I hit a little writer’s block with the “Influencer” series but I had this idea I kept thinking about so I decided to take a break and write this up while it was still fresh in my mind. I’m not going to lie: this story is long. But it also includes more than a dozen women getting significant haircuts, so I figured you wouldn’t mind. Enjoy! ~AB
Not long after I arrived for my first semester at college, in a moment of late-teenage rebellion, I had my collarbone-length dirty blonde hair chopped into a lip-length bob with short bangs and a buzzed nape and asked the stylist to dye my hair a dark shade of crimson. I felt like it made me look arty and sophisticated. The boys—and, increasingly, girls—I would bring back to my dorm room on a Friday or Saturday night all seemed to appreciate it, too, judging from the way they would nibble on my neck while we hooked up.
I became good friends—not that kind of “good”—with a girl named Samantha who was in two of my art history lectures and also lived in my building. One day while we grabbed a late lunch after class, she told me she was planning on participating in sorority rush the following semester and asked if I’d do it with her.
“No offense, Sam, but I don’t think that’s my scene.”
“Come on,” Samantha protested, “it’s not like in the movies. They do, like, charity work and stuff. And also my mom is making me do it because she loved her time in a sorority so much. And if I’m going to be one of the only Black girls at these events it would at least be nice to know there’s someone around who has my back.”
With some additional persuading, I finally agreed to join Samantha as she explored the Sisterhood of the Traveling Greek Letters. I warned her, however, that if she decided to actually join a sorority, she would be on her own.
Shortly after returning to campus for the second semester, we were informed of our rush schedule. Over the course of three evenings, we would visit every sorority at the school. Then, we’d rank our favorites, the sororities would select the candidates they liked, and we’d go on to the next round. The process would repeat a few times, narrowing each round, until we received “bids” from the house that wanted us as much as we wanted them.
I was surprised to find that Samantha had been mostly right. Though some of the sororities definitely gave off a “we have pillow fights in our underwear” sort of vibe, I found that most of them were just houses full of warm, welcoming, and intelligent young women. Over the course of rush, I actually even found myself maybe even warming to the idea of going Greek. After the final round of rush events, Samantha and I conferred and agreed to list the same top three houses on each of our bid sheets, promising that if we didn’t get into the same house we wouldn’t pledge at all. The next day as we were leaving class when both of our phones buzzed simultaneously. “Congratulations! You matched with Alpha Zeta sorority. Meet your new big sister outside the commissary at 7 p.m. tonight.”
It was our first choice, and we both got in! We squealed and hugged each other. We were both the only children in our families, but now we’d be part of a sisterhood.
I found the pledging process to be relatively painless, with almost no hazing. By the spring, Samantha and I were both officially initiated, along with the others in our pledge class, as full members of Alpha Zeta.
I was surprised by how much I liked sorority life. Sure, there were those annoying fraternity mixers with trash cans of jungle juice and archaic themes, like “golf pros and tennis hos.” Sam and I showed up to that one dressed like golf pros, and one of the brothers of Gamma Upsilon spent ten minutes trying to explain how clearly we didn’t understand the theme. But for the most part, I found sorority life to consist of volunteer work and hanging out in the chapter house with a supportive group of women I had fast come to love.
Well, most of them at least. Becky was a sophomore at the school—only one year ahead of Sam and me, but she always acted like she had some secret knowledge she just didn’t want to share with us. Shortly after our member initiation, Becky was elected to be the Alpha Zeta rush chair for the following year. She would be responsible for coordinating all of our associated events, right down to the refreshments we’d serve and the outfits we’d wear.
At our last chapter meeting of the semester, Becky took the floor. “Ladies, as you know, our school does a fall rush for sophomores who never pledged, in addition to the spring rush that both freshman and sophomores participate in. Fall rush starts October 1, so we have less than five months to prepare. I thought it might be helpful if you knew what you’ll need to get or do well before then, so I took the liberty of preparing dress code and grooming guidelines so you can have a shopping list when you head home for the summer. Look it over and please get back to me with any questions.” She handed the list around and sat down. The meeting ended soon after.
