What We Talk About When We Talk About My Ponytail

My ponytail is a permanent fixture that I will not be giving up anytime soon. I have had a love / hate relationship with it for decades. It has caused me literal pain, and I have had it cut off in desperate times. Sometimes I have worn a ponytail so much that when I finally take out the ponytail holder, my hair stays back. I have been grateful for my ponytail when I have hit the snooze button too many times and am running late. But it is more than a hairstyle and as I turned the corner into mid-40’s this year, I have really begun to absorb the full impact of what my ponytail really means to me.

There are several things we are talking about when we talk about my ponytail.

  • I am talking about where I choose to spend my time. Spoiler alert – I do not like to spend my time doing my hair. Honestly, I don’t even really want to brush it every day. So sometimes I don’t. Don’t get me started on washing it. Sometimes between how long it takes to dry and the fact that I am a sweat hog, it feels like my super thick hair does not fully dry between May and October. So to undertake a wash which requires blowdrying is sometimes more than I can stomach.
  • I am talking about doing what I am good at. And newsflash – it ain’t hair. And don’t tell me I just need to practice with it. I am not a girl who wants to practice with any beauty products. I do not want to “get good” at blowing out my hair. I just don’t give a shit about it. And I am done spending my free time doing things I don’t give a shit about. This is where Sustainable Sue asks the important question: Is this something you could do the rest of your life? And perhaps the more valuable question: is this something you WANT to do for the rest of your life? Part of what sustainability means to me is filling my time with activities that boost my soul. And never once have I felt calm and fulfilled when using a round brush. In fact, I threw out my round brush once I cut it out of my tangle of knotted hair.
  • I am talking about expectations. Specifically not spending time doing something just to meet the expectations of anyone else. I am a recovering people pleaser. I have a visceral response to thoughts of failing every hair dresser I have been to because I show up with my hair in a ponytail. No matter what the hair length or style, I come to my appointment in a pony tail. I feel like a failure because I have not maintained the look they gave me. A part of me feels like I need to get a blow out to go get my hair cut. But then I would be cheating on my hair dresser, and that would also hurt her feelings. It’s exhausting. Let me tell you what a mentor said to me about being a people pleaser, “OK, great Susan. Now where are all the pleased people?” Ouch.

Perhaps the more valuable question:

Is this something you WANT to do for the rest of your life?

  • I am talking about being comfortable. I have reached an age where I ditch the work heels for Danskos. I quit being so damn cold and just bundle up in a coat, hat, scarf, and mittens instead of looking cute when I’m outside. I just want to be comfortable, and my ponytail supports that. It understands me. It helps me look professional when I pull it into a low pony for the office. It just gets outta the way when it migrates to the top of my head to garden. Being comfortable is also a part of what makes me beautiful.
  • I am talking about feeling beautiful. My hair does not define my femininity, nor make me beautiful. I listened to the This is Us Too podcast episode from Oct 4, 2019, when Mary talked about the time she cut her hair off. Her husband compared her long-haired before to Idina Menzel and her pixie cut after to Hugh Grant.┬áHonestly, this pissed me off. Having long perfectly styled long hair does not make me beautiful any more than having short hair makes me ugly. When I am comfortable, I am sure I come across more confident. When I am not fidgeting with my hair I can focus on things like the actual conversation we are having.
Notice the dents in my hair where I took out the ponytail holder moments before school pictures were snapped. Not to mention the flyaway wing dings and cowlicks.
  • I am talking about doing hard things. I remember being in early elementary school when my mom decided I would be doing my own hair going forward. Trying to pull a ponytail holder through my rats nest and loop it around to secure my mop made it feel like my hands were not coordinating with my brain. But I did it. And I got better at it. I hear some of you saying, “See, you DID practice.” No, this was necessity. No way was I going to school with my hair down – especially if it was a PE day! No way was my mom doing it for me – that baton had been handed off. Those first few weeks were rough, yo. Lumpy bubbles of hair snarls. Escaped sections falling down or never making it into the pony tail holder. But I did it. Like I tell my kids – just because something is hard doesn’t mean we don’t do it.
  • I am talking about my style. I went through a stage where I needed to have a “grown up” hairstyle. At the time I felt that because I had the same pony tail as I did when I was in elementary school, I was presenting myself as immature. So I had it cut off. Short. Like by a lady who worked in a barber shop. She only did men’s hair. And mine. This was “professional and grown up Susan” – or so I thought. When I interviewed for a job with that cut, someone later told me that I “looked very severe, like a Scandinavian prison matron.” I don’t want to present myself to the world as severe and unapproachable. Now I see lots of women my age and older who wear a pony tail on the regular. I don’t think any less of them. Some are incredibly accomplished professionals. Some have all gray or stark white ponytails. The common thread is that they are comfortable in their own skin. And if we go back to the Sustainable Sue litmus test: is this something you WANT to do for the rest of your life? The answer would be a resounding HELL YEAH!

But there is one thing we are not talking about when we talk about my ponytail.

More importantly, there are things my ponytail cannot do. I mean seriously – it is just HAIR!

  • My hair does not speak for me. I went through a period of life where I felt like I was invisible to the people around me. I was really struggling and would make jokes about my struggle, but no one really saw me, including my husband. So I decided to have my hair cut off to shock him into noticing. He did not comment. Not even to say he hated it. Needless to say that did not help me feel understood. And I reached a tipping point where I did not want that despair to be something I felt for the rest of my life. It was unsustainable for me. Turns out I had to actually tell him how I felt instead of having my hair communicate for me.

What are you doing (or not doing) because of the expectations of others? What answer does your heart and gut give you if you ask, “is this something I WANT to do for the rest of my life?