When someone without children complains to me about how tired they are, my knee-jerk reaction is to scoff and resist the urge to punch them in the throat. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I’m melodramatic, inappropriate and self-righteously dismissive. Not just dismissive — contentiously dismissive. And yet, I still devote a great deal of time every day to reminding myself that parents are not the only legitimately exhausted people in the world. Everyone is struggling with something I know nothing about.
“Be kind,” I tell myself, “adulting is a shit show.”
However, on any given day, I am functioning on four hours of sleep or less. So it can be hard to see past the end of my own upturned nose when “constantly exhausted” is just my factory setting now.
My son stopped sleeping through the night at three months old. We started off great though. Unlike most babies, he took to sleeping in 4-5 hour stretches with one-to-none night feeds almost as soon as we got home from the hospital. It was a saving grace after a traumatic birth experience, recovering from an emergency C-section and postpartum depression. But the three-month sleep regression hit like a Mack truck and I haven’t slept through the night since.
At a time when I felt less like myself and the most out of control, I fixated on my hair. I was exhausted. My body wasn’t my own nor was it recognizable and my hormones ran roughshod over my emotions. My hair was the one thing I could manipulate. The one thing that gave me a sense of agency. The one thing I could control.
Until I couldn’t even do that anymore.
Childbirth, stress, low iron and a B12 deficiency were a simmering witch’s brew in a cauldron of total defeat. The hair loss was alarming. The thinning was frustrating. I turned to thickening products, backcombing, clip-in extensions and flatiron curls to desperately hide everything I felt was being taken away from me.
One day I looked in the mirror and my hair was mostly gone and completely damaged. I felt like Gollum in the Mines of Moria. My scalp constantly ached from the heavy extensions I wore daily. For the last 18 months, I had used my hair as a homing pigeon to deliver the message that I was worthy. After 18 months of abuse, that pigeon flew the coop.
I slumped onto the side of the tub in my towel. She was gone. I’d lost her. The last of the old me swirled down the drain with the rest of my pre-baby naiveties. I grabbed the phone without pause and sent an SOS message to my hairstylist. I hadn’t been to the salon since my wedding day. It was time to call in the big guns.
She chopped it off. Almost all of it. Right up to my ear lobes in what can only be described as a pixie that didn’t make the cut. I succumbed to the dreaded “mom hair.” But here is the thing about the mom cut… if you call it that, you’re an asshole.
Women are judged for literally everything. For having babies. For not having babies. For staying at home with those babies. Or working full time while someone else raises those babies. We just can’t win. If we keep our long luxurious locks, we are superficial. If we invest the time and energy into any style other than the signature messy bun, we are vain. You can’t possibly be a good mother if you are spending time on your hair and makeup instead of with your children.
But then if we cut it we are instantly cliché. We have let ourselves go. We care only about being a mom and not at all about being wives or sexual beings. Cheryl Wischover sums up this conundrum perfectly in her Vox article “How “Mom Hair” as We Know It Came to Be:”
“Having mom hair implies that your hair and appearance are not your main focus (the correct value, per society) because your children are. You don’t care what you look like; you only care about your family. Hair is an afterthought that should be easy and practical.
Despite the fact that we approve of this so-called value in moms, we still mock them for it, because moms really do have to have it all. Sex, sure, but not too much, do not admit to liking it, and definitely don’t advertise it on your head, for god’s sake. Be practical, but also have a sense of style — to a point, otherwise it’s vain. Be spontaneous, but don’t go nuts with that, okay? Do not waste 45 minutes putting your long hair into a complicated fishtail braid. You have to get your kid to soccer practice on time.”
And what about our husbands? Don’t we care what they think? The short answer is no.
But the very very long answer is yes.
I shouldn’t care what my husband thinks about something as trivial as my hair. He loves me for me right? Everything else is just extra. But the truth is, I care deeply about what he thinks. I care deeply about what he sees when he looks at me. I care about being a good mom, a good wife and I also care about being good to myself. About getting what I want and doing what makes me happy. As women we are attacked with the pervasive and abusive message that our value is intimately tied to our outward appearance. And this external physicality serves as a resume for our sexual prowess. And after all, isn’t that all that matters when it comes to finding a partner? What you have and how you work it? Keep your waist small, your chest supple, and your hair long and slightly tousled. Because you aren’t your best you unless you look like you’ve stepped off the pages of a Cover Girl spread.
Just kidding, NO.
I have a mom cut now. But it’s not because I let myself go. And it’s not because I don’t care anymore. I had to let it go because I cared too much. My fried, split ends were the perfect metaphor for how I was feeling on the inside — a sparse, empty, and fragile shell of the girl I used to be. Desperately trying to hang on to the old parts of me that I thought were the lifeblood of contentment. But they were dead foliage that needed to be pruned and cut away. I have the mom cut because I didn’t have a choice. It was emergency amputation now or go bald from the damage (and I do not have the bone structure to pull off a shiny scalp and big earrings). The hair was brittle and had split almost to my scalp. The impossible expectations I put on myself to be a certain person and look a certain way had also burned me out and left me friable. They were the unwinding of a rapidly fraying rope. It was time to cut that rope and put my feet back on solid ground.
I have a mom cut. I changed something about myself but I didn’t change me. I will spend time making it look chic. I will spend time applying my makeup and choosing a fashion forward outfit. I will spend time making sure I feel good about the way I look. I’m a good mom who understands that caring for myself doesn’t mean I care less about my child or my marriage. So that means I will spend time on all the things that make me happy — most of which are my baby boy and my loving husband.
I have short hair, and yes, I do care.