At this writing, my hair falls to my waist. I haven't cut it significantly since about six months before my freshman year of high school, and it is such a powerful part of my self-identity that I'm not sure when I'll be able to cut it again. Why is it so integral to my self-perception?

I suppose it started when I first decided to let it grow. My mother gave me all sorts of hell about it, telling me I'd look like a girl, people would make fun of me, the police would think I was a worthless degenerate, that she'd cut it off while I slept (seriously: I started locking my door at night after that). Things like that. Just the way the War on Drugs gives kids a wonderful reason to rebel, so did my mother's War on Hair. Or rather, it compounded the rebellion value of growing it out. My initial decision was probably influenced by Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and the other Seattle-"grunge" types--something of which I'm not too proud. It was superficial: I thought that by emulating their hairstyles and wardrobes, I would gain some of their other, more intangible qualities. Ah, the follies of youth (said the nineteen-year-old, unaware of any trace of irony).

So it began with rebellion, but by the time the old mop was down to my shoulders (maybe a year's growth), the novelty of that had faded. I'm really not sure why I kept it long when that happened. I might have had a vague notion that girls thought it was attractive, but I don't think I believed girls were capable of finding me attractive then. Call that a glimmer of hope. The only real reason I can offer is that it had been that way for so long that I knew nothing else. You know that strange feeling you have when you change hairstyles, as though you can't believe that's your head on those shoulders? I had forgotten what that was like. Today, I think I can summon up the dimmest memories of it, but I suspect that I'm just imagining those memories into being. My relationship with my hair was like that significant other you've had around since long after the sparks stopped flying: an affair of comfort, of habit.

As high school progressed, other people did most of the contributing to my hair's importance to my self-identity. I came to be known as "That-guy-with-the-really-long-hair-and-no-discernible-ideology/group-identity". People recognized me because of my hair. No drug dealer in history has ever doubted that I was anything but a drug user because of my hair (a stigma that I do regret these days; nothing boosts one's natural paranoia like random trustafarians and smelly hippie kids asking you if you "got any, man?"). Unlike the federal government, even my mother realized the futility of war, and came to accept the length of my hair--to an extent. The black women where she worked always told me a little jealously that my hair was beautiful while my mother almost visibly shrank with embarrassment. Although I wouldn't say it was as indispensable to me then as it is now, I suppose I grew... well, fond of it by the time I graduated, and when I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, my hair fell almost to the small of my back.

By the time I left for college three months later, things had changed. I was old enough and self-aware enough to know that one of the first things people would notice about me was not my eyes or even my short stature, but my hair. I came close to cutting it for that very reason, but around that same time I began having nightmares about the kitchen in which I worked. They involved a bit of carelessness around the chargrill and my head becoming a Michael Jackson-Pepsi-commercial-like inferno. Not pleasant. I stopped toying with a drastic change in length, and the dreams left for good. When I came to school, people of course immediately began to identify me as the "guy-with-the-really-long-hair". In spite of that, though, I began to actually enjoy my hair, not as a social phenomenon, but as a physical entity. Brushing it was a meditation in imposing order. Having it brushed or braided by someone else was an act of intimacy, sometimes erotic, sometimes not. Even just letting it hang over my arms, down my back, feeling it catch in the wind, was cause for a moment of revelry in my locks. Hell, even the annoyance of getting it caught in the window of my car was a moment I relished. In other words, I was in love.

But I didn't know why. I felt as though I was being superficial, taking such great pride in my hair. I cherished it, for god's sake, and I very nearly hated myself for it. But then I heard a little tidbit that, factually sound or not, gave me reason to keep my hair, and keep it long.

Contrary to what Pantene Pro-V commercials would have you believe, hair is not alive and does not need vitamins. It is the waste product produced by cells in one's skin. That's why advertisers say "Brand X leaves your hair beautiful and healthy-looking". And perhaps it does, but morticians will do the same for your face; it's "healthy-looking" and not "healthy" because it's dead.

Now, the dubious fact that I heard the other day was this (and it seems reasonably sound to me, but it is hearsay): The body you have now is not the body you had a year ago. Why, you ask? Because your cells are constantly dying and being replaced with new ones. We slough skin cells like they're goin' out of style. Blood? Sure, you can have a pint. Take two. As far as I know, this is true for just about all cells, with the exception of brain cells, which do not regenerate, although they do die at a terrific rate, as evidenced by one's willingness to talk to total strangers after slamming a few mudslides.

Now, hair, on the other hand, is already dead. We carry it around with us like packrats, and the only things it's really good for are keeping us warm and making us look damned good on a Saturday night. And, most importantly, it marks the passage of time.

Just ask anyone who has been screened for drugs using their hair. A record of every joint I have smoked in the last five years is right there hanging from my head, ordered chronologically, the most recent closest to my scalp. The only parts of my body I have held onto since I moved from Pittsburgh to Boone are my brain and my hair. There is an intrinsic connection there. My hair is evidence that the I that once was still is. My hair is the great record keeper of my brain: external evidence of the internal.

So I think I'll hang on to it a bit longer. Perhaps if I undergo some sort of profound rebirth, I'll take shears to the old mop. Until then, ¡ viva mi pelo muerto!

There is a charity organization called Locks of Love that takes donations of hair to be used in wigs for victims of cancer and other long-term illnesses resulting in hair loss (and no, male-pattern baldness doesn't count; deal with it, Mr. Clean. It's very worthwhile if you're going to cut 10-12" from your hair. For god's sake, don't let it go to rot in your wastebasket! They accept only clean, dry, untreated hair in a ponytail or (better) a braid. For more info, visit or call them at 1.888.896.1588.
If there are any factual errors in this writeup, or other errors for that matter, please /msg me so that I can correct them.

Thanks :),