The first time I chopped off all my hair was because of a boy.
After 10 years of starts and stops, and a love that was always more one sided — mine — than a healthy partnership, he finally told me in no uncertain terms that we would never be together.
I cried. I bought an obscene amount of cupcakes. I didn’t leave my bed for days.
And then, after substantial amounts of wallowing, I did what any sane woman would do: I walked into a salon I had never been to and told a woman I had never met to chop off a foot of my hair.
It sounds silly, but I told myself I needed to look in the mirror and have a daily, physical reminder that I could make a permanent change and cut this person from my life.
My hairstylist told me that while my change seemed soul-crushing, the donation of my hair could make a difference for people across the country going through much more significant changes of their own.
She unceremoniously handed me my sawed-off ponytail, a plastic baggie, a stiff orange envelope and a donation form for Locks of Love — the organization that provides hairpieces to children who have long-term hair loss from a medical diagnosis. And she sent me on my way.
People were stunned. My perpetually un-dyed, long, infamously thick brown hair had been a part of my identity since I had an identity. It hadn’t been shorter than my shoulders since it grew below them when I was 3 years old. At the time of the first chop, I was 27 — a solid 24 years with hair down to at least the middle of my back.
I wasn’t ever scared of cutting it. It just was a part of me, like my left pinkie finger. I wasn’t chopping off that anytime soon, either.
But as soon as the hairstylist put that form in my hand, I knew immediately I wanted to grow it back just so I could be in the chair, donating it again.
After about two years, it had grown long enough to donate. But for some reason, maybe because two years did feel like a long time and I wanted to enjoy the sense that I was back to being me — the girl with the long, thick brown hair that cleans up pretty nice when you wrangle a curl or two into it — I couldn’t pull the trigger.
A year passed.
Then, on July 19, I joined a table full of women at the Idaho Press-Tribune’s table at the Snake River Stampede’s Pink on the Dirt event. The luncheon supports the rodeo’s Stampede for the Cure efforts to raise money for mammograms to diagnose breast cancer, a diagnosis one in eight women will face in their lifetime.
There I heard the story of Nicole, a mother of two who is celebrating seven years in remission. Of Danielle, a 34-year-old registered nurse and survivor who has been in remission for two years. Of Amy, a two-sport College of Idaho athlete who received her breast cancer diagnosis at age 20, 10 years younger than I am now.
Of Jodie, Roberta, Melissa, Myra, Mary, Esperanza and Brenda, who all faced down breast cancer on terms of their own.
The survivors allowed the audience to get a glimpse of their battle, of how radiation weakened their bodies and chemotherapy stole their hair from them at the most vulnerable time of their life.
Survivors at my table teared up to these stories while remembering their own, and I absentmindedly reached up to the back of my neck. I twirled my hair, a subconscious habit I do dozens of times a day, and had a feeling it was time.
On Saturday, I blew a fuse blow drying my hair, and my whole apartment went dark.
OK, universe. I feel you.
On Monday I visited my favorite salon, The Chair in downtown Meridian, Idaho and my favorite hairstylist, Jessi, who has helped me stay patient and keep growing it out over the last three years. She chopped.
This time I’m donating my 9 inches of hair to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program, which donates wigs to women fighting cancer so they can feel like themselves again.
It’s something I hope to do over and over again — grow it out, chop, grow it out, chop — as long as I’m able.
Because at the end of the day, my long hair is one tiny element of my identity. I’m hopeful my donations can play a small part in helping the women facing cancer rightfully take back theirs.
Christina Lords is the assistant editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @IPTLords.