When I walked into a work meeting in a conference room full of women, a chic vice president coiffed with a straight-edged, blown-out blond bob stared at my super-long hair. “What are you going to do, grow that hair to your knees?” she burst out. “Like Rapunzel or some other Disney princess?” To a background of tittering, I said, “Nope, don’t worry, I trim my hair every two months, so my locks won’t ever flow below my tailbone.”
I’m the 40-year-old mother in a weathered black leather bomber jacket with waist-length hair. Sometimes it’s almost-black, or balayage with caramel highlights painted on my ends, or highlighted all over with shades of Pravana’s purple.
People approach me asking if my tresses are my “real” hair (as in, not extensions), or to grab it, cooing, “Do you know how long your hair is?” Yes, I know how lengthy my coarse hair is, and I love it, though it’s time consuming to wash, care for, comb and dry.
My Long, Complicated Hair History
Country singer Crystal Gayle and actor and singer Cher were my childhood long-hair icons, their thick manes shining and swaying on TV. I’d stand sideways in front of my mirror, tilting my head back, so my hair dipped even lower, to the bottom of my buttocks. In her early 30s, my mother cut her light brown, just-past-the-shoulders hair for a pixie she’s sported ever since, alternately wearing her locks straight, then curly, and back again. Here are the messages I received: Grown-up women shear their girlish hair. Mothers don’t have time for long locks’ capriciousness. I experimented throughout my teens and 20s: I permed my waist-length hair, sporting rock-chick hair like Heart’s raven-haired guitarist. Then, I cut it chin-length, into an asymmetrical Flapper-style bob with chunky golden highlights.
Four years ago, though, when I was pregnant with my son, I went to get a trim. The hair stylist cut six inches off without telling me, saying, “I wanted to give you something fun and different!” I switched to a higher-end salon after my minor hair trauma and told my new hair consultant I wanted to grow my hair, an effort in which she’s supported me. Each visit, she gives me a health trim and a deep-conditioning treatment because I like to experiment with color. Between visits, I wash my hair every other day, and use salon-grade conditioners. I let my hair air-dry whenever possible.
Passing the Long Hair Torch
Sometimes I feel like I have to defend my excessive locks in my early 40s — why I won’t cut it right now and why it’s an integral part of my identity. Throughout history until the early 20th century, women traditionally had longer hair than men — it was a sign of health and upper socio-economic status. In the 1920s, women rebelled against the oppressively heavy waist-length curtains they’d worn in Victorian times by cutting bobs. In any case, sociologist Anthony Synnott writes that hair is a personal symbol with “immense social significance.” I use my hair as self-expression: I’m an individual, a maverick, a little bit wild and rock-and-roll. My hair, like Angelina Jolie or Joan Jett, asks to be noticed.
(Photo credit: Nicole Rollender)
My 8-year-old daughter with the tiny ballet dancer’s body also has very coarse hair waving from her roots, ending at spiral curls at her waist. People call it “wild flower child hair,” since she always wears it loose and flowing. Like mine, it requires time and loving care: You can’t easily get a brush through it. While my daughter sits in the bath, we slather on curly-hair conditioner, then leave-in detangler and shea butter hair product. We braid it at night to stop bird-nesting at the top of her head and nape.
Though family members have advised me to cut off my daughter’s locks, she begs me not to, saying, “I love my hair. It’s part of me.”
That’s a sentiment I understand, my hair unfurling years down my back. Yet, to have good-looking, healthy hair, you need to take good care of it on a daily basis.
Top Myths About Caring for Longer Hair
1. The more you cut your hair, the faster it grows. Not true — because your hair grows from the roots, so a haircut won’t affect growth speed at all.
“The reality is most waist-length hair is six to eight inches of split ends,” says Renee Angelucci-Cancelliere, a stylist at Philadelphia-based Shear Know-How. “It’s important to get regular health trims if you want to maintain long hair; otherwise, your ends will continue to split up the shaft. I have many clients with long hair and I have no problem telling them when it’s time to cut a bit more off, and they usually listen to me.”
2. Wash your hair every day. Nope. “It’s best not to wash your hair every day, since you strip out natural oils and proteins,” Angelucci-Cancelliere says. “Let your scalp’s oils work their magic.” Every other day or even twice a week washings are ideal, depending on your hair’s needs.
3. Brush your hair with 100 strokes a day. Never do this, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, or risk damaging your hair. Rather, gently comb damp hair with a wide-tooth comb and use a detangler if knotted.
“You should also condition your hair every time you wash it,” Angelucci-Cancelliere says. “Also, don’t cheap out on your hair products, especially if your hair’s color-treated.”
4. Extensions will destroy your natural hair. False. If you get light extensions that don’t pull, and go to a salon specializing in these services, you’ll prevent hair damage, says the AAD.
“Extensions are great for women who have very thin hair or a medical issue that causes an abundance of hair loss,” Angelucci-Cancelliere says. “I recommend tape-in extensions for my clients for the least amount of damage to the hair.”
Will I always have long hair? I plan to, but who knows? That that’s the beauty of hair: It changes and grows — just like we do.
This essay was written by Nicole Rollender, a South New Jersey-based poet, editor and writer. She’s editor-in-chief of B-to-B publication Wearables magazine, which has won more than 40 journalism awards, including several Jesse H. Neals and ASBPE’s Magazine of the Year Award. Her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Dr. Oz The Good Life, Woman’s Day and Cosmopolitan. She’s the author of the poetry collection Louder Than Everything You Love. Recently, she was named a Rising Star in FOLIO’s Top Women in Media awards and is a 2017 recipient of a New Jersey Council on the Arts poetry fellowship. Visit her online at nicolerollender.com or on Facebook or Twitter.