On our way back to our dorm, Samantha and I looked over the list. Nothing too surprising as far as wardrobe went: a “little black dress”; a pair of dark jeans; a brightly-colored, form-fitting sweater; high heels; tall boots—the basic sorority capsule wardrobe. It was when we got to the personal grooming requirements on the second page that we got our surprise. “Members are to have neat, straight or wavy/curly hair in a natural color. Short hair is allowed but discouraged; if anyone is planning to get a big haircut over the summer please reconsider. Nails and makeup should be kept neutral, but a bold lip is acceptable for our final mocktail event.”
Sam and I stopped walking and looked at each other. I had refreshed my haircut and color just before rush began back in January, but in the months since then I let my short bob grow out, mostly because I was too busy and too broke to maintain it. My hair now reached below my chin, and my short bangs had gotten long enough that I usually just swept them to the side. The buzzed nape that had been so tantalizing to my lovers the semester before was a shapeless mop on the back of my head that I had just chopped off a few times with whatever scissors I had nearest, when I felt my hair was getting too mullet-like. But even while I was paying very little attention to my hair length, I’d taken to dyeing it myself in the dorm showers. Currently, it was a purple so dark it looked black from a distance. Definitely not natural. Sam wore her hair in long braids that reached past her butt. This was a new style she had gotten a few weeks ago. Before that, she showcased her natural hair in an afro. We had a feeling neither of us fit in with Becky’s ideal Alpha Zeta look.
“You know, I’d never noticed how many girls in the house have long, straight hair and blonde highlights,” I said to Samantha.
“Oh I did,” she replied. There was only one other Black Alpha Zeta—Rhea—and she was graduating in a few weeks.
“So what do we do?”
“I guess you ask your parents to pay for you to go back to your natural color when you go home next month, and I take these braids out and start practicing with a hot comb before rush starts.”
Sam and I returned to school that fall and moved our things into the Alpha Zeta house. We’d agreed to be roommates and were excited to get more time with our sisters.
By fall rush, my hair almost brushed my shoulders. The stylist I used to see in high school had taken me back to more or less my natural dirty blonde when I was home visiting my folks. I looked like an Alpha Zeta. My only act of rebellion was the night before rush started, when I sectioned off a triangle of hair at the front of my head and gave myself thick, blunt bangs. I thought they looked great, but Becky rolled her eyes at me when I came down for breakfast the next morning. “Someone always has to be a rebel,” she grumbled.
Samantha decided not to have her hair chemically relaxed after she removed her braids over the summer, despite her mom promising she would save so much time if she did. She wore her hair natural most days but was sure to get it perfectly smooth and straight before potential members showed up at rush events. I was surprised by how long her hair was when it was straightened, reaching well past her shoulders. It was almost as clear that Becky approved of this sleeker look as it was that Sam hated it. “Ughhhh,” I heard her groan softly as Becky walked down the line one night before a rush event, making sure we all looked sufficiently uniform.
I did have to admit, my hair was much easier to maintain this way. I kept trimming my bangs every few weeks when they started to get caught in my eyelashes, which could be annoying, but I just let the rest of my hair grow, wearing it in a ponytail most days. Still, I missed my short bob, the feel of the night air on my neck and the attention of the lovers who had appreciated the style. I thought about getting a nape undercut and leaving the rest of my hair long. “Becky will kill you,” Sam said, when I told her.
Someone had clearly told Becky that making the sorority’s sole Black member wear her hair straight for formal events was problematic, so between fall and spring rush she amended the rules to allow sisters to wear their hair in its “natural state.” Samantha took full advantage and let her hair go wild, its kinks and coils “just doing their thing,” as Sam put it, in a full, glorious afro that she only had trimmed a miniscule amount every six months or so. One night in our room, she confided to me that she was getting to the point where she maybe she wanted to get her hair under control, only she was stubbornly determined to keep it as full as possible as long as Becky was rush chair.
