I’ve been offline. Or as offline as someone who works in social media can be. Somewhere around my site hitting 14k hits in a single day, somewhere around seeing my face appear over and over again on my Twitter feed, somewhere around co-worker #8 coming up to me in the kitchen and saying, “I SAW YOU ON BUZZFEED,” I needed a break. I needed a Xanax, and then I needed a break.
I’m someone who cares a lot about control, and when your story goes viral, you lose that control. You give up your inbox (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.) to the stories of strangers, both welcome and overwhelming. You watch the photo your friend took of you in the W4th subway station become the catnip of MRAs to discuss your ugliness. You make a Facebook status saying you’re unplugging while you deal with anxiety, and then you receive a wave of concerned “I’m here if you need anything” text messages from acquaintances who don’t understand that what you need most is silence. You find loud noises—the booming microphones at the staff retreat, the club music from the bar near your apartment—suffocating. I knew what a media wave would mean: a wave of attention, support, scrutiny, positive exposure, and potential panic attacks. I decided to do the What’s Underneath interview, and then the BuzzFeed interview, anyway. I knew what I was getting myself into, completely.
Knowing it’s coming doesn’t make it any less terrifying.
Something happened last weekend, two days post-BuzzFeed and five days post-What’s Underneath: I woke up on Sunday morning and looked in the mirror and saw a headline, not myself. When you do emotional labor like I do, you carve parts of yourself off and offer those carvings to the world in an attempt to make it a better place. It’s a liberating sacrifice. Publishing each collection of words that contain the worst months of my life is like throwing coins into a fountain with the wish that I will feel lighter afterward. Those pieces of myself are fodder for Facebook comments, but they’re also bright lights at the end of so many millions of tunnels. I’m a herpes hope beacon. That article on BuzzFeed did a lot of good, if the wonderful and salt-soaked contents of my inboxes are anything to judge by. But there is always a cost to good.
I’d been thinking about cutting my hair for a while. A few months ago I started a Pinterest board for cute bobs and sent around ideas to my friends for feedback. Most of my female friends chopped off all their hair this summer and made it sound amazing: fewer battles with Manhattan sweat, fewer tangles, more freedom. Bobs are all the rage in Brooklyn right now, messy and effortless. Every subway car was another pin, another potential look.
My long hair was a big part of my identity, although I’d never given it much serious thought. I wanted a lion’s mane. Countless lovers over the years commented on my furious, curly mop of hair, praising its difficulty and presence. It became a shield after I got diagnosed, something to push in and out of my face, to rearrange and fuss with and shove back as I danced at parties. At some point my hair and how it looked was a barometer of how desirable I felt. I couldn’t function when my hair was greasy. I just couldn’t. Senior year I constantly annoyed my roommates by debating with myself, “Can I go another day? Is it really that dirty?” When I looked in the mirror last Sunday morning, I also saw an old self I’d outgrown: the ex-girlfriend. My long hair was another attempt to hang onto what was, to the loves I refused to let go of because because they meant validation. Validation I don’t need anymore.
Simply put: my reflection looked like who I had been then, not who I am now. I had aggregated the fuck out of my past, and I was ready to start being in the present. If I wanted to look like myself, I had to figure out who I am now.
This is my way of saying I cut off most of my hair. And it feels really, really good.