(Ali Barlow / Emory Wheel)

I am not a spontaneous person. I hate surprises, dread last-minute plans and show up 30 minutes early to a manicure to pick out a nail color. But at my brother’s graduation party, I somehow found myself sitting on top of our picnic table with a razor to my head. 

Much to the eyerolls of our parents, my brother had been growing out his hair for months, his voluminous orange waves memorialized in all his prom and graduation photos. But now that there was no need to look nice for the pictures that would hang above the fireplace, he decided after graduation that it was time to cut it all off. 

I refused to admit to my brother that I would miss him — it pains me to write it even now — but I was sad that he was moving out. We hadn’t always gotten along and even though he was only moving two hours away to Boston, I felt the need to facilitate some sibling bonding. I didn’t want him to only think back on the times when I overslept and made us late for school, or all the petty arguments about who was smarter, funnier, the better child. I wanted to create a new memory to send him off with so he’d maybe miss me, too. My brilliant idea? To shave my head alongside him. 

I’ve never really liked my hair. Its bright orange color has been both the butt of many jokes and the subject of most of the compliments I receive. Strangers have stopped me to tell me that my hair resembles their ex-wife’s or estranged daughter’s. Any time I get a haircut all the hairdressers swarm around and make me swear to never dye my natural color. Although the compliments were well-meaning, I started to feel like it was the only special thing about me. I spent long nights during the summer before middle school with my head in a bowl of scorching blue raspberry Kool-Aid, willing my hair to color like WikiHow said it would. The result was a horrid bluish-grayish tint that lingered for years. The struggle didn’t end with color: blunt and chin-length, long and layered, I never found a style that I thought suited me. If I hated my hair, what was the harm in getting rid of it all?

I approached my brother and unveiled my plan. He found it hilarious and couldn’t believe I was capable of spontaneity, which only made me more committed. We got started right away, opting for a #4 guard on the razor, which would buzz my hair to about a half an inch. As my brother set up the extension cord to reach the picnic table, I began to feel excited. My struggles with my hair would be gone! Gone were the days of worrying about flyaways and ponytail bumps. This would be liberating. But as I closed my eyes and blindly ran the clippers over my scalp, I was immediately filled with regret. What was I doing? My hair was the only decent thing about me. The only reason anyone ever bothered to notice me. I had messed up.  

While I never grew to like my buzzcut, I started to respect it when my showers took less than 5 minutes and I spent no time doing my hair in the morning. It was perfect for humid Massachusetts summers and my hair no longer fell in my eyes while doing schoolwork. Sometimes, I even felt pretty. But growing it out required patience and confidence I was only just developing. I religiously watched hair growth timelapses on YouTube, tried home remedies for faster hair growth and hid my spiky orange tufts under bandanas and hats. 

My brother’s a junior in college now. I don’t know that he particularly remembers or cares about his high school graduation party, but I still think back on it fondly. I’m still not spontaneous, hate surprises and my hair now falls just below my chin. My friends tease me about eating enough Reese’s Pieces to make my hair orange and now, I smile. 

Ada Demling (25C) is from Amherst, Massachusetts. 

+ posts

Ada Demling (25C) is from Amherst, Massachusetts.