But although I technically had the free time to care about my hair, I didn’t have the mental space to worry about it. Pulling apart split ends during Zoom calls became my new hobby. She grew up in the rigid Taiwanese school system, which enforced hair lengths and uniforms, and to her, it was improper for little girls to have hair longer than shoulder length. When I worked in the financial-consulting world, long hair wasn’t seen as professional. It made me a little sad seeing my hair drop to the floor to be swept away. Then came the pandemic, and I stayed home and stopped getting haircuts. Hair ghost said, “Have you seen Kylie Jenner’s hair closet? On my Instagram, people started telling me I looked like Rapunzel or a mermaid, even though I was becoming concerned that I looked more like a sister-wife. I scanned a check to do a bank deposit and had to do it again because I found a hair in the picture. Surely, there are worse problems to have during a pandemic. During the loneliness of lockdown, it felt soothing to pet myself sometimes. Once, I got a chunk caught in the zipper of my coat and had to cut it out, and I swear I could feel the hair ghost getting sulky. By Kathleen Hou
Photo: Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection
When I was little, I really wanted butt-length hair — hair like Ariel’s in The Little Mermaid or Estella’s from Great Expectations. My hair was a cape. But I’m here to tell you that Amy was a savage and that in real life, having butt-length hair is like being haunted by a ghost whose star sign is Leo: You don’t want to give it any extra attention, but you don’t have any choice in the matter. Was it the beginning of an allergic reaction? There are no female CEOs with long hair, unless they work in philanthropy (like Laurene Powell Jobs). For the first few months, I loved it. “You know what I jokingly call superlong hair?” asked my hairstylist, Dhiran Mistry at David Mallett, as he snipped. But I wasn’t always the best hair mom. Another time, I got trapped in a hoodie because I thought a tangle was an arm opening. The more I tried to forget about my hair, the more it cried out for attention. My head felt as if it were a thousand degrees hotter whenever I sweated. A friendly ghost in my new apartment? I could flick my hair, like an indolent, spoiled cat flicking its tail, to make a point. I’ve had to endure all the “I’ve told you so” comments from my mother, but it does feel good to remove one small, petty worry from an extensive list and clean up fewer hair balls. Maybe Amy March’s cries of “Oh, Jo, how could you? Plus, I know hair grows. So a few weeks ago, I cut it off to a shoulder-grazing style. 1 hater. If I want, I can have long hair again in a year or so. I had done it, and without having to eat gummy vitamins like candy or choke down hundreds of giant hair pills. I thought it was the essence of prettiness. But I also kept envisioning the Ghostbusters using their Neutrona Wands to gently bring my dramatic hair ghost into their ghost trap. Every night, I had to fan out my hair and make sure it was settled, or else I would roll onto it and wake up with a sore scalp. My mom was my dream’s No. My mom had less oversight over my beauty decisions as I got older, yet my long-hair dreams were still difficult to achieve. Really, long hair is a professional asset only if you’re in entertainment, like Kim Kardashian or Nicki Minaj, and even their butt-length hair is a temporary style whim thanks to extensions and weaves. I didn’t really think about my forgotten childhood dreams until I noticed a weird tickle on my back one day. My hair was a nonprehensile tail. To actually grow long, beautiful hair from your head, you have to cultivate it. Your one beauty!” haunt you every time you get a haircut. I was a modern-day Empress Sisi, the Austrian royal famed for her abundant hair. If I did jumping jacks, the ends would smack me in the face, whiplash style. I baked an olive-oil cake and found a strand in it (so much for sharing it with friends). No, it was my hair, which now officially reached my tailbone. When I was a teen, she told me the more hair you get cut during a haircut, the better value it is. “Toilet-bowl length.” I felt a flash of relief: Thank the hair gods, my ends have never dipped into a toilet. I had to Swiffer after every workout because of how much hair was left on the floor. It snarled at me one day when I turned too quickly and got caught on my friend’s zippered book bag. I was appalled but secretly thrilled. Maybe you had the same dream. I also had to wash my hair practically every day or else it had a veritable odor. It’s a status symbol, but what it says is “I have incredible amounts of free time.”
So even when I finally left the corporate world to pursue writing, I never had a period of time when my hair could grow unencumbered. The hair ghost’s response to that: “Smooth.”
And the ghost was a bad sleeper. It takes real effort, making it a powerful signifier of impracticality, extra-ness, and leisure. I wish I was there.”
It also started to fight back. But my hair was turning into an additional, spectral being whose sole responsibility and care fell to me, and being neither rich nor a woman of leisure, I wasn’t sure I could properly care for a dependent (or two, if you include my skin, which I indulgently spoil as part of my job). I spent most of the summer Citi Biking, and my hair was like a wet towel by the time I arrived at a destination. She also dreaded having to detangle my hair knots and had no interest in playing with my hair or giving me the ribbon braids or elaborate fishtail braids I begged for. But maybe this time, I’d be better suited to a bra-length hair ghost — maybe one who’s more of a Libra. Every inch must be literally conditioned. In the end, unlike Slimer, it went quietly. Brushing my hair felt like a spa experience. Why have the hairstylist “dust” your ends when you could really make him work for his money and give you a Little Orphan Annie haircut?