Shortly before we left campus for the holiday break, elections were held to determine the slate of officers for the next school year. Sam and I were elected as philanthropy co-chairs; we would spend the spring semester learning from our predecessors, and then they would hand us the reins and we would be responsible for Alpha Zeta’s annual spring fundraising event the following year, as well as several smaller fundraisers and volunteer opportunities throughout the rest of the school year. We spent our sophomore year spring semester planning bake sales and neighborhood clean-ups, and volunteering at nursing homes and animal shelters. Over summer break, once we had been officially installed in our new roles, we arranged a weekend-long excursion over fall break to a Habitat for Humanity site a few hours away. When we got back from that trip, it was time to start planning in earnest for our big spring fundraiser. We selected three carefully-researched philanthropies for our sisters to vote in as our signature cause for the year. The vote was nearly unanimous for a breast cancer research organization named for Dr. Melanie Jones, a brilliant professor at our university who had died of the disease before her 45th birthday. That settled, it was up to us to decide on the logistics of the event.
Fall rush was about to begin again—Becky, now a senior, was still in charge of that, having been reelected to her position by the slimmest of margins in last spring’s election—and now that our charity had been settled on, we had to decide on the theme of our spring fundraiser before the potential pledges began to show up for fall rush. Our philanthropic work was one of the biggest draws to Alpha Zeta for many members—it certainly was for Sam and me—so we had to come up with an idea people would really want to be a part of.
I was standing in front of the mirror in our bedroom, trimming my bangs for what seemed like the hundredth time since I’d first cut them last year. The rest of my dirty blonde hair was now even longer than it had been when I started school two years earlier, reaching to the level of my bra strap. It was straight and healthy and shiny, and for a moment, I held the scissors even with my chin and thought about cutting all of it off. My hair might have fit in at Alpha Zeta, but in other facets of my life, like when I was hanging out with my fellow photography majors or my friends from the bar I worked at a few nights a week or with Miranda, the cute sculpture grad student who had invited me back to her place a few times after the art program brought in a guest speaker, it didn’t really fit with how I saw myself outside of the sorority.
Sam saw me with the scissors and read my mind. “Don’t even think about it,” she said. “Fall rush starts in two weeks and Becky will relegate you to kitchen duty for the whole time, philanthropy co-chair or not.”
“Fine,” I said, putting the scissors down on my desk and then sitting on the floor facing Samantha.
“Believe me, I want to, too,” she said to me, collecting her hair into a huge ponytail and securing it with a scrunchie.
Suddenly, I had an idea. “What if we did a cut-a-thon?” I asked Sam. “For the fundraiser, I mean.”
“A what now?”
“A cut-a-thon. The volunteer fire department used to have them back home. People would sign up as individual fundraisers and promise to cut their hair if they met their fundraising goals, and you also sell tickets to the event. You get local barbers and stylists to volunteer to do the cutting up on stage and anyone who wants to, gets a free haircut, as long as they either already raised money or committed to raising it afterward. It was mostly the firefighters shaving their heads for a good cause and a laugh, but other people participated, too. I know quite a few women who got their hair cut at one of these things. One or two even had all their hair buzzed off.”
“You think the Alpha Zeta sisters are going to shave their heads for this cause?” Samantha seemed incredulous.
“No, but maybe they’ll at least be willing to get a big haircut if we lead by example. And besides, it doesn’t have to just be the sisters who fundraise. I’m sure plenty of the frats would participate, and some non-Greek students, too. Maybe we can even get some of Dr. Jones’ former students or her lab team to volunteer.”
“Hold up, did you say ‘lead by example’?”
“You were just saying you wanted to cut your hair, right? Becky can’t say a word if it’s for charity. Besides, she’ll be a second-semester senior and spring rush will be over, so she won’t have any power over us by then, anyway.”
Sam seemed to be coming around to the idea, but she was still hesitant. “How can you be sure we won’t wind up as the only Alpha Zetas on that stage?”
“What if,” I mused, “in addition to the fundraiser aspect, we make a casual little wager amongst the sisters who volunteer to raise money? You know how competitive our group can be.”
“What do you propose?” Sam asked.
“Just a cash side bet. Nobody needs to participate if they don’t want to. The sister who has lost the most hair by the end of the event wins the pot and is also exempt from all kitchen and bathroom clean-up duties for the rest of the school year.”
“I kind of like it. It’s totally voluntary and it almost guarantees we won’t be the only sisters who don’t have the standard Alpha Zeta look at our spring formal.”
