When I first saw my cousin after chopping my very long, curly hair from waist-length into a short back and sides, she said she wasn’t surprised I had done it. "It makes sense," she told me. "A lot of women seem to cut their hair after having babies."
Personally, there were a lot of reasons I made the chop. As a plus-size woman, I wanted to challenge myself to exist comfortably within my body without the feminine armor that was my mane. I also wanted to give my hair a chance to grow healthily after years of harsh dyes and at-home bleach jobs. The biggest reason, however, was probably that I needed a damn break.
In late 2016, I became a mother for the first time. Two years later, my youngest was born. A year after that, I was still exhausted, overwhelmed, and frequently unbathed. As many parents are undoubtedly aware, having a child can make it extremely difficult to carve out any time for self-care or even basic hygiene. My hair was one of the things that suffered the most when I became a mother of "two under two." In my child-free days, I would typically wash my hair two to three times per week, taking great care to work through the knots in the shower. Afterwards, I’d apply products to ensure my curls stayed hydrated and bouncy. The whole process would usually take 45 minutes.
After children, I no longer had 45 extra minutes, let alone 45 extra minutes two to three days per week. As a result, my hair was usually dirty and knotted. The knots would get so bad that I frequently had to use kitchen scissors to cut them out. Every strand started to feel like a reminder of how out of control and detached from myself I felt, and of how little balance I had. I’d always believed that if ever I became a mom, I would be one of those magical humans who seem to divide their time perfectly between parenthood, work, friends, love, and personhood. In truth, I couldn’t even balance parenthood with showering. So I got rid of my hair, hoping it would be one less thing to worry about, hoping it would help me reclaim myself.
It’s a feeling with which lots of moms grapple, as my cousin suggested when she saw me post-haircut. Lauren Gordon, managing editor of CafeMom and Mom.com, says that the transition from being baby-free to being a mother is beautiful chaos. "I went from true freedom to being very intentional about my time," she tells me. "If I am going to invest any energy into it, it has to be worth my time, as my time is very limited now. Every decision I make impacts another life."
Like me, Gordon chose to cut her hair into a pixie crop shortly after her son was born, for two reasons. "Firstly, my son was constantly tugging on it and it was always in the way," she says. "Secondly, it was impossible to maintain. My hair was rarely brushed, and often just a reminder of upkeep."
The transition wasn’t easy, and Gordon remembers crying in the bathroom for two hours after the cut was finished. As a fellow plus-size woman, Gordon was familiar with the expectation put upon so many of us to make up for our bodies by being as traditionally feminine as possible in every other way, including maintaining long, luxurious hair. She doesn’t regret her decision, though. "My daily routine since cutting my hair has become a lot easier," she says. "I don't fuss with it much and can get myself and everyone out the door in a timely manner. I love the freedom it gives me, as well as the opportunity to buy all the gaudy earrings."
Gordon adds, "In ways, it also makes me feel empowered. It's a defiant fuck you to mainstream beauty culture. It's inspiring me to really look at and love myself, which is something I really struggled with post-baby."
Jemima Rose, yoga teacher, photographer, and mother of two, agrees. In a culture where women are subjected to countless beauty standards and imposed hyperfemininity, short hair can be liberating. "I grew up surrounded only by images of women with long hair and perfect skin and hourglass figures," she says. "You only have to look at the Disney princesses — Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty — and even now, as my daughter watches these films like Frozen, Tangled, and Moana. They may have come a long way, but they still have tiny waists, massive eyes, and long hair. Where are the idols with short hair? Where are the buzz-cut Barbie dolls?"
Rose began feeling the urge to cut off all her hair after the birth of her second child in 2015. The acne she had struggled with as a teenager returned when her daughter was around 17 months old, and she spent a year trying desperately to get her clear skin back. Once she did, Rose felt a shift. "I had spent so long obsessing over my skin and I was just really tired of my own expectations of how I felt I should look," she says. "I just wanted to liberate myself from societal expectations, as well as my own. I wanted to prove to myself that having short hair would still mean I was just as beautiful."
Rose was also dealing with the loss of identity that becoming a parent so often creates. "I just think it’s that feeling of who am I? Where did I go?" she tells me. "I forgot about the person I was before my babies came into my world. I was a singer and songwriter, a girlfriend who traveled and enjoyed seeing movies, who loved to go camping, to write poetry. But I just gave so much to my children and to being a mother that I barely had anything left to give to anyone; not to my husband, and especially not to myself."
Cutting her hair became a gift; a small act of kindness she could give to herself. "I feel more empowered than ever," Rose says. "My short hair is something for me. It is something that I get to indulge in and be playful with [...] It has made me feel pretty invincible."
During a time when everything felt so new and hard, cutting off my own hair returned some semblance of control and strength to my life. It served as the tool that would introduce the person I was prior to motherhood to the person I am now, and became the link between those two people. It became the thing that might, in fact, unite those two people.
A dramatic post-motherhood haircut can be about so much more than aesthetics. Ultimately, it’s a symbol of self-preservation, and self-preservation is a seemingly simple but crucial act that too often we forget to value — especially when we start living our lives for the tiny people we are raising.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.