I was proud of my long hair. I was noticed, and I received comments on the “pretty blonde” color which had grown almost to my waist. I bragged about how it had never been “officially” cut, but only trimmed at home. One way my mom showed care for me was with my hair. When I was in grade school, I loved to wear pigtails with the decorative hair elastics that had clunky plastic balls on the ends. Now that I was older, I enjoyed styling it with a ponytail twist of some kind. Mom could manage the more difficult fish-tail braids and would often help me to make it special. Usually, I wore it free and flowing, showing off the length. I didn’t realize the shift it would cause when I decided to make a bold change with my hair.
I was in 6th grade, and in my growing independence, I wanted a new look. My mom made an appointment at “The Yankee Clipper” on 3rd Avenue for my haircut. I walked in holding my head high and proudly feeling all grown up. I hopped up onto the leather swivel chair, as the hairdresser, Mrs. Titus, asked expectantly, “What are you looking to have done?”
“I think I want to try the Dorothy Hamill cut!” I said confidently, as I felt the excitement grow in my chest. Dorothy Hamill was the women’s US gold medal ice skater with a signature short, wedged bob. This hairdo was wildly popular. If cut well, it flipped around and fell perfectly in the back, just like Dorothy’s hair did when she performed the “Hamill Camel” spin. Mrs. Titus enthusiastically encouraged this trendy change.
Mom stood close, watching the drastic transformation. Since I had a long and precious braid we deemed it best to leave it intact and then cut it off. I took a deep breath as I felt the cold metal scissors drawn up to my neck. My eyes grew wide as I heard the shears slash through my braid and, in an instant, cut off all my baby hair. My hands quivered as Mrs. Titus handed me the souvenir braid. It would be held safe for decades as a symbol of this rite of passage.
I don’t remember my hair being washed that day. Perhaps I was in shock as I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror while she quickly created the striking alteration. She spun me around and handed me the mirror to see the back. I noticed my bare neck, exposed and free of any hair. “What do you think?” she asked proudly.
I wasn’t sure what I thought. I looked to my mom and picked up disappointment on her face. She faked enthusiasm. I followed suit with a quick response as my Mom pulled out her wallet to pay. “It looks great.”
I felt naked and timid as we walked out onto the sidewalk on the main street of our small town. I sensed a chill in the air as we drove silently home and I wondered, “What have I done?”
My gold medal style did not impress. The boys at school scorned my option with displeasure. “What did you do to your hair?”
I wanted to cry and hide my head forever when I saw my dad’s stern face and his deep disgust as he spoke the words no girl could ever forget. “You look like a boy. Go get that fixed.”
We adjusted the hairstyle but I could never reattach the braid.
From that day forward my ability to make and hold decisions confidently was rare.
When faced with even simple choices there would be a voice inside that would question, “Are you sure? Watch your step.” Or similarly, “Be careful, that could be a dangerous risk!” The harsh critic quickly offered her dark opinion at every turn and an internal mockery full of disregard for my wisdom followed every outcome. This belittling voice is still very near.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that he gives rest to those of us who are weary and burdened. He offers a yoke that is easy and light. He invites me to live in a way that doesn’t weigh me down with impossible expectations. The demeaning voice that causes me to criticize my decisions is a massive burden, comparable to the voices of my mom, who judges but pretends she agrees; my father, who curses my individual choices; and the boys at school, who reject my preferences. Each day, I need to turn from those accusers and be the support that I didn’t receive. Moving forward, I determine to come alongside myself, as I trust and honor my own sacred style and choices.
Maryhelen Martens is a lover of whimsy and play, beauty and depth, all of which she experiences in her relationships. She finds life in authentic conversation, walking alongside others, and ultimately, Jesus – who has been so kind. Each day, she draws from a larger bowl of grace for herself and others. Maryhelen, a mom of three, currently lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with Keith, her husband and co-laborer of 29 years.