When I was 18, I decided to alter my appearance somewhat, to cement my transformation into the "new college me." I was living in New York City, and wanted to fit in with the fascinating, stylish creatures that I saw every day. One of the most prevalent trends last year was dip-dyed hair, where the ends of one's hair would be dyed in crayola colors like pink, green and blue. I had never dyed my hair in my life, but I thought it was a good change for a hair dye novice, considering I could cut off the ends eventually. Two of my friends helped me one evening in their dorm room, and I watched the tips of my nearly black hair become mermaid-green. I loved my new hair -- I felt more spontaneous, courageous, and like I could fit in with the artists and musicians I was meeting at NYU. I kept the color for about 5 months, until I had to cut it off for a summer job.
This past year, I was again frustrated with my hair, and in many ways my life in general, and wanted something to rejuvenate me. I didn't want something as permanent as a tattoo, and I already have several piercings. Emboldened by my stint with colored hair, I wanted something more extreme. I'm a pretty feminine-looking girl, and I thought something a bit androgynous would strengthen my look. I went to the Astor Place hair salon, and asked them to shave one side of my head, better known by some as an undercut. I've never had short hair, let alone a shave, and after they were done, my heart skipped a beat when I saw myself. The person in the mirror looked stylish, stronger, almost frightening. I loved it (my mother was less than enthusiastic, but I guess that's another story).
A few months ago, the renowned street style photographer Scott Schuman, better known as The Sartorialist, took my photo. He said that he liked my look, how I wore feminine, vintage clothing with my undercut as contrast. The photo he put on his website is a portrait of me, looking resolutely at the camera, wearing a yellow chiffon dress, with my undercut in full view. The reactions expressed in the comments to the photo were at first both flattering and upsetting. On one hand, the vast majority of them were positive: some said I looked like a Velasquez painting, or like the Mona Lisa. But some were not as complimentary, and one person even questioned whether I was a girl or a boy. I noticed that all of the negative comments (and many of the positive ones) were centered on my haircut. The qualms they had were in response to an unsettled feeling they got in seeing a girl that wanted to look somewhat masculine, and in a way undermine her natural femininity. I realized that I wasn’t bothered by their words, because they didn’t understand my desire to look strong in order to feel strong.
My undercut is a trend that is ending, and I’m going to retire it in the next month or so because I’m leaving New York, and want to move on to my next stage in every sense of the word. But although it’s just hair, I attribute it to my growing sense of liberation, and the shedding of layers of self-consciousness that come from being a young female in a world whose appearance does not adhere to the generic beauty society expects.