Monday, 10 March 2008

Losing It

Somewhere I have a photograph of my father's mother. She was a redhead, an imposing woman almost six feet tall, with hair that went down past her knees. In the picture I have, she is standing in front of a mirror, brushing it. I don't envy her the task: when I first saw the photograph, I thought she had on a veil that rippled and flowed over both sides of her body. Brushing that lot must have taken her ages every day.

The story is that my grandmother's parents met over hair. Her father was a Civil War veteran and short on cash. Possessing a good, thick head of red hair, he decided to sell it and make some money, so he went into a pharmacy and approached the young woman at the counter -- my great grandmother. I don't know if he ended up getting shorn on that occasion, but by all accounts, the meeting must have gone pretty well.

Everyone in my family has thick hair. If you've seen Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies, then you have a pretty good idea what I'm talking about. Both of my parents had great, thick manes, and my sisters and I were cursed with bushy, unruly hair in an age when straight, thin hair was in fashion. It was also an age before hair straighteners could be purchased by regular people, and we sometimes took turns ironing each other's hair -- and ruining it, too -- on the ironing board. It looked awful. It never stayed straight, either.

At some point, I made peace with my hair and stopped getting it cut short and periodically thinned. I let it grow.

And boy, does it grow.

Ten years ago, a friend told me about the charity Locks of Love. The good people at Locks of Love supply needy children who suffer from hair loss with wigs, either free, or at very low cost. She commented that with my thick, fast-growing hair, I could supply a good quantity of hair. I remembered my great grandparents and their felicitous hair meeting, and decided to give it a go.

For the past ten years, I have grown out my hair and periodically harvested it. I've sent quite a few ponytails and braids to Locks of Love in that time, but this Saturday, I really sent them a whopper. I did it in style, too: I invited the town to come and watch me get a haircut -- for a price. And I donated the money to another worthy charity, Action Aid. The hair went to Locks of Love, and I honestly don't know when I've been happier to get rid of anything in all my life. I have no idea how my grandmother could stand having hair down to her knees; I only know that since Saturday I've been shaking my head about and crying "Free at last! Free at last!"

Here are the photographs. I live in a small town, and believe it or not, this made front page of the local newspaper:

I don't know whether you can see it or not, but I am clapping.

"I bet this is a sad day for you!" the photographer said. (Au contraire!) Some people seemed to believe that I wanted hair that length; that I was growing my hair because I liked the look of it. You'd think all the whining I've been doing might have convinced them otherwise, but no.

Once the hair was off my head, I was struck by what a creepy thing it was -- like a living entity. For the past couple of years, I've been dragging this thing around with me, gardening, hiking, sleeping, swimming. Swimming! I cannot wait to go swimming!

"You're doing a very brave thing, my dear," several people commented, and I was touched by this, but also mystified. Offering to have my head cut off in public -- now that would have been brave. Getting my hair cut off in public was merely a little weird, and it was also very much a win/win deal: I got to be the center of attention for a couple of hours, I sent £305 to a good cause, and my hair gets a permanent holiday in Florida, home of Locks of Love. And now I get to blog about it.

I'm working on my next ponytail even as I write this.


Brian said...

I have not been here for a while -- so let me be first to congratulate you

Well done

I could use some hair to cover my eggshell blond skull , but I don't really want to be a redhead


Susan Sandmore said...

Great story! And what a nice thing to do, too.

Charlie said...

I don't know how much 305 pounds is, but it sounds like a lot; I'd call this a Mary-and-town project. Very nice.

My hair would only be good for making wigs for bald chickens. You're lucky to be blessed with beautiful hair.

Kim Ayres said...

Charlie - it's over $550

Mary, I'm so proud you got the photos up on the blog!!!

Mary Witzl said...

Brian -- Thank you; I am thrilled to have gotten rid of that mess of hair.

I'd quite like to be a redhead; I've got enough of them in my family. Fortunately for me, there is henna.

Susan -- Thanks! Packing up the hair, though, I got a little frisson of horror. I felt as though I was shoving a medium-sized animal into an envelope.

Charlie -- I had a great bunch of women helping me with this. My biggest contribution was the hair, but I also baked cookies and bread, packed up Fair-trade tea and coffee samples, wrote letters, badgered people for donation (a horrible chore), and designed and printed up circulars and posters. The relief I feel having that over is close to the relief I feel over ridding myself of the hair.

Kim -- Oh, you have no idea! Wait -- no, you do! It took me a good hour, but I did this WITHOUT having to call husband or kids.

The Anti-Wife said...

Congratulations, Mary. What a wonderful thing to do. I donated about 12 inches of hair to Locks of Love a few years ago. I haven't had the patience to grow it out again since then.

Eryl Shields said...

Great show. How long will it take you to grow it back again for the next harvest?

debra said...

Kudos to you, Mary. #2 daughter did this when she was 9. She cried, then realized she could spike her hair big time. When we were trying yo find where to donate her hair, I messed up the name of the organization. When I googled it, I came across a XXX site.

Katie Alender said...

I did the same thing (with less publicity) a year and a half ago. As soon as the ponytail was cut, I felt like I was myself again. And some woman came running up to me and was like, "WHY DID YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF?"

EmmaK said...

It must be very liberating having all that hair cut off. Like streaking on a cricket field!

Mary Witzl said...

Anti-wife -- Yay -- good for you -- another hair donor, and you know what it feels like! The awful truth is, even though I plan to donate again, I am so comfortable with short hair that I'm tempted to get another haircut next month. We'll see how it goes...

Eryl -- Thank you for coming to see me! This last lot took me three years to grow. I think I'll harvest my hair after two years; it's easier to manage that way.

