By Ryan Heilman
Why is my hair so long? The joke answer I always give is, “Because I haven’t cut it in four years.” I stopped doing that up here after somebody responded by leering at me and shouting, “Oh, you’re real funny!” (And people ask me why I’m transferring schools.) That answer might seem like kind of a cop-out, but it feels a bit more complete than just saying, “Because I like the way it looks.”
I know why I grew it out in the first place. In tenth grade, I became very enamored of 80s glam metal. Motley Crüe, Twisted Sister, Skid Row, Guns n’ Roses, all those guys. They all had long hair, and I thought it looked pretty damn cool. The makeup and fishnet outfits, not so much, but the hair was great. Then my dad started passing along older stuff. The Who, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin also had long hair, and it looked even cooler on them. I suppose I figured it would be cool to have my own style, too, since no guys I knew wore their hair long. I wasn’t really trying to stand out, though. That just became one of the reasons to keep it long.
It looked so stupid at first. There are pictures on Facebook of when I had only just started to grow it. One of my friends put it best when she said I looked like “an out-of-work news reporter.” But I stuck with it, and it looked better and better over time, at least to me.
The longer it grew, the more I liked it. My glam-metal phase died down a little bit after a year, but I had only just begun to grow my hair, and I found that I suddenly enjoyed music a lot more with it. Before Willow Smith was whipping her hair back and forth, people were headbanging, and I loved it. I can’t really describe how it feels to suddenly have physical evidence of your happiness swinging around your face while you move to music. I can’t sit down and listen to music anymore—I have to be moving. Even though my headphones pin my hair to my head, I can still feel it moving, and it’s so gratifying. Kind of like proof that I’m happy.
By the end of my high school career, I was so sick of everything to do with high school. The kids were violent and stupid, the teachers were jaded and broke, and I was just exhausted. I kind of forgot about my hair during this period. I was so wrapped up in finishing school
that I didn’t really devote much attention to it. That is, until one day, when I was walking home, I passed a line of kids getting onto a bus and heard, “Hey, there’s that long-haired kid.”
I wasn’t terribly popular in high school. I had a few good friends and was perfectly satisfied with them. I didn’t do anything extra-curricular, much to my parents’ chagrin. I didn’t excel at anything. I basically did nothing to be noticed, and I was perfectly alright with that. But now, some kid I had never met in my life recognized me. He didn’t know me, but he knew of me. Out of a sea of my fellow under-performing nobodies, I was recognizable. I was memorable. That still sustains me. When I’m being introduced to people, they tell me they’ve seen me walking around campus.
I still don’t do anything worth mentioning, but I’m visible anyway. It’s not always positive attention. People have made comparisons between me and women more than once. But it’s never really bothered me because I know they’re still going to remember me. I mean, what about you, tough guy? Short hair with the camo jacket? Boy, are you ever going to be remembered. I might not do anything incredible while I’m in college, but even if I don’t, people are still going to recognize me. “Hey, there’s that long-haired headphone guy.” You’re damn right.
So, why do I wear my hair long? It’s a statement, sure. It’s fun to throw around. It looks really good when I bother to comb it. But I think I keep it like this because it’s just my hairstyle. Whenever I’m asked when I plan to cut it—in various tones of suggestion—I always say I’ll cut it when I don’t like the way it looks anymore. It’s been getting a bit wild lately, but I still like the way it looks. I could make some bullshit metaphor about how wearing it loose represents freedom or whatever, and cutting it short is like cutting your soul’s flight short or something stupid like that. But really, I just imagine having short hair and it makes me unhappy. Is there a better reason?