Like many young girls between the ages of four and nine, as a child I desperately wanted to be a princess. I wrote books about a magical kingdom called Abdominium (original name, I know) where I would be queen, with a beautiful knight to save me from the boredom of the Michigan suburbs I called home. I convinced myself not only that fairies were real, but also that I could talk to squirrels, and briefly, control the weather. If you couldn’t tell by now, I was a weird kid.
Although my obsession with my made-up dream world only lasted until around fourth grade, a fixation on the idea of the princess remained. My mom had stopped buying me Barbies and I realized that the production value on the Pegasus movie series wasn’t high enough to warrant my viewership. But still, I wanted long dresses. I wanted a prince and a castle and a canopy over a big four-poster bed. I wasn’t ever going to be a real princess ― that was silly, I was older now, entering middle school like a real girl ― but I could at least look like one. And so I began growing my hair.
My mother relished in the prospect of a baby Rapunzel, plunking me in a chair every morning to pull and brush my golden locks into braids and pigtails and everything in between. She was and still is extremely skilled with complicated hairstyles, and I trust her to blow my hair out when it’s really important. But from her, I learned the art and importance of good hair. It continued to grow, I continued my life as a princess in spirit, and secretly read “The Princess Diaries” in bed even though it was uncool.
I grew out of my flashlight reading, but not out of my ponytail. At least not for a while. As I was thrust into the world of all-girls middle school and high school sports, I became the designated hair braider of each sports team locker room and free moment we found in the halls. I was proud of my skills, and wore my hair in ballet buns and braids and even dyed it pink for a moment. Then, as all women do once and a while, I had an existential crisis. I chopped off the hair I had prized for so many years to a shoulder-length bob, tried to put it in a ponytail and cried. But the loss of my high pony wasn’t completely a bad thing. I could do new things with my hair. And something more important had occurred. I wasn’t a princess anymore; I was just a girl.
Although trivial to the naked eye, my hair and everything I learned from it may have started in a way to get close to princess-dom, but became a way for me to bond with other women. It still is, honestly. If you traverse The Daily newsroom on any given day, there is often one victim of my braiding sitting at the Arts desk. This is something I kept from my childhood obsession, something that’s served me well at sleepovers and parties until the present day. Hair, though purely aesthetic, means a lot to women. When you understand that, you start to realize how much bravery it takes to put your hair in someone else’s hand: Every choice ripples out further than just your head, affecting your self-image and confidence simultaneously.
Now, after six years of hair that has barely brushed my clavicle, I have decided to grow it again. It’s reminded me of what it’s like to feel so incredibly feminine, and it’s reminded me of how I found feminity beyond my appearance during my short-haired years. Away from the princesses and into the rock and art scenes I discovered later, my life as a feminine woman became something completely unrelated to my hair. By separating the remnants of a girlish ideal from my identity as an adult, I found another way of being myself, embracing style and writing and music as the things that make up who I am. Yes, I still love hair. But it’s not everything. I’ve climbed down from the tower, only to cut off the ladder and build a new path.