Debra -- Like your daughter, I used to feel a real sense of loss when I got my hair cut. Good for her, though, donating anyway! As for that XXX site, apparently there are people with hair fetishes. For the life of me, I can't see this, but it takes all kinds.

Katie -- This is great: Among the commenters on this blog I have now heard of three other hair donors: Anti-wife, Debra's daughter, and now you. Donating hair is not commonly done here. When I told people what I planned to do with my hair, I got the feeling they thought I was quite a nutter. The hairdresser is the only one in town who acts as though it's perfectly reasonable. She even calls me when long-haired people get their hair cut and offers me their ponytails.

Don't you hate it when you've done something to alter your appearance and you get people who clap their hands over their mouths and look stricken; who say 'WHY did you do that? You look AWFUL!' If anyone had done that to me, I do believe I would have attached my ponytail to the back of their head and insisted they walk around with it for a week.

Emma -- It IS liberating. I can well understand how flappers must have felt, getting their hair crimped and wearing short dresses. When that hair came off, my head felt so deliciously light I very nearly jumped onto a table and danced a jig -- seriously.

Carole said...

I am in envy heaven. Gorgeous hair. If I had your hair, little children all over the world would stay bald.

Look at you go, with the pictures and everything.

Gorilla Bananas said...

The Injuns would have prized your scalp in the frontier days!

Ello said...

First off Mary, you are so cute standing there holding your ponytail like that! And I think your haircut is very fetching. SEcondly, good for you! What a wonderful thing to do. I told my girls if they want to grow their hair long, they can, but solely for donation to lockes of love. Angus is trying it now. She has the thick long fast growing hair so maybe I"ll have pictures of her donation next year!

Ello said...

Plus - I love the story about your grandparents!

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- I've seen your picture: you have perfectly lovely hair. But if I had my hair (now on its way to Florida), I would give it to you, and then you would see what I mean! Too much hair is an honest-to-God pain in the neck, and I haven't stopped shaking my head like a dog and grinning ever since being shorn.

Thank you for noticing that I conquered another technical hurdle!! I'm pretty pleased at having actually posted photographs, too. Simple mind, simple pleasures.

GB -- Actually, some of my ancestors were the ones doing the scalping, but you're right: I've got a prize-winning scalp. Holding that great shaggy mane of hair felt really weird, too, especially as it was still warm.

Ello -- You're sweet to say I look cute; I'm glad I picked tiny photographs and chose judiciously. No way I was publishing the one taken from behind, which was my original plan. That one has made me feel very serious about weight loss. Or maybe even buying that top in a larger size.

And good for Angus! It'll be tough when she wants to go swimming, but if you can, show her 'before' and 'after' shots of kids with and without wigs to strengthen her resolve.

Kappa no He said...

You have true rock'n'roll hair. I'm so jealous. How long is your pony tale now?

ChristineEldin said...

Fantastic story and Beautiful locks! You are both brave and kind.

The photo with you holding your hair is surreal.

Mary Witzl said...

Kappa -- My hair is only an inch long now. It would only be rock'n'roll hair if I were more of a rock'n'roll type; as it is, it's just bushy nerd hair. I wish someone would show me how to turn it into rock'n'roll hair, but I'd probably get it all wrong.

I love what you wrote: 'Pony Tale.' I think I'll go back and rename this Pony Tale!

Chris -- It's nice of you to say I'm kind. I think a lot of people here thought it was a pretty weird thing to do even though I actually got the idea from an English girl I read about a few years back, who did something similar.

Holding that hair up really did feel surreal. Those who witnessed this heard me murmur "God, this thing is gross."

The Quoibler said...

You are phenomenal, Mary! I'm so proud of your accomplishments and your charitable nature. :)


Angela said...

Thanks for sharing this story--that's great that you were able to get a money collection to boot, doubling up your 'contributions.'

I guess most people belive those with long hair are quite attached to it, and will have a hard time cutting it due to the 'hard work growing it'. Obviously, this isn't the case for you!

Paul said...

Well done, Mary! It must feel really weird to be without your 'tail' - congratulations on raising so much dosh!

(P.S. Great photos, too!)

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Oh well done, you, you lovely generous woman! You must have made a lot of children happy over the years with all your giving. And well done on the photays!

Danette Haworth said...

Wonderful story, Mary. And how clever of you to make it even more beneficial than the original gesture.

There definitely is a mystique about women with extraordinarily long hair. I think it starts in grade school, where long hair is a status symbol, a crowning glory, something to compare or be jealous of.

Congratulations! You look great!

Mary Witzl said...

Angelique -- Thank you, but a big, shaggy head of hair isn't really an accomplishment. If I ever get a book published, though, I'll happily allow people to call me accomplished!

Angela -- Thank you. When I was younger, the fact that my hair was thick and fast-growing caused me a lot of grief. I have come to see this as something I can put to a good use, even if it means clogging up my drains for a year or two. I'm betting there are others out there who could easily do this as well. I would love to hear their stories!

Paul -- It feels so wonderful that I'm not sure I'll ever get over it. I dread growing it all back, but since it is a gradual process, it won't be so bad.

Sam -- I get such a kick trying to picture my hair on some kid's head somewhere. Maybe plunging through a swimming pool or getting snagged in a hedge. Or more than likely, sitting in front of a computer or framing the face of a child bent over a Game-boy.

Danette -- (Me look great? I am so glad I picked tiny photographs, but thank you!)

As a kid, I had very short hair and was wildly jealous of girls with long hair. Mine was so bushy that growing it long meant a lot of work, and it wasn't until I left home that I decided to give it a go. Now life is just too short for long hair, but I'm happy to grow it out for a purpose.