How a haircut let her see herself in a bold new way.
I was 28 years old, and my college roommate was getting married—a black-tie affair at a mansion in Manhattan. I was coming from Virginia, where I'd recently begun a graduate program in creative writing, and I was apprehensive about seeing my old gang. While I valued the individual friendships, the collective tended to pull me back to an unhappy time when I didn't yet understand that I was an outsider by nature—and that trying to fit in only made me more ill at ease. Now that I was living a life of my own making, I wanted to look as good as I felt.

The bride offered me a long black Calvin Klein wrap dress, promising it would hug me in all the right places. And I'd made an appointment for an "updo" at a Madison Avenue salon. In the same way that I was learning to coax into language a vision of the world that felt real and true, I hoped the salon could conjure, if just for a night, the self of my dreams. Once in the chair, however, I learned that because my hair was so long—halfway down my back—the updo would cost $80. I eyed myself in the mirror. My long curls, ample breasts, and small behind were among the things that made me feel attractive. Yet suddenly I heard myself asking: How much to cut off all my hair? Only $5 more. Five dollars to look boldly, radically different. I sat, heart pounding, wondering if I'd finally found the nerve to let myself be seen. Do it, I said.

The stylist turned the chair away from the mirror. Foot-long clumps of curls fell to the floor. Staring out the window, I watched a passing stream of deliverymen, nannies, and businesspeople. How many of them were happy, leading the lives they'd imagined? Did my newfound contentedness with my own life show?

Are you ready? the stylist asked. Slowly, he turned me back to my reflection. I had a very short pixie cut, parted on the side . I thought, This is my face. I thought how I could no longer hide. I thought that the woman in the mirror looked the way I'd always pictured I might look. I thought that I looked beautiful.

Since then, of course, my hairstyles have changed. But that moment of recognition stays with me still.

Why O' s beauty director likes to set the bar a little lower


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