Collage by Emma D.

What is it about hair that holds so much power? It’s responsible for a huge part of the way we view ourselves, and our feelings about ourselves, at any given time. It’s a physical manifestation of our internal reinventions; an outward sign that things, they are a-changin’. Or maybe it’s just that in a world of chaos where you don’t feel like you have a grip on anything, your hair is something that you think you have total control over.

It’s like that time Ashlee Simpson dyed her hair black right before her (awesome) first record came out and she was totally badass for like a hot second. It was ALL IN THE HAIR.

Of course, when your hair is at odds with your personality, it becomes a real problem. I wasn’t always on good terms with my own hair. Early on, it refused to bow down to my authority and reshape itself to conform to my life circumstances. When I started a new school in seventh grade and suddenly found myself face-to-face with real-life teenage girls who had new boyfriends every couple of weeks–and each one more handsome than the last–I concluded that it was their luscious, usually blonde locks that held the key their power over boys. It was at this exact moment that my hair, which had been pretty straight all my life, decided to go curly and unruly (I blame puh-behr-tee). My hair was trying to ruin my life and was literally keeping me from expressing my womanly potential!

OK, sure, I could’ve sought assistance in the expert hands of a hairstylist that would just blow it out or, you know, learn to do it myself, but of course I thought spending time at the hair salon and/or in front of the mirror was the kind of thing that GIRLS were supposed to do, so as a FEMINIST all I could do was stay stuck with my hair that hated me.

And also, side note! I wasn’t a WOMAN. I was 11 years old and I probably looked like I was seven. My curly hair was the least of my problems.

At some point between eighth and ninth grade I tried to take command of my life and I chopped all my hair off right after Gwen Stefani got that really cute pixie cut. On me though, it wasn’t pixie as much as it was microphone-y. That haircut, combined with my late-blooming (ew) body, made me look like a BOY. I knew that things were just not going to work out for me like they did for girls in the movies. Instead, the awkwardest of awkward stages awaited me.

Looking back, it is entirely possible that I was unhappy in high school because of my hair. OK, that’s clearly a preposterous statement, but IT MAY AS WELL HAVE BEEN TRUE. Because once my hair started submitting to my whims, everything else in my life started falling into place. When I turned 16 my mom finally let me dye my hair and I immediately went with the most drastic change I could think of: a whole head of intensely blue hair.

I was becoming the person I always wanted to be. I dove deeper and deeper into all my interests and curiosities and stopped caring about what people said about me at school (like the theory that I had to be a lesbian because I was always talking about feminism and gay rights or whatever). When the “dean of discipline” took me to the principal’s office in a futile attempt to force me to dye my hair a normal color and she asked me, “Why did you do this, Laia?” I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “It just feels right.” Because it did. The principal laughed and shook her head and just let me finish the year wearing a black shoulder-length wig with blunt bangs—another fantasy hairdo in itself—over my still-blue hair. I felt invincible.

This was also the time when I finished high school and moved away to go to college therefore finally getting to live life the way I wanted, but again, the HAIR! The hair was right there with me.

In the subsequent years, my hair went through even more transformations. After a couple of years rocking the blue (and the neon orange and the red), I dyed it back to brown the summer between sophomore and junior year when I needed to finally get a job and seem a bit more adult than my eternal baby-face suggests. After an intense breakup that followed a cross-state move, I went jet-black. After another breakup I went blonde and then when I unexpectedly lost my job, I chopped it all off into a pixie cut again (with way better results than my first attempt back in middle school). Every time something in my life changed, my hair helped me live through it.

But one look I never really went for during all those years was “the natural look.” When I quit my full-time job to attempt a freelance career, I dyed my short hair brown and decided to grow it out and let it do what it wanted. Even as a grownup, I still thought of long, luscious locks as the ultimate sign of being “womanly,” something that I had never really felt.

And so my hair grew, and it curled, and it did whatever it wanted to do. For the first time in all my life, I embraced the curls and the weirdness and just went with it. I could hide behind it and I could braid it but I also could just wash it and go and not stress out about it. And I know it sounds about a million kinds of cheesy, but I think looking in the mirror and seeing the person that I am when I’m not trying to be someone else was really liberating in the same way that looking at myself with blue hair was all those years ago. Something inside me clicked. I started taking stock of my life—where I was, where I was going, and where I wanted to be. I gathered the courage to end my relationship with my (really amazing!) live-in boyfriend and found an apartment on Craigslist and moved and basically just started my life from scratch.

The longer my hair gets, the more courage I have to do the things I’m maybe a little scared of because they are new or different or important. Like Samson in the Bible, I feel like my strength lives in my hair—except when the time comes, I will be my own Delilah and will delight in chopping it all off at the beginning of another phase in my life (I still have fantasies of one day shaving my head just like Deb did in Empire Records). Whether that comes next year or in 20 years, I know I’ll have it all—emotions, hair—under control.

Me and my hair today!