I hadn't taken a "real" picture of myself in a long time. "Real" as in, not a selfie. I needed a "professional head shot quality photo" for my new school's "New Faculty" webpage, and so of course I just took my real camera (as in, not my iPhone) to school and asked one of my coworkers to take the picture of me.
It wasn't a long photo session and a few minutes later I was slipping the SD card into my laptop and taking a look at the three pictures.
My heart fell as I looked at them. They weren't bad pictures - I wasn't cross-eyed or anything - but they just weren't me - or me as I must see myself in my head. It was that jarring moment when you catch of glimpse of some stranger in a mirror or a photo and realize it's you. There was nothing wrong with the picture - a pleasant, pump, round-faced woman stared back at me, but it didn't look like me. I know I've put on a few extra pounds - I haven't been running because of a foot injury I got while training for a half marathon...and haven't replaced that exercise with something else...and I haven't been eating as well this past school year, substituting healthy food for convenience. I've been really tired, and yes, a little depressed, and frustrated with school, and it's just easy to find excuses not to eat well, or exercise well when you don't feel all that great - even when you know, on an academic level, that eating well and exercising well are the best kind of natural anti-depressants. Excuses have been far easier than a daily five-mile run and a salad for dinner...I have too much reading to do for my graduate course...my dog has been alone all day - it's not fair to her to go the gym or the track for an hour...and repeat.
I went to the bathroom to splash a little water on my face and wipe away the mascara smears from the irrational tears that forced themselves out. It just felt like the last straw in that moment. I looked at the strange woman in the mirror, and thought: "I should cut my hair." I'd been thinking about it recently, because I'm a bit bored with my hair at the moment, but in that instant, I wanted to chop it all off and start over again.
It's always the first thought I have when I'm frustrated with either something about my appearance or something else in my life: Cut my hair. Never mind that I've been planning on donating it once it's long enough. Cut it! In that instant of seeing the "real" me, something snapped inside. I was ready to just chop it off in my fruitless quest for beauty, whatever that is, as if cutting six inches off my hair could somehow make those extra pounds disappear, too. I need a change! Even though a big change is around the corner, maybe it would make my current frustrations and feelings of inadequacy as a teacher disappear, too? I know I'm leaving my current school at the end of the year, but I want to finish well. The problem with finishing well at the end of the school year is that you have already had ten months of togetherness and irritating each other and knowing far too much about one another. Lately I've been feeling wholly inadequate and uncreative, and taking the hurtful remarks of students far too much to heart. Perhaps I'll be a more interesting teacher if I cut my hair! It's not that I thought these exact thoughts, but they simmered there beneath the surface...I'm really discontent with myself right now. Something has to change. Hair. I could change my hair.
I stood looking at myself, and turned the ends up to see what my hair would look like just past chin length (I wasn't quite ready to go pixie again). It looked fine. But not really any different. It wouldn't make the extra roundness of my face or the slight tightness of the sleeves of my favorite polka-dot blouse go away. Or make me a less strict and more kind teacher - the type of teacher who can just let things go, and not feel a moral obligation to ask Table 7 to stop talking for the thousandth time that week.
The bell rang and I went through the motions of my day, The Haircut in the back of my head.
A few years ago I wrote about this same phenomenon - after I actually did chop my locks off into a pixie cut that helped subside the feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction with my looks - and my life - for about five minutes. It didn't really help change the things I was frustrated with - the small hurts that become big hurts in a small community, the dissatisfaction with my appearance. What did help those things was a lot of prayer and long runs - preferably at the same time. Change in appearance doesn't happen overnight, and change in satisfaction with one's circumstances also doesn't happen overnight. Both take hard work and discipline and will-power - three things I seem to be struggling to find the energy for recently. It's so much easier to come home and escape into a book or a show on the couch and hide from the world and its little slights and injuries.
I didn't cut off those six or seven inches - I did go to get a trim yesterday afternoon, and asked the hairdresser how many more inches I would need to make a good donation. I still need at least three or four inches, and so I resigned myself to at least another year with longer hair. Which gives me time to get my act together - both physically and mentally - so that when I do cut my hair, it's not because I'm dissatisfied with my appearance or dissatisfied with myself as a teacher or just discontented in general.
I know I would have regretted chopping my hair - and that is what I told myself all the way to the hair salon. I'm slowly learning not to make impulsive decisions, and slowly learning that my best decisions have come after months and months of thinking and praying and thinking and praying. I guess I'm growing up? It amazes me how often we have to go through the same lesson, again and again, and again. I'm feeling some of the same frustrations and deep-seated restlessness and dissatisfaction as four and half years ago, in a totally different environment, that led me to the impulsive decision to chop my hair. How often will we pass through the same valley? How often will we repeat the same pattern, and not learn the same lesson? As a teacher, if a student has not learned a concept or skill correctly the first time, it's necessary to go back and reteach it. I guess God probably knows the best pedagogical practices, and so here I am, re-doing my "exit ticket" from four years ago - except this time I didn't take the impulsive path. Maybe next time (I suspect there will probably be a next time...) I can finally climb out of the valley for good - and start learning the next hard life lesson.