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Anicca & Anatta

“Don’t cut your hair, and it’ll be a good one.” This is what my host family in Sakor told me via their phone translator after I showed them photos from home.

All my life, I’ve only ever known long hair; long, wavy, blonde locks, spiraling all the way down to my mid-back. As far as I knew, that is how it’d always be. I never planned to cut my hair. And that is the Melanie my host sisters saw in the pictures: big blue eyes and long blonde hair.

Today, my hair resembles a curly, blonde mop that sets atop my head. My junior year of high school, my hair almost met its untimely fate; I somehow managed to create a giant knot that engulfed my entire head, which almost meant doomsday for my hair. I came to terms with the fact that I had to shave my head. I started to read articles about women empowerment from women who have shaved their heads to try to comfort myself.

Then came the torment. If it wasn’t enough that I was going through my own mini crisis with my hair, I could rely on others to add to the misery. It seems the whole school found out about my knot. People would approach me, asking if they could touch “it”. My friends jokingly asked if they could shave my head for me, and they told me they’d pay me to wear wigs to school. It was a big laugh for everyone else.

The situation was pretty hilarious, I will admit, because it was just completely and utterly absurd. Of all people, of course I would be the one to get stuck with this rat’s nest of hair.

But it was scarring, too. I was so afraid to cut my hair, let alone shave it all off. My hair was my identity, my mark of femininity. It showed I was a girl, and it made me look pretty. If I ever felt ugly, at least I had my hair to hide behind.

In the end, I was able to salvage most of my hair so that it looked somewhat normal. It ended up in two drastic layers, where the top layer just barely covered the bald spot under which the bottom layer started. My hair stayed this way for the next two years.

On September 19, 2019, I shaved my head, the day before I left for Chile for the first phase of my gap year. I no longer wanted my hair to define me. I no longer wanted to assign my hair meaning. I no longer wanted to hide. With or without my hair, I wanted to show myself I could still be who I am, feel like a girl, be feminine. I did not want to be attached to my hair.

During the homestay, Noam taught a Buddhism lesson about anicca and anatta. Anicca, or impermanence, states that everything is always constantly changing, that nothing remains in the same condition forever. Anatta, or non-self, is the concept that no object has true essence or meaning. Together, these two ideas contribute to the idea of non-attachment, or detaching oneself from desire because attachment only causes dukkha, or suffering. Monks and nuns shave their heads for this reason, too, to detach from their hair.

When I put two and two together and realized that letting go of your hair is a form of detachment, I felt empowered. Giving it a name has helped me to make meaning. It has shaped my values and inspired me to live a more genuine life, one that prioritizes experiences and people over materials and looks.

I am happier now with my blonde mop than I ever was before.