The Big Chop
By Isaura Aceves
Photos by Adam Pacheco
“Por qué no eres una niña normal?”
This is a phrase I’ve heard all my life growing up. It roughly means, “Why can’t you be a normal girl?” I’ve been told this over and over again by my family because I simply wasn’t what they expected me to be. I was too tomboyish; I preferred staying indoors reading than playing with dolls, and I questioned everything, including what a normal girl was supposed to look like. I never got that answer.
I decided to stop trying to answer what a girl is and cut away every ounce of doubt I had of myself and my identity. Literally, I cut off all my hair.
I sat in a leather salon chair facing a huge mirror as my hairstylist parted my hair and made small talk with me. I was too anxious to focus. I can’t remember a word, but seeing her scissors take the first snip, I felt my lungs running out of air. This was it. I was officially cutting off all of my hair and getting my first pixie cut. I had planned this cut for almost a year as I tried to motivate myself and get over my fear. It was something that needed to be done.
My relationship with my hair isn’t easy. It’s something that I’ve been at war with myself. I come from a pretty traditional Latinx family where our gender roles and appearance are set in stone. Long, thick, straight, beautiful hair is praised as it’s a badge of your femininity, and boys stick with short, clean cut hair to reflect their masculinity. I definitely felt like an outlier. My hair isn’t thick or straight or considered beautiful by some. It’s curly, frizzy, uncontrollable and seen as a mess. No one in my family has curly hair so no one knew what to do with it, and growing up I learned that putting it up was easier than dealing with it.
As I grew older, I realized my hair was seen as a problem for others. My family members called me greñuda, which means hairy, and gave me unsolicited advice on how I should wear my hair so I’d look pretty. At a young age, I was told I was going to be the gay member of our family because I did not perform the femininity they wanted, and I couldn’t look the part of a traditional girl. That was my breaking point in high school─I began policing every part of myself like my hair and performing hyperfemininity to convince others I was straight. Plot twist: I am queer, but I didn’t allow myself to accept that part of me for years.
I hated how I looked and who I was. It felt like no matter what I tried to dress as it wasn’t enough and my hair was still considered ugly. I would only get compliments when I straightened it and was told I should just straighten my hair everyday. I felt insecure about being in my own skin. I couldn't keep up with trying to meet these standards of femininity that I hated, so I decided to color it every color of the rainbow as a way to like myself more. It worked for a bit, until I realized I had destroyed my hair in the process of trying to find myself and make my appearance look acceptable.
My hair is part of my identity. I became dependent on it trying to perform what a normal girl should look like, even though there isn’t an answer to that and never will be. When I saw myself in the mirror after cutting it off, I felt a lightness in me. I actually loved the way I looked. Cutting off my hair was a way of letting go of these standards and embracing myself.
This haircut is the opportunity to let my destroyed hair grow back to its original color and curly texture. I don't care if it doesn’t look acceptable to others, I want to embrace what my natural self is because it is enough. I don't care about femininity. This haircut is a stance to make my own femininity look like whatever I want it to look like. Don’t get me wrong, my family hates it, they think it’s too short and my father thinks it’s too masculine─so it’s perfect. I’m finally comfortable with accepting my sexuality and not feeling forced into trying to disguise it.
I can feel the breeze on my neck, I can run my fingers through my hair and I can look in the mirror for the first time and smile. I noticed after my haircut I walked with my head held higher. I do feel more vulnerable because I don't have hair to hide behind, but I’m starting to embrace it more everyday. I see my curls coming back to life looking messy as always and I think they’re perfect. At the end of the day, what is a girl anyway when gender is a social construct?
I’m me, and that’s all that matters.