My Surprisingly Complex Relationship with My Ponytails

The first time my hair was long enough to put into a ponytail, I was about seven years old.

Before then, my parents had always cut my hair short. I presume this was because shorter hair is easier to manage. I was not old enough to be bothered about it either way.

When I was seven, however, my nanny (who I think preferred ‘traditional’ female aesthetics) encouraged me to grow my hair out. When it became long enough, she put it into pigtails, half-up-half-down styles, plaits, and that all-important standard, the ponytail.

When we moved house and stopped seeing our nanny, my ponytails seemingly went with her. I can’t say I minded. By this time I was nine or ten, and I had started to develop a strong preference for non-ponytail hairstyles, as I preferred how my face looked when my hair framed it.

Then, when I was eleven, I cut my hair quite short. For several years after that, my hair was once again too short to do much more with than make little plaits along the top. I used to really enjoy doing that.

I started to grow my hair out again when I was about fifteen, and was getting invested in things like highlights and hair straighteners. This was also when I got my first part-time job at a fern barn style restaurant, which required me to, on occasion, put my hair in a ponytail.

Fifteen is the pinnacle age for self-doubt and unkind thoughts about one’s appearance, and I was so very unhappy about how I looked at the best of times. But by now my previous preference for non-pony styles had morphed into an absolute HATRED for my ponytails and all they stood for. I honestly felt as though the single act of tying my hair back made me at least four times uglier than I looked with my hair down.

I used to try and do things at work like wear half-up-half-down styles, frame my face with so many of the fringe-y bits that the point of the ponytail (to stop my hair from contaminating the food) became moot, and pull the ponytail out when serving customers, before pulling it up again when returning to the kitchen (a massive waste of time as much as anything else). I used to argue with my managers and try to get special permission to wear my hair down, I’d bring it up in meetings, I’d try to swap shifts with people who were doing jobs that didn’t require wearing ponytails… I could go on. I know my co-workers were sick of it, and some small part of me recognised how silly and childish I was being, but honestly, I couldn’t help myself. I was so insecure about my ponytails that I was willing to fight to the overdramatic death to not have to wear one.

And then, with the mellowing out that happens to all of us when we stop being overdramatic teenagers, I got over it. I still didn’t like how my ponytails looked, but it became such that the need to have my hair out of my face was more important than the need for me to look my nicest. Ponytails were now a thing of unfortunate-looking, but practical, necessity. Much like a pair of old wellington boots.

This feeling continued for most of my twenties, with my convenience vs attractiveness barometer swaying back and forth at random intervals. My ponytails were in when the barometer swayed towards convenience, and they disappeared whenever appearance mattered more. I grew to accept my ponytails, and maybe even like them a little, for the purpose they served, but I never thought of them as an attractive thing. Not on me, at least.

But then, earlier this year, I started to see my ponytails in a different way. I noticed that when my hair is in a ponytail, it has a buoyant sort of cuteness about it (I’d almost call it ‘youthful’). I began looking in the bathroom mirror and seeing my ponytail peeking out from behind my head like a soft, blonde waterfall, and it makes me smile. I discovered that whenever I quickly turned my head, the end of my ponytail would lightly brush against the opposite side, feeling thicker and bouncier than when I wear it down.

Without quite realising that it was happening, I was now seeing my ponytails as something beautiful.

Not only that, but they were beautiful because I had noticed things about them that I liked. The more things I noticed, the prettier they became to me. It was the same sort of gradual, constantly solidifying affection that one derives from a dependable partner, family member, or friend.

Except it’s a hairstyle.

My feelings towards my ponytails will probably change again as time goes on. Maybe I will grow to love them even more. Or, perhaps, they will betray me in some way and I will do away with them like last night’s pizza. Who knows? But whatever happens, it seems that my ponytails will be staying around for a long time yet.

Now hand me that hair tie.

Posted by Gillian

Hello. My name is Gillian Brown. I'm a freelance writer living in the UK, with an Australian accent to offer as a starting point of conversation. As a writer, my main areas of interest are social activism, ethical consumption, linguistics, comedy, and marketing. My other interests include dancing, tabletop role-playing, crocheting and cooking.

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