Smiling back at the girl in the mirror 

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Provided by Alysa Suleiman

But regardless, there’s one thing I now know for sure: every time I walk out into the crisp autumn air, the wind playfully lifts and blows the knot-free strands around my face, and I’m reminded that I have no regrets, only a happier state of mind. And when I step back inside and face my reflection, the girl in the mirror smiles widely back.

by Alysa Suleiman, A&E Editor

Rough, dry, prickly. My eyes travel down a straight line of hair, pulled taut from root to tip.  As I roll the semi-bleached strands between the pads of my fingers, more uneven bristles twist outwards, creating the haywire tangle of a now familiar quarantine hairdo. 

What a bother, I think, grimacing at my reflection.

Thinking back to early April, just weeks after our school shut down, I remember hopping on the hair trends blazing across the internet. Cute, wispy bangs were in, and I believed a new hairdo would help me mark the start of our time in quarantine. Grabbing my shiny sewing scissors, I lifted the sharp blades to my forehead, fingers shaking with anticipation as I considered the irreversible consequences.  

Snip. 

The Youtuber on the screen grinned back at my progress. Good job, keep going

But what if I look strange? Will people laugh at me? 

Sighing, I stepped back and glanced at the girl in the mirror, a slightly uneven curtain hanging limp across her forehead. But even as I tentatively trimmed the new bangs, wisps floating through the air and carpeting the bathroom floor, I didn’t dare to touch the thick mass of waves tucked behind my ears and flowing down my back.

Ever since first grade, I remember adamantly demanding my parents to keep my hair long, glowering in the salon seat as they pleaded to do away with just one more inch. 

Perhaps I first drew inspiration from the beautiful fairytale princesses in kindergarten cartoon books, who all sported flowing golden manes beneath sparkling pink tiaras. Or perhaps I refused to cut my hair in second grade as I watched writer Laura Ingalls dance across the pages of a lamp-lit room, describing her aunts’ hair as “glistening, smooth wings” during their 19th-century dinner party. Or maybe it was the incredulous look of surprise on the face of a classmate when I showed up to school the day after my mother finally convinced me to chop off a solid eight inches. It was a look that spurred inward shame within my sixth-grade self, who was just stepping across the awkward threshold of puberty and into an unfamiliar world of braces and ruthless middle school girls.  

Regardless, I suppose that somewhere inside I was fearful that I would be ridiculed even more, crushed under the tremendous boulder of “outcast.” Uncomfortable and unmanageable as it was, my long hair was still my confidence, my armor and shield. So when high school rolled around, a terrifying whirlwind of new changes, I wrapped myself tight within the layers of my long hair and hid in its shadows.

Uncomfortable and unmanageable as it was, my long hair was still my confidence, my armor and shield. So when high school rolled around, a terrifying whirlwind of new changes, I wrapped myself tight within the layers of my long hair and hid in its shadows.”

My hair isn’t naturally straight nor is it perfectly curly. Rather, it’s a  strange combination of both, with a tendency to present an original masterpiece on my head each morning. Years of furious brushing created a surface layer of brittle flyaways that easily knot with the untameable waves beneath. And during fencing, whenever I hastily attempt to gather the sweaty mass into a ponytail, my exhausted arms could spend hours just pulling the entire length through each hair tie loop.

 Although I’ve desperately clung on to my hair for years and years, it began to demand impossible amounts of constant care and effort. As the months flew by and summer hardened into brittle autumn leaves, the split ends silently crept down my back until one day, I turned my head, mesmerized and in disbelief to find them just grazing the top of my hips. An utter nightmare. 

Two weeks ago, I faced myself in the mirror. Eight months in quarantine with barely any face-to-face encounters. Eight months by myself, with no audience and no judgment but my own. Eight months of holding onto an incredible load of dead weight. So, I made my decision. Once again, I stepped into the bathroom with my trusty sewing scissors, only this time without a Youtube tutorial or any trepidation.

Splitting the jungle of hair felt like tearing a wild rose bush in two, but I finally managed to create two loose pigtails, tied off right beneath my shoulders. 

This time, when I lifted the scissors, there was no soft, aesthetic snip. I hacked through the pigtail, thick as a small birch branch, and triumphantly gripped the severed limb in my hand, staring at the specimen with an odd satisfaction. Then after repeating on the other side, I threw the two swaths into the trash can with a decisive thwack, marveling at how the new length, now eight inches shorter,  sprang out and bounced with every step. I was free.

Later on, I pondered this strange moment of euphoria. Before, if anyone had told me to lop off 10 inches, I would have visibly balked in sheer terror. But now, I only feel light and unrestricted. Quick buns, sensible ponytails, three brush strokes a day max. 

I feel powerful.

Perhaps quarantine did fill me with enough confidence to finally drop the shield that had become a dead weight. But regardless, there’s one thing I now know for sure: every time I walk out into the crisp autumn air, the wind playfully lifts and blows the knot-free strands around my face, and I’m reminded that I have no regrets, only a happier state of mind. And when I step back inside and face my reflection, the girl in the mirror smiles widely back.