Somebody once recognized me based on the illustrated portrait that runs next to this column. “Are you that Caroline?” they asked, “the YDN columnist?” I was both flattered and genuinely surprised that someone cared enough about these columns to retain a mental picture of me. For this person, this little sketch — head tilt, bangs, wavy hair — was a very real dimension of who I was on the page, in addition to my thoughts and musings printed every other week. Yet, over spring break I pretty much wrote off the possibility of future celebrity spottings of myself by chopping off (technically, having someone professionally chop off) an unknown but significant number of inches of my hair.
When people ask me why I went from past my shoulders to just below my ears, I respond that it was an impetuous decision that should have been less impetuous. I woke up excited to have my dead ends trimmed, possibly a bit more, though I wasn’t quite sure how much. Short hair, don’t care was not my manifesto; it was just time for a trim. Well, I now own pairs of earrings that are longer than my hair. Watching myself become unrecognizable in the mirror in front of me as the minutes and inches quickly passed brought me to tears while sitting in the salon chair, bits of hair still drifting to the floor. To be fair, it was really more like full on sobbing. My mother had to bring a bottle of wine to the salon the next day in apology for the scene I’d made. After the whole tearful affair, my aunt reminded me: “You’re not a Barbie doll. Hair grows back.”
It was a wonderful observation, one that I’d really believed had been my attitude going into the whole thing — it’s just hair, right? But it turned out I felt differently. Multiple people have told me that this haircut was a “brave” thing to do. Let me assure you that I did not wake up on the last Saturday of spring break feeling brave. It was more like a mild sense of being ready to try something different.
Really, though, this isn’t about hair but about the desire for and tolerance of shocking changes. While a compulsive planner and organizer, I also pride myself on my ability to embrace spontaneity. This haircut tested this perception of myself. This grappling with change manifested itself in small and silly ways. I stopped sending snapchats because I couldn’t look at pictures of myself that didn’t look anything like me. It took a few showers to figure out the right amount of shampoo to use, a few nights to realize that I really couldn’t go to bed with wet hair and expect my hair to take on a normal looking shape when I woke up. I’ve found that I’m much colder without the extra insulation.
I tried to think of other drastic changes I’ve had to adapt to in recent memory, but aside from leaving for college, I really couldn’t think of any sudden shifts I’d had to manage. What I’d thought of as change — new friends, new interests, new sleep schedules — had really occurred through a process closer to revolution. Maybe this was why I could both maintain a self-image as tolerant of change while in practice actually easing myself into most everything.
Was this pattern something I’d intentionally orchestrated to cushion my experiences or is evolution simply the way most things naturally come to pass? There must be benefits to tolerating sudden change, the ability to acclimatize quickly to new environments, but perhaps it’s a muscle I just hadn’t exercised frequently enough for it to support this sudden shock. It’s so easy for me to avoid surprises in my day-to-day, to fall back on routines, to lean on established friendships. At the same time, I would still like to be able to switch things up a bit without bringing myself to tears.
So if shock is a healthy emotion to experience from time to time, how can I induce shock in my generally stable life without it feeling artificial or unbearably painful? My ability to achieve this in part comes down to how I define shock. It must be sudden, it must be slightly painful, it must be new, it must be un-replicable. Because of all these qualities, as difficult as it is to endure shock, it’s equally difficult to engineer it. As I adjust to the me you don’t see in the picture by my name, I’m realizing that perhaps the strategies that enabled me to get the haircut in the first place are the best strategies for embracing shock in general. You can’t plan for shock, rather it’s an aftereffect of risk.
Caroline Sydney is a junior in Silliman College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at email@example.com .