Liberated by Lopping OffHer Long Locks

My waist-length hair was a statement of sorts. It represented my coming of age and the freedom I felt while journeying around Asia and the South Pacific - trekking in the Himalayas, scuba diving off tropical islands, and getting lost in the crowded, polluted cities of the developing world.

As long as my hair was long, my mind and heart never completely left the Eastern continent.

So it was with much trepidation that, more than 2-1/2 years after I had returned to the United States, I contemplated seriously going to a hairdresser for a real cut.

My thinking began to change for a number of reasons.

My blond ponytail suddenly felt heavy and pulled at my scalp when I played tennis. It got caught in my clothing and the seat belt of my car. The fine hair became easily tangled and stood on end from static electricity; it stuck to my hand as I tried to smooth it down.

Looking for a solution, I started picking up magazines and noticing haircuts of fashion models. I began studying the coifs of women on the subway.

Strangely enough, I found myself drawn to the extremely short styles I saw and the possibility of doing something radical.

After about a month of contemplating all this, I made my decision. It was helped along by one last incident.

On a vacation, I became reacquainted with a cousin who I had not seen in 11 years. She is one of those truly enviable people with gorgeous, thick hair (yes, blond, too) who hairstylists have in mind when they say: "There are only a few women who really should have long hair and can pull it off." The implication being: "For lesser mortals, it's best to work with a good cut."

Alas, it was high time I cut my losses ... and my tresses.

Now few people venture to go from waist-length to ear-length locks in one fell swoop. For me, it was a month-to-month process.

If you saw me in January, you saw a shoulder-length cut; February, just below the ears; March and April, really short with wavy bangs pushed off the face; and, finally, May, really short with bangs falling over the forehead.

Friends who hadn't seen me in a while would gape: "Oh, my gosh, you cut your hair!"

"Uh, yes, a few times," I would say.

Or they would ask: "What did you do?" or "When did you do it?"

"It's a long story. Do you have 10 minutes?" I'd reply.

Comments were colorful: "Snappy," "Really modern," "Fantabulous."

And, perhaps most important of all, as the split ends fell to the shiny floor of the hair salon, so, too, did my notion that long hair was equated with the freedom I gained backpacking around the Pacific Rim.

In its place came a new liberation. My ultrashort hair is a breeze to take care of, needing only 20 seconds with a blow-dryer and a dab of gel after each shampoo. It's ideal for work, sports, and hot weather.

And it transports me from 1969 to 1995.

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