good when you don't look very good, and I am not confident enough to spend another twelve months looking and feeling like a disaster, and I am so RELIEVED to be over this. And over other things.

And this is just to say that if you have stuck with me until the very end, thanks. I am sorry I emotional-brainbarf all over the place.

Can I just tell you one more thing? Having to look at myself in the mirror morning after morning and seeing a reflection that was less than stellar - and then talking myself into believing that I am amazing, I am hot shit, and I am going to kick the world's ass today - is really goddamn tiring, and I normally have pretty good self-esteem, but oh, God. I don't think I could make myself go through that many days of looking and feeling like a turd sewed to a garbage can lid again. It is easier to be cute. It is easier to be pretty. I don't know how to function in the world when I don't have the female social capital of physical beauty. I am a failure to women everywhere and to body-image champions and to self-love. I guess this was an experiment in feeling ugly, inside and out. I guess I like symbolic action. I guess ... that sometime soon I will have had my fill of figuring-out space and hardcore alone-time and self-reflection and will probably be open for business again.

If you were looking for ideas about what to do while growing out a pixie cut, I'm really sorry. I am the worst example ever. My advice: Go to a hairdresser, because if you're as cheap as I am, you'll end up looking as tragic as I did.

And as promised, the impossible beauty that is Francisco Lachowski:


This is just to say that the sun also rises.

This is just to say that in the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.

This is just to say that sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.

This is just to say that there is a time to give birth and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to search and a time to give up as lost.

This is just to say that I'm awesome, you guys.

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