Katie Strauss' personal essay/memoir called "Buzzed" received a National Gold Medal from the Scholastic Writing Awards! All state-level Gold Key Award winners are eligible for National Award consideration.
Katie not only placed in the National Awards—she won the highest honor!
I eased into the hairdresser’s chair as she draped a cape around my torso. She tore off a length of tissue from a roll and secured it around my neck to prevent hair from getting into my t-shirt. Rock music blared out of the speakers and filled the musty air, the shrill sounds of electric guitar adding to the punk rock ambience of the hair salon. The walls were painted black, but you could hardly tell because of all the posters and stickers plastered everywhere. The room smelled of shampoo and chemicals, like any good hair salon.
“What kind of haircut do you want?” The hair stylist asked, running her black painted nails through my hair.
“I just want it really short. I’m sick of it.” I sighed with disgust and looked at my over-bleached hair, arms draped at my sides under the cape. It had been a great idea to bleach my hair a few months ago, and even though it did suit me, it was time to go back to my normal self, to start afresh.
“Do you want my honest opinion?” She asked, and I nodded. “You’d look killer with a buzz cut. You may not trust my opinion, but I think we should do it.” A smile spread across my face and I nodded furiously. The idea was one that had crossed my mind, but I never spoke it aloud. As a young child I was taught that women had long hair, and that was what was beautiful. Disney princesses, actresses, singers, everyone the world thought was beautiful had long hair. I didn’t realize that whether or not hair makes one pretty is entirely up to the person with the hair. If I truly believed I could be beautiful with close to no hair, then I would be.
Hours and hours I’d spent, scrolling through the depths of Pinterest, admiring the bold faces of women and girls who’d sheared off their hair. They looked free, happy, beautiful. Not just physically beautiful, but beautiful everywhere. Their confidence spilling out from the gleam in their eyes.
The hairdresser smiled at me and flipped on the clippers, the attachment set to number three. She rolled up the sleeves of her fluorescent windbreaker, counted to three and pressed the clippers to the front of my hairline, dragging all the way back. The sensation tickled and itched slightly, but it was a feeling I enjoyed.
I stared at myself in the mirror and giggled at the pure hilarity of a buzzed strip in the center of my head. As I watched chunks of hair fall to the floor, a feeling of pure freedom encompassed my entire body. The history of my hair, the blue, the purple, the bleach, the cutting the dying, it was gone. I was starting over. The past three years, my hair had been an outlet. Like almost all other teenagers, I’d get angry or sad or not know who I was. I needed to feel something, anything, so I’d change my hair. The chemicals of bleach and dye and toner became a ritual. A normality. This ritual temporarily subdued the empty, concave feeling in my chest.
The hairdresser’s black lined eyes stayed glued to my head, looking up every now and then and making eye contact with me through the mirror, both of us smiling contentedly.
The buzzing continued as the hairdresser worked her way around my head, switching the attachment on the clippers from a three to a one as she got to the nape of my neck, then working her way back up.
Once she finally turned off the razor, she unbuttoned the hairdresser smock and peeled off the tissue tied around my neck. I stood up and looked closer in the mirror. It’s all gone, I thought to myself. My smile hadn’t faded since the hairdresser first suggested the buzz cut. I explored my new haircut with my fingers. My head felt so smooth and delicate, as though I could feel the wind and cold better. I didn’t stop touching my freshly buzzed head as I walked over to my mom, who was perched in one of the waiting chairs by the door. She bolted upright and embraced me tightly.
“You’ve never looked so much like yourself,” she whispered in my ear.
I hugged her back harder, then turned on my heel and fished a ten dollar bill out of my pocket. As I handed the hairdresser the bill I said as earnestly as physically possible, “Thank you.” I had never meant one “thank you” more than I did that one at that moment.
I felt beautiful. A word I’d never use to describe myself.
I stepped out onto the sidewalk, wind brushing my face. Cars rolled past, the rough sounds of their engines rumbling by. None of them knew that I had finally felt comfortable with who I was. I wasn’t the least bit self conscious that you could see my whole head, my ears, and my neck. I was relieved. I wasn’t hiding anymore. A haircut was more than a haircut to me. It was an expression of who I was.