Monday, August 25, 2014

"Hair"rowing Tales

Like many fans, I was shocked and saddened by the sudden announcement that Ghibli studios would be closing down and then relieved when a friend informed me mere hours later that they were only restructuring, and then sad again when I learned it was due to Miyazaki retiring (for realz this time). Ghibli has touched the hearts of many the world over with their stunning visuals, masterful storytelling, and progressive, believable, characters.

One could write multiple essays about just one movie let alone all of them, but there is one theme that has become especially relevant in my life recently. I will describe it thusly:

The pattern is very apparent: main characters with long hair tend to lose it by the end of the movie. The metaphor for character development and loss of innocence and childhood is made stronger by most of these characters losing their hair by force: the above character's braids are literally shot off with a pistol, Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle has to sacrifice her long hair in order to find Howl, and Prince Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke cuts off his hair in a more ritualistic fashion before starting his journey away from home. However, the change is almost always taken in stride. By the time the hair is removed, the characters have already acquired the attributes befitting the symbol: self-confidence, maturity, and courage.

It wasn't until recently that I realized how much I thought of my hair in this way. My hair has been long as long as I can remember. I considered it the thing about myself I liked most and took great pride in my long, brown-golden locks that shined in the sun. I never in my life thought I would ever cut it short. I thought it was the thing that made me beautiful. No matter how hot the summer, how much shampoo and conditioner it took to keep it clean and oil-free or how much brushing it took to keep it untangled, I stubbornly refused to let more than an inch or two go at each trimming.

Sometime in High School I dove headfirst into the popularity explosion that was Japanese pop culture. Spirited Away moved me to tears. I'd never seen anything like it (although after watching Totoro I realized I'd actually seen it a long time ago in elementary school!). Around this time I became engrossed in a rail-shooter game called Panzer Dragoon: Orta- a game highly lauded as the best game of the year that no one played due to poor marketing and the stigmatizing of rail-shooters in general (Starfox forever!).

Seriously, why didn't anybody play this game?!
As a teenage girl vulnerable to romantic flights of fancy, I was drawn to the main character Orta- a girl chained up in a tower for an absurd reason who is soon rescued by one of the most bad-ass dragons ever. They then fly off together to destroy the evil empire that hunted her.

This next time I went for a haircut, I brought of picture of her along with me and asked the stylist, a friend of the family, what she thought. It was a reverse bob (front in long tapering to short in the back) with a tad sharper angle than the usual and I didn't think it was too radical. However, she thought maybe it wasn't such a good idea and I instead got my hair cut to just below my shoulders. I regretted it later. I didn't even think that maybe I wanted that hairstyle so much because it was worn by a person who fought for her freedom to reject her past and choose her own destiny.

The next radical thing I tried was to dye it blue when I was in college. I loved it, but then had to face the realities of a possible career after graduation and let it return to normal.

Recently, I've been working vigorously to lose weight and have noticed a rise in my self-esteem and self-confidence. I decided I was finally ready to appease the thirteen year-old me and get the haircut that had since nagged me in the back of my mind.

As I sat in the chair waiting for the snipping to begin, I couldn't believe how nervous I felt. There was no going back once it started and I'd have to live with it for a long time. I kept convincing myself I was ready for this change. I finally felt ready to join the ranks of Sheeta, Sophie, and Ashitaka. I didn't need my long, thick hair to hide my face and body or feel beautiful anymore, and I was sick of how it was always in my way or pulling on the back of my head like a chain.

With the sound of metal-on-metal, my hair began to fall to the floor. Pieces of my life interwoven with guilt, shame, timidness, and uncertainty were severed and swept away. As any other part of a person, I can still feel it's absence, but I'm better without it and I don't need the safety net it provided anymore.

I walked away from the salon a carefree women. I feel lighter and more like myself. I didn't get to fly with dragons or befriend a totoro, but I got there nonetheless. When I see old pictures of myself with those long, beautiful locks, I'll look on them fondly, but with no regrets.

*All screenshots belong to Studio Ghibli and Panzer Dragoon: Orta is a property of Sega*

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