“And you know who the most competitive sister is of all?” I asked Sam.
“Becky!” we exclaimed in unison.
“You want us to shave our heads?” Becky exclaimed at our next chapter meeting, protectively clutching the perfectly highlighted hair that cascaded well below her shoulders. It really was her best attribute, especially considering her terrible personality.
“Not at all,” Sam said. “We want to encourage donations by giving volunteers the option of putting some of their hair up as collateral. The volunteers don’t have to be Alpha Zetas, and the volunteers can cut off as much hair as they want, as long as it’s a significant change that can be made relatively quickly.”
“How significant?” Becky looked at Sam and me with suspicion.
“Well,” I chimed in, “your hair is so long that even cutting it to your shoulders would count as a significant change, and you’d till have more than enough hair to style it however you like.”
A few of the other sisters mumbled spoke to each other in hushed tones. It seemed like they didn’t hate the idea, but it’s possible they just didn’t hate the idea of perfect Becky getting a haircut.
“But,” I continued. “It’s been my experience that the more hair you promise to cut at one of these things, the more money gets raised. It’s up to you, really. But I think if decide to participate, then the more hair you cut off the more committed to the cause you seem. Just think of how much it will mean to Dr. Jones’ family. They’ve already said they’ll be there. Her husband and daughters are even volunteering to get their hair cut for the fundraiser, too.”
That hit Becky right where I thought it would. She had taken a class with Dr. Jones her freshman year, the last semester before the professor got too sick to continue teaching. Becky might have been a bitch to some of the Alpha Zetas, but she clearly had a soft side and this was it. “Oh, I’m committed to the cause. In fact, I think I’m the one who told you about it when you were researching charities.”
In fact she wasn’t, but Sam and I gave each other a quick nod to let Becky believe this was true. “Okay, then,” Sam said. “What about a little wager to really test everyone’s commitment?”
“What are you thinking?” Becky asked. There were a lot of high achievers in our house, but Becky was one of the most competitive people I’d ever met.
“Cash pool. Any Alpha Zeta who wants to participate, can. Whoever shows her commitment by cutting off the most hair at the fundraiser wins the pot and doesn’t have to lift a finger for kitchen or bathroom clean-up for the rest of the year.”
“But that doesn’t seem fair,” Becky said. “If I cut off eight inches of hair it would be really different from if Rachel cut off eight inches of hair,” she said, gesturing to a sophomore sister whose dark curls reached almost to her waist.
“No problem,” I chimed in, taking over for Sam. “Before the event, we’ll put all the participating sisters’ hair into ponytails and measure exactly how long their hair is, and how many ponytails they can make. After the cut, we’ll do the same thing, and we can calculate who lost the most hair proportionally.”
“Oh, and we should make a rule that extensions don’t count,” Rachel chimed in from the back of the room, rather surprisingly. “That’s cheating.”
“What if your hair is too short to put into in ponytails afterward?” Heather, another sophomore, piped up. Her blonde-highlighted hair fell in layers below her collar bone.
“Oh please,” said Becky. “I know you all too well for that. Nobody is going to cut her hair that short.” Then, she turned to Sam and me. “So what’s the buy-in for this bet?”
We announced our event on the last night of fall rush, hoping that by then none of our prospective members would be scared away by the event—and perhaps even that a few of them would be more likely to join us as a result. After that, we began to get the word out across campus, to other Greek organizations and elsewhere. We were surprised by how many people signed up right away to raise money by promising to sacrifice their hair, but we weren’t surprised by the proportion of volunteers who were male, including the boyfriends of a couple of Alpha Zeta sisters. But when we announced that the stylists at a trendy salon downtown had volunteered their services for the event, the number of women who volunteered to raise money in exchange for a “noticeable haircut”—the term we used in our guidelines—began to tick up.
Over the rest of the semester it became clear that many of the sisters of Alpha Zeta had eschewed their regular trims and were letting their hair get longer for our April fundraiser. They might not have signed up yet—the deadline to commit wasn’t until the week before the event, so that our new spring pledges could also participate, if they chose—but it was clear that they were at least thinking about it.
