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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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? 

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I’m me, and that’s all that matters.

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