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Letting Go Of The Girls I Wanted To Be

By Anne T. Donahue

In 2002, I did something shocking: after a screening of the rom-com classic, Sweet Home Alabama, I cut my hair like Reese Witherspoon’s. I had no idea how to style it, had no tools with which to straighten it, and my natural shade wasn’t remotely close to the actor’s perfect blonde. But alas, to me, I was Reese. Or, at least her 17-year-old Cambridge, Ontario equivalent who had yet to learn how upsetting it is when her onscreen dad announces, “The south will rise again!” (Woof.)

Then I watched Blue Crush and decided it was time to acquire Kate Bosworth’s bob. (A disaster, considering I had only my Con-Air steam straightener to try and make straight-ish beach waves.) Fortunately, I knew from years with a mushroom cut that had I attempted an Anna-from-The O.C.’s pixie, I would look like a potato. So instead, I channeled her with a series of scarves.

The thing about hair is that it offers the chance to reinvent yourself. With every haircut, I decide who I’m going to be, how I’m going to act, what type of clothes I should wear, and exactly how much of my existing life I care to abandon. For years, a haircut felt like shedding the past and every painful memory that went with it, but then enter: the pandemic. And faced only with the option of being myself (because lord knows there has been no one else to emulate), I began to lean back into the trends and styles and selves I liked but had shed over time: I doubled-down on my tried-and-true mall brands that offered delivery (Gap and The Body Shop – because shorts and satsuma are crucial), sneakers (because I’m a woman who loves a sensible shoe), and grown-out hair. Finally, I was going to be the carefree suburban teen I was too insecure to embrace once upon a time. I was going to be Avril Lavigne in the “Complicated” video, just without any of the same clothes and with no intention to wreak havoc at the mall (my home).

But then I booked a hair appointment. And while I was so excited to hang with my stylist and get rid of the ends that were so dead I was embarrassed to speak with anyone outside the neighbourhood cats who sleep on the deck, I was terrified of reverting back to the same old. Months into one of the worst years any of us can remember, I’d managed to grow out my go-to bob into sweeping locks (they weren’t) that drew the envy of passerby (nope) and cemented me as the coolest teen on the block (I am 35). So I warned Jen: let’s just do a trim, let’s keep it simple, and that way I can continue to morph into a 1970s skater queen who’s often mistaken for a model from California. (I did not offer this last part, but I said it silently to myself because I am delusional and aspirational, usually in equal measure.)

And so I sat. And with my hair freshly blow-dried, straightened, and ready for my first cut in eight months, I stared into the mirror at the grown-ass woman who had finally achieved the impossibility of harnessing the nonchalant nature of Lady Lovelylocks. Except, well, I had not. My hair, very fine and often resembling the culmination of about three strands styled okay-ish, merely sat on my shoulders, begging me to set it free. I was not some super-chill 1970s model. I was a suburban teen, but only because that’s who I will always be in my heart. I was never Reese Witherspoon. But I am a woman in her mid-thirties who can wear the shit out of a blunt bob, which no way impacts who I have to be or be like. So we cut off my hair, and I wept with joy (well, no – but I did tell Jen how psyched I was) as I surrendered the idea that while hair can be so many wonderful things, it is in no way a gateway to the technology in Face/Off. It can’t morph you into a movie star or a person who’ve idolized because they’re in a surfing movie and make boardshorts work (while your own boardshorts make you look like something strange has happened to your body), but it can be a representation of who you are and what you like and how fun and fancy-free you are with your chin-length wave.

I left Jen’s feeling for the first time like myself, and nothing outside of that. I wasn’t emulating somebody else, I wasn’t trying to harness any particular energy or personality trait. Instead, I was a lady with her favourite haircut, feeling wonderful, grateful to have shed the dead ends I’d tried so hard to manipulate into a bun, and stoked as hell for the McDonalds McNugget meal I was about to eat in the parking lot. Even though, for the record, Reese Witherspoon’s hair still makes me jealous.

Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!

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