Not all of the Alpha Zetas were willing to volunteer for the chop—these were the ones who were the most likely to enlist their boyfriends—but all of the ones who did volunteer also paid $50 into our side bet, even if it was clear they had no intention of cutting enough hair to put themselves into contention.
In addition to Sam and me, there was Becky, of course, and then Rachel, Heather, and a couple other
Alpha Zetas who were raising money so they could have their hair chopped off at our fundraiser. At the last minute, a few of our newest sisters—two girls from the spring pledge class who would be initiated in a few weeks’ time and one who had joined the previous fall—even decided to participate, clearly hoping to get on the good side of the more senior sisters.
The night before our big event, all of the sisters who had paid into the betting pool gathered in the Alpha Zeta living room. A pile of hair elastics and several combs and brushes sat on the table. To keep things as equitable as possible, we instructed each sister to make as many one-inch diameter ponytails in her hair as she could. Many of the sisters helped each other out with this part, and soon the room was occupied by ten young women with rather ridiculous hairdos. Samantha and I went from sister to sister, counting each one’s ponytails and figuring out which was longest, then measuring that section from the sister’s root to her ends. We recorded each measurement in our notes. When we finished, Rachel took our measurements for us, careful to stretch Sam’s hair to its full length when she did. After, beers and snacks were passed around and the sisters took their hair down and chatted excitedly about ho much they had each raised and how they planned to have their hair cut.
“Well you know,” we heard Becky say. Her hair hung loose to the middle of her back—it had grown quite a bit since we initially announced our plans. “Since I’m graduating in a few months and I’ve already got that finance job lined up in New York, I figure this is probably a good chance to get a more professional haircut. I was thinking to about here.” She held her right hand between her shoulder and her neck, indicating that she’d be cutting off about ten inches of hair. “Maybe with bangs,” she added, looking around. The implication was that she was there to win, and if cutting bangs meant she might win the bet by adding to the average number of inches cut from her hair, that was a sacrifice she was more than willing to make. You could see some of the other sisters trying to figure out if they needed to change their thinking, while others looked at one another with not a little smugness.
“I don’t know what’s going to be more satisfying,” I said to Samantha when we went to the kitchen for additional snacks. “If Becky sees what we’re doing and realizes she’s going to lose, or if Becky sees what we’re doing and realizes she’s not willing to lose.”
“Either way,” Sam replied, “I’m looking forward to seeing her say goodbye to her perfect Alpha Zeta hair.”
We had booked a popular bar off campus for our cut-a-thon fundraiser. The beer flowed for everyone who could prove they were over 21 (or had a reasonably believable fake ID), and there were buffet tables lined with pizzas, sandwiches, wings, and other snacks. The atmosphere was festive, even if some of our volunteers were starting to look a little nervous.
The sisters of Alpha Zeta were all wearing matching shirts in our house colors, with the words “I lost my hair so they don’t have to” printed on the back. The same slogan was printed on the can koozies we handed out as party favors. Sam and I walked to the stage and stood in front of the five cutting stations that had been set up there. We welcomed our volunteers and spectators. “It means so much to us that this cause means so much to all of you,” I began.
“And we’re happy to announce that we’ve raised over $40,000 for the Dr. Melanie Jones Cancer Research Fund, through a combination of ticket sales and our very brave volunteers’ individual fundraising efforts,” Sam announced. “Of that $40,000, nearly $10,000 was raised by the sisters of Alpha Zeta who will soon be taking their seats on this stage.”
“Before we get to the event I know you’re all waiting for, we’ve asked Dr. Jones’ family to say a few words,” I finished, handing the microphone off to the professor’s widower, Mike Smith, and his identical, auburn-haired twin daughters.
The audience clapped and Mr. Smith husband began to speak. “Thank you all so much. When we knew Melanie’s final prognosis, we established this fund in the hope that someday, we could prevent other families from going through what we went through,” the man explained. “Today, thanks to you, we’re closer to being able to make that happen, and I know that if Melanie were still with us today she’d be thrilled to see so many people gathered together tonight. The girls wanted to do something to show you how much this means to us. They convinced me there was no bigger gesture than participating fully in the Alpha Zeta cut-a-thon. So if you don’t mind,” he looked at Samantha and me, “We’ll be your first three haircuts.”
The audience cheered as Mr. Smith and the Jones-Smith kids settled into the three chairs in the center of the stage, and three of our volunteer stylists filed in behind them and draped their “customers” with capes. The father’s hair was already quite short. He said something to the stylist behind his chair. She nodded, and picked up her clippers, placing them, guardless, at his forehead. The stylist made a few passes; the widower was practically bald within two minutes.
To his right, the twins, who looked to be about seventeen years old, gave each other a slightly mischievous nod and turned to their respective stylists. The stylists looked at the girls’ butt-length, auburn hair, then at each other, then seemed to ask the girls if they were sure. We couldn’t hear their reply from our position on the side of the stage, but it seemed like the girls were determined. The stylists looked at each other one more time, shrugged, and picked up their clippers, fitting them with a number two guard. Then, standing behind the girls for maximum dramatic effect, they turned their clippers on and placed them at the girls’ foreheads. In a move so synchronized it looked rehearsed, the stylists began to pull the devices backward through the girls’ hair. The audience gasped as four feet of red hair hit the ground, leaving behind a two-inch wide path of soft, clippered fuzz that was not auburn, but blonde. That explained why they didn’t seem to be donating their hair, at least: dyed hair couldn’t be used for wigmaking.
The twins grinned the whole time their hair was being sheared away. After making that center pass, the stylists returned their clippers to the girls’ foreheads, moving them slightly to the right. Another long section of red hair hit the ground; another two inches of blonde fuzz was revealed. The girls’ father, his haircut long since completed, shook his head as he watched his daughters give up years’ worth of hair in their mother’s memory, but he, too, was smiling.
The stylists continued mowing down the hair on the right sides of both girls’ heads. They were moving at nearly the same pace, simultaneously peeling strip after strip of red hair away to reveal the quarter inch of blonde growth that had been hiding beneath it. The audience was enthralled. I was enthralled. I was planning on losing a lot of hair that day, but not this much. I looked out at the crowd and my eyes found Becky. Her expression was difficult to read, but I’m sure she was glad, at least, that the Jones-Smith twins were not participants in our betting pool.
Onstage, the stylists were just finishing the right sides of the girl’s heads, carefully folding their ears down to get any last length that remained. Then, they returned their clippers to the center of the girls’ foreheads and started shearing the left side. They were still moving in near lockstep, as if they didn’t want one twin to live even a second longer than the other with their new, radically short haircuts. The stylists made pass after pass with their tools. The pile of red hair on the floor was massive; the long hair on the twins’ heads further and further reduced until suddenly there was none left at all. The stylists carefully ran their clippers over the girls’ heads one last time to make sure everything was even, then removed the twins’ capes. Instead of immediately touching their own heads, as one might have expected, the twins turned and enthusiastically reached for each other’s, rubbing the soft hair that remained before embracing in a big bear hug. Their newly bald father, still onstage, joined the hug and playfully rubbed his daughters’ heads. The applause from the audience was thunderous.
Our event was off to a good start.
Thanks to Samantha’s experience as a stage manager for several shows at school, we had the rest of the event planned with precision.
Fifteen stylists had offered to help us that evening. Five at a time, they would each work in forty-minute shifts and then give their stations over to the stylists after them as soon as the finished their last “head” of the shift. The idea was that each could complete three haircuts during their shifts, allotting no more than twelve minutes per cut, with a few minutes between to sweep up fallen hair and clean and maintain their equipment. Stylists who found themselves with a lot of time still left in their shift after their third cut were allowed to solicit audience volunteers who were willing to submit to a quick haircut of the stylist’s choice.
Each stylist had been pre-assigned their “clients,” so the forty-three people committed to getting haircuts knew what chair to go to when it was their turn. This enabled us to make sure that our Black volunteers, including Sam, would land in the chair of someone who knew how to cut afro hair. (I’ll admit that if it weren’t for Sam, I never would have thought of this on my own.) Arranging things this way also meant we could set the schedule up so that the Alpha Zeta members could all go toward the end. Sam and I scheduled ourselves and Becky as the final three haircuts of the evening.
The people getting their hair cut were told they could bring photos if they had something specific in mind; otherwise they could just indicate to their stylists how much hair they were willing to lose. We further instructed them, in an email that went out to everyone who was sitting in a chair that evening, that whatever style they chose had to be doable in about ten minutes—so nothing complicated with lots of layers, or, for the people whose haircuts involved clippers, no fancy tapering or detailed hair tattoos—and on dry or dampened hair, as there wasn’t going to be a shampoo station at the event. The stylists might be able to do a quick blow dry but there would be no final styling. Lastly, there would be no mirrors set up during the event so that the audience would have an unobstructed view of all five chairs, meaning volunteers wouldn’t see their haircuts until they were offstage, and if they weren’t happy with the result, they were going to have to live with it until they could get a real appointment at a salon to have the look restyled. Fortunately, the salon the stylists all came from was willing to offer a generous discount for each of our volunteers’ next haircuts.
After the Jones-Smith family’s clippering, our first five volunteers filed onto the stage, their assigned stylists standing behind them. These were all new pledges to the Gamma Upsilon fraternity, assigned to participate in our event by their pledge master. The five freshman boys all had that kind of floppy, unkempt hair you see on most college guys who can’t be bothered to get a haircut if their mom doesn’t make the appointment. A few of them also had scraggly facial hair. Within minutes, all five had been clippered down to near nothingness by guardless clippers, beards and all. The more senior brothers of their fraternity cheered them on during their shearing and then teased them a bit as they left the stage, rubbing the tops of their heads as if for good luck. Our next group of five was also all male—other than the ten of us Alpha Zetas, only eight other women had volunteered their hair; the other twenty-five volunteers were guys. Of this latest group, three were also new Gamma Upsilons, who gave themselves over to the same fate as their other pledge brothers. One of the other guys walked away with a floppy mohawk and the other with his sides and back shaved to almost nothingness while the hair on the top of his head was left long enough to comb backward or to the side.
Then, we had three mixed-gender groups in a row. For the guys, it was more of the same. Buzz cuts of varying lengths or perhaps some sort of mohawk or disconnected undercut style that could be completed quickly. Five of the girls who took a chair had their hair lightly dampened and then cut down to a lob that sat somewhere between their chins and their shoulders. Sure, most of these girls were losing several inches of hair, but it was still kind of boring.
Of course, then there was the girl whose hair was already on the shorter side, just grazing her collar. The stylist sectioned off the top half of her hair and began clippering the girl’s nape and sides, making several passes with her number three guard until the girl’s dark brown hair was uniformly short on the back and sides of her head. Then, the stylist let the rest of the girl’s hair down and combed it to one side, misting it with a spray bottle and slicing into it with her shears until the girl had a choppy asymmetrical bob that reached her chin on one side, her new undercut fully exposed on the other.
And there was the slender girl with what appeared to be a grown-out pixie who took her seat and was summarily buzzed down to an all-over number one clipper cut that made her neck look impossibly long. I saw her on campus a few months later and noticed she had kept the look.
I had been surprised initially when my “special friend” Miranda, the graduate student who had continued to invite me back to her place after guest lectures but never indicated that she wanted anything more, told me she was offering her hair up for the fundraiser. When it was her turn, Miranda sat down in front of her stylist, her dyed black hair reaching just past her shoulders. I watched as the stylist piled most of Miranda’s hair on top of her head, sectioning off a v-shape that ran from slightly above one ear down to the nape of her neck and then up the other side. The stylist pulled a longer strand of hair at each temple away from the area she was sectioning and pinned those to the top of Miranda’s head. The stylist’s clippers, armed with a number two guard, made quick work of the hair that was still hanging down, leaving a soft fuzz that betrayed Miranda’s natural color, a mousy brown. Then the stylist let the rest of Miranda’s hair down, misted it lightly, and then held her shears about an inch above Miranda’s chin, cutting her hair straight across and revealing the bottom point of the newly-buzzed “v” on her nape. Finally, the stylist pulled a section of Miranda’s hair forward and cut heavy bangs just above