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Evidently, hair matters more than I previously thought. I’ve learned this since I decided to grow my super-short hair into a longer style. I’m nine months into this project. By no means would anyone call my hair long, but it is certainly longer. Although it hasn’t hit a stage that I consider The Ultimate, I must admit that it is kinder to my large and aging features.

That’s not just my opinion. Pretty much everyone from my Mom to the guys I work out with at the gym agree that longer hair is an improvement. In fact, so many people (women AND men) have weighed in on the topic that I can’t help wondering why a group of my closest friends didn’t stage an intervention. (Well, there was that one time when I mentioned the possibility of growing it and a friend encouraged me by reminding me that I was no Audrey Hepburn.)

It matters not that I have teetered on the brink of insanity for nine months while my hair has been growing. The world is happier because I have hair. So you—whoever you are— are probably reading this and realizing that yes, yes, you do feel much better than you did nine months ago, though you hadn’t quite pinpointed the origin of your contentment. Know this: it is all because of my longer hair. Yes, much time, labor and money has been sacrificed on your behalf.

Maybe you’re just a short hair fan who is considering the challenge of growing your hair. If so, here’s the hair-growth strategy that has brought me thus far.

Get a good stylist.

How do I love Kate Roth? Let me count the ways. I could never have come this far without my stylist. Kate kept me trimmed and optimistic about forging ahead. And because Kate is also a writer of romance novels and a committed solo entrepreneur who is never, ever going to work for The Man again in her life, I looked forward to seeing her for each appointment. We have so much to talk about that my hair is almost an aside. I made a new friend while growing my hair. (If you live in Indy, you can use Kate, too.)

I checked in with Kate every five to six weeks for small tweaks. At one point, things were going so well that I allowed nine weeks to pass without seeing her. When I returned, we really had something to work with. If you reach a stage where you are tolerating growth, delay your appointment schedule and use the time to gain momentum toward your new style.

Accept the present.

(Getting ready for a family wedding in Ohio this summer. Fluffy hair for the first time in decades.)

During the first three months, you’re going to crave your old cut like an alcoholic needs a drink. Your hair is not what it once was, and it’s nowhere close to your goal. When you’re tempted to throw in the towel, give it another week, then two. Even a few millimeters of growth can change everything. Do your best to accept your hair in the moment, just as it is. Think your yoga thoughts. You may think it’s a mess, but the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way.

Wear hats.

If you don’t have hats, take yourself shopping as a reward for the challenge you’ve accepted. I am currently at a stage of growth that only a hat can solve. When I was in Boston last month, I stumbled across the famed Salmagundi Hat Shop in Jamaica Plain and splurged on an asymmetrical fedora in burgundy wool. (They had a staggering 12,000 hats in their inventory. I allowed myself only one.) Until I reach the next plateau, I’m donning a hat almost every day—inside and out. 

“Even indoors?” you ask. Listen, dear sister: if you’ve worn extremely short hair, by now you should be accustomed to receiving sidelong glances. Give ‘em something interesting to gawk at. That’s my motto. The only time you are obligated to remove your hat is when it impedes someone’s view at a public performance or event. Otherwise, consider it part of your outfit. Hats are a beautiful solution to hide a growing style. Choose one that compliments your face and you’ll ask yourself why you even bother with hair.

Take out a small loan for hair tools and products.

(One of my bad hair days, but an otherwise good day with Indiana’s former poet laureate, Joyce Brinkman. I used pomade and tucked my hair behind the ears.)

I don’t know how much I’ve spent on hair products since I began the growth process. If I knew, I’m afraid the cost-benefit analysis might tempt me to abort this mission. When you wear short hair, most of your beauty budget goes to haircuts. That changes when you begin to grow.

You’ll need tools and products—lots of them. Blow dryers, brushes, combs, curling irons, flat irons, curlers, headbands, shampoos, conditioners, creams and sprays—all things I had no use for when my hair was short. Some of them will work. Some won’t. I try not to grieve over the money. Growing your hair is an adventure, and like all adventures, it doesn’t come without a cost.

(An embarrassing tsunami of praise after I updated my Facebook profile with this photo.)

Embrace change.

Growing my hair has been less about appearances than you might think. For me, it was about proving to myself that I have the discipline to make a change and tough things out.

When you reach middle age, you have a stronger sense of who you are and what’s right for you. What other people think of you matters less. That’s a good trait until it’s not anymore.

I started growing my hair because I wondered if there might be something better for me than the cut that had defined me for decades. Sometimes you have to chuck old ideas and habits before you can change. At a minimum, you must consider the possibility that you’ve been wrong about everything. Otherwise, you end up like Loretta.

I worked with Loretta in one of my first jobs after college during the early 1980s. A gorgeous brunette with a Brooklyn accent, Loretta was my mother’s age, and she wore a bouffant style straight out of the 1960s, just like her heavily-painted brows, eyeliner and cat-eye glasses. There is no doubt that Loretta had once rocked this look, but twenty-five years later, she was a caricature of her former self. Studying Loretta, I made a mental note: never grow so attached to a look that you can’t give it up.

If you’re in the thick of growing your hair, hang in there. Perhaps you’ll find a new style that feels authentic to you at this stage in life. Perhaps you won’t.

I’m still reluctant about where my project is headed. Is it possible that I’ll get a year into the project and cut it all off? I might. I’ve done it before. I’m grateful to everyone who has encouraged and cajoled me through the process, but with all due respect to your aesthetic sensibilities, my hair is not for you.

Yes, it is softer and more feminine with a little more length on it, but don’t be surprised if I backtrack. If I do, I probably won’t revert to my old style. It’ll be something more like this:

My eau de toilette (as my husband calls my morning prep time) is a good 45 minutes longer than before. My hair is not easy to style. I love wearing it short because it frees time for things I value more than my appearance.

Even if it isn’t my most winning look, I hope my ultra-short hair has always reflected what my closest friends know about me: I’m often practical. I avoid superficial things. And I have a tendency to resist conforming to a tight mold that someone else has handed me.

Friends and readers, feel free to suggest a style for me! I’m still surveying options that might work with my severe cowlicks and fine texture.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.