Haircuts and Characterization

Dreaded Instrument of Doom

When I was about four years old, my parents took me to get my hair trimmed so that I would look especially nice for a family event that was coming up.  At four, I was already proud of my ability to sit still and stay quiet. I was also proud of my long, straight, blond hair. Mom always told me that it looked like spun gold when she brushed it out, and that made me feel special.

Thus I was horrified when the stylist, who was just supposed to trim the ends, suddenly had half of my hair off at ear length. My parents were upset too. A different stylist had to come and even it all out. My hair was a little short to call a pageboy haircut, but too long to be a pixie cut. My parents didn’t have to pay for the cut.

But I did. I hated the way the short hair made my babyish face look even rounder and younger than I felt I was. I hated how it made me resemble a boy, at least in my own mind.

The trauma (it sounds silly to call it that now) gave me a deep phobia of haircuts. After that, it took so much effort to get me into a salon that Mom started cutting my hair herself.

At eighteen, I decided that I was too old to let the powerful uneasiness at the though of a haircut prevent me from having a nice, shoulder length cut for my senior prom. So, I went to the local beauty parlor to have ten inches taken off. My hair was so long, that doing so would leave me with a medium-long haircut.

During the haircut, I was so busy fighting my own anxiety, that I didn’t pay attention to what the stylist was doing. Instead of taking off ten inches, she took off sixteen.

I was stunned when I finally stood up and saw what had happened. My hair didn’t even brush my shoulders. My plans for a beautiful hairdo for prom had been ruined. Naive, I still paid for the cut even though I was on the edge of tears. I pleaded with them to send the hair to locks of love. Some good had to come from my tragedy. They must have seen how upset I was, because they put the hair in an envelope, addressed, and stamped it while I was there, even though they didn’t usually send hair out.

Until this last Monday, the 10th of September, I hadn’t had another haircut. Oh, I’d trimmed the ends to keep it nice, but that only works so long when you do it yourself. But alas, my hair was getting a bit ragged and tangling way too easily, so I broke down and asked my mom if she’d cut it for me.

In her kitchen, she set up for a haircut, and asked how much I wanted off. “Five inches,” I said, almost in tears. It was the shortest alength I could take off to deal with the damage of six years without a real cut, and the longest I could make myself let go of.

After the haircut (Mom did a beautiful job, and I only cried a little), I felt like I’d lost a piece of my identity. My hair was only long-ish, where before it had been very long. I was used to being “the girl with the very long hair.”

And, because I’m a writer, it got me thinking about characterization. I had an emotional reaction (which I’m still dealing with four days later) to having a few inches of my hair cut off. How would any one of my characters react to having something similar happen? Or worse? What if one of them lost a finger, or an eye? It’s easy to see the physical consequences of an injury, but much harder to gauge the emotional damage. I know when I’ve got tendinitis, I’m a grouch. When my brother dislocated his shoulder, he spent a lot of time snapping at people about the littlest irritations. But those are temporary infirmities. A permanent change would certainly have deeper effects on a person’s mind.

The other thing it got me thinking about was back-story. My own inability to go get my hair cut in a salon wouldn’t make much sense without the two incidents, one to cause and one to reinforce this silly phobia. Sometimes it can be really heavy handed to set up a character for more trauma from the story by using back-story, but sometimes it can be very effective. It’s all in the execution, I guess, and that’s something writers learn from practice.

I intend to go forth and traumatize some characters. Is this passing on the suffering of the haircut anxiety? I hope not… But hey, if it helps me write a better story, then that’s fine.

I’d love to hear about some other phobias and back-stories. Tell your tales here, folks!

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~ by lamichaud on September 14, 2012.

9 Responses to “Haircuts and Characterization”

  1. Ah, you poor dear. 😦 I’ve also learned the hardway that when you tell a stylist you want 3 inches off, they usually take 6. But my experience wasn’t nearly as traumatizing as yours.

    If you ever do gather the courage to go back into the salon, I’d keep in mind to tell them at least three inches less than you want. Or, ask them to cut it dry. Cutting it wet can make a huge difference. Water will naturally weigh hair down and make it appear longer than it actually is. As your hair dries after the cut, the lack of water weight will make the hair bounce up, looking shorter than it does in the middle of the cutting process. So when the stylist measures 6 inches wet, it’ll never be the same length when it’s dry. (But really, I’ve never seen one properly measure. They generally eyeball it.)

    Whenever I have my hair cut above my shoulders, (I’ve had the back cropped short for an asymmetrical bob, and of course now for my bangs) I always have it cut dry, and it’s always come out better that way for me.

    • Dry cutting, eh? that’s good to know. Usually my hair is sopping wet when it gets cut. I think this is because it’s so wavy / curly that people are nervous to cut it dry. If I do ever enter a salon again, I’ll definitely keep that and the three inch rule in mind.

      • Dry cuts are totally for you then! That’s how people with crazy curly hair generally cut their hair, because theres such a drastic difference between their wet and dry states. My hair has a very strong wave to it, and my stylist now has extensive training in cutting curly hair, and oh, what a difference its made! It’s something else to ask if you’re ever forced back. If they’re trained in cutting curly hair, and if they cut it dry first, you should have far better luck! ;D

        • Awesome! Thanks for the advice. I think it would probably be less scary to go in for a haircut now that I’m armed with some knowledge about it. Even the illusion of having some control over what’s going on makes things less frightening just in general. 🙂

  2. Thank you for all the efforts you put into the prom. Rest assured, you looked stunningly beautiful.

    • Thank you.
      I’ll admit I’m a little mystified as to who you are. Your email address and nickname give nothing away.
      If I know you, you’ll have to forgive me for not being able to guess your identity.

      • Although, I notice that there are a few visits from Cambodia today, which supports my guess as to who you are. If I’m correct, then I am both humbled and flattered by your compliment.

  3. I had a similar issue. My grandmother took me to her hairdresser for a hair cut. This when I was around seven, and her hair dresser was the type that did the “elderly lady hair to top of ears” cut. So that’s what I ended up with. To this day I refuse to get my hair cut above my shoulders. I got some lobbed off last week, and it just brushes my shoulders. I’m uncomfortable with it, but it’s nice–light and airy. It’s the shortest I’ve gone since the grandma haircut and the shortest I’ll go till I’m at that age.

    • Yikes! I’m glad you’ve been able to have nice long hair ever since then. Long hair is fantastic for so many reasons. I’d love to see a picture of your new hairdo before it all grows out again. You have such lovely hair.

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