On Haircuts

by Cristian Cano | 5/20/20 2:20am

haircutters
by Olympia Nagel-Caland / The Dartmouth Staff

“For the first time since freshman fall …”

It’s worth trying to finish that sentence, especially if you’re a fellow ’20. As graduation rapidly approaches, feeling nostalgic and reflecting on our time at Dartmouth is practically inevitable. But there’s something about that specific phrasing that feels a little different: It emphasizes not just what has long since passed, but rather what has finally made a reappearance. You might feel like you and your freshman fall self are totally different people — I know I feel like that sometimes — but you probably have more in common than you think.

I’ll go first: For the first time since freshman fall, I have short hair.

I’d be remiss to not acknowledge that haircuts have, in recent weeks, been the source of much controversy across the nation. Here in New Hampshire, hairdressers were among the first businesses to reopen last week — and though the state has seen a steady decline of new coronavirus cases, I worried about contributing to a possible resurgence. At the same time, I wanted to be intentional about supporting local businesses, especially in a college town like Hanover that won’t see its usual number of customers for months to come.

After much careful consideration, including asking some of my close friends for their thoughts, I decided to make an appointment at Hanover Haircutters and do my best to take as many precautions as possible. All clients are required to wear masks, and I wore a second cloth mask on top of the required one to be extra cautious. It wasn’t until a couple of hours after my haircut that I noticed how my sideburns were a bit uneven — but hey, that’s a small price to pay to keep everyone as safe as possible.

It’s not like I’ve kept the same hairstyle for four years. On the contrary, I’ve gone from multicolored highlights to an accidental blond phase, from dark hair down to my chest to a rainbow undercut. But one thing was always constant: I never went back to short hair. Sure, I got the occasional trim, but for over half of my time at Dartmouth, my hair was at least long enough to tie back in a ponytail.

A large part of my motivation for growing it out was rooted in never being allowed to do so growing up. My dad always wanted me to look “presentable,” and in his mind, that meant forced buzz cuts every few months. As soon as I had any autonomy over my hair, you better believe I went from one extreme to the other.

“I took pride in having hair unlike anyone else’s. No one else had hair like mine — and even though I once had to endure the embarrassment of a cashier at Novack telling me that I looked like Lord Farquaad from Shrek, I felt pleasantly unique.”

Another reason, though, and perhaps a more relevant one as I went from growing out my hair to maintaining its length, was that I took pride in having hair unlike anyone else’s. No one else had hair like mine — and even though I once had to endure the embarrassment of a cashier at Novack telling me that I looked like Lord Farquaad from Shrek, I felt pleasantly unique.

So why cut it all off? It certainly wasn’t to look more employable, as a few people suggested. It wasn’t to donate it all, either, as I was still rocking bleach damage and some funky layers when I got it cut.

The best answer I can give is that, simply put, I outgrew it. And I was ready for a major change.

I tend to avoid jumping off the deep end when it comes to making changes, preferring instead to take baby steps. I mean, I’m still the guy who tiptoes into a just-too-cold pool, even though I know it’s easier to jump in and get the initial shock over with. A slightly younger Cris might have chosen to go from long to short hair through a series of gradual trims, making sure that at any point, if I suddenly regretted my decision, it wouldn’t take too long to get back to where I started.

My tendency to take the gradual approach doesn’t just apply to hair. At Dartmouth, I took classes I knew I would hate, just to be “extra certain” that they weren’t for me. I never spent more than a term away from campus at a time, and even when I had two consecutive off terms, I was able to use Trips as a reason to come back in between them. Hell, I even held onto toxic friendships and relationships far longer than I should have because I was scared of everything changing too quickly.

“Taking baby steps hasn’t always worked out in my favor — and when it comes to life after Dartmouth, I don’t even get a choice. In just a few weeks, I’ll be saying my goodbyes to Hanover, finding a way to ship all my stuff and leaving behind my current definition of normal.”

Taking baby steps hasn’t always worked out in my favor — and when it comes to life after Dartmouth, I don’t even get a choice. In just a few weeks, I’ll be saying my goodbyes to Hanover, finding a way to ship all my stuff and leaving behind my current definition of normal. For better or for worse, life will change in the blink of an eye.

Am I scared? Of course. But as silly as it sounds, chopping off most of my hair has me feeling a little better about it all. I was scared going into my haircut — scared that it would quite literally take me years to grow back what was buzzed off in mere seconds. However, I’m happy to say that I haven’t regretted the change, not even for a second. 

In fact, I’m no longer interested in growing it back to where it once was. Instead, I’m excited to explore the new possibilities that this change brings. And if I can survive a haircut, who’s to say I can’t survive so much more?

I can’t deny that it’s felt nice having so many people compliment my haircut, even if they can only see it through a webcam. I agree with them — I think I look a million times better, and I feel so much more confident too. At the same time, though, I don’t necessarily wish I had kept it short the entire time. After all, freshman fall Cris hated short hair, and it took four years to reach a point where I could learn to love it. 

Again, I know it might seem silly to place so much significance on something as trivial as a haircut. People get haircuts every day, and they don’t usually write columns about it. But what really makes me excited is how a haircut proves that, after four years at Dartmouth, I’ve grown as a person. There are things I couldn’t do before, things I couldn’t bring myself to like, that now I can.

There’s something profoundly strange about rediscovering something you used to hate, only this time, you no longer hate it. It’s confusing and exciting — and if life after Dartmouth looks more like this, I’m ready to dive right in.

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