Growing up, I had no reason to assume my hair would be anything but long and brown my entire life. I never owned a hair dryer, I didn't know what "product" was, and the craziest style I ever attempted involved butterfly clips and a middle school dance.
That changed when I got to college. After 18 years of the same non-style, I cut bangs, wove feathers into my hair, bleached it blonde, and shaved off a patch right above my left ear. Not all in one go, of course (I'm not completely insane). Thanks to the variance in styles, I can tell you exactly when a photo of me was taken just by looking at the state of my hair.
Making the Cut
The shaved part of my hair journey took place when I was backpacking through Europe the summer after my sophomore year. The undercut was rampant in the UK, so my fellow backpackers convinced me to pull a "when in Rome" (well, in this case, England) makeover. I left the small barber shop in Oxford half an ounce lighter, with a newfound sense of rebellion—and extreme anxiety about how to tell my parents. (To my surprise, and slight disappointment, they didn't really care).
Keeping Up with the Undercut
When I got back to school, I bought a shiny gold razor and began to experiment with my new look. I realized having less hair on my head actually gave me more to work with, and I started shaving designs into my side, eventually enlisting my roommates for help. The more my well-intentioned friends shaved my head, the bigger the patch grew ("Oops—caught another long hair, Chantal. Sorry!").
OK, But What About Job Interviews?
When I moved to New York City to find a job after college, I was nervous about heading into interviews with this somewhat questionable hairstyle. But to my delight and surprise, I not only landed my dream job at a magazine, but the editor in chief told me my hair was one of the reasons she hired me. She said the style made me stand out from other applicants and showed an impressive fearlessness and bold personality. Sure, I'll take it!
Weird Hair in the Real World
I realized, however, that not even my roommate's steady hand was going to cut it in the corporate world. So once a month, I would spend my lunch break trying out different barber shops around town. The upside was having a reason to explore new parts of the city and meet people I wouldn't otherwise have met. The downside was the expense it was racking up, plus that time a bad stylist gave me four straight scabs instead of four straight lines. (Hey buddy, when you start drawing blood, you're using a little too much pressure.)
I loved having something that always set me apart. Before the cut, I would try to stand out with brightly colored jackets or metallic sneakers. When you have zigzags shaved into your head, no one's really looking at your shoes. When friends began asking when I was going to grow it out, my (very funny) response was always, "Never. I'm going to be a really cool grandma." But the truth was that I was terrified of the growing-out process. The image of having just a few inches of hair on one side of my head grossed me out, so I avoided it for as long as I could.
A Bittersweet Farewell
After four years of meticulous upkeep, I went on a family trip to India for several weeks—and barber shop stops weren't exactly built into our itinerary. By the time I returned to New York, the worst of the growing-out process had already begun, so I decided to stick with it. Thankfully, the shaggy patch ended up being easier to hide than I thought, and now I'm back to my long brown hair.
While I often look back on my racing stripes with nostalgia and think about how taking that risk pushed me to take more, I'm also thankful I no longer have to spend my lunch breaks in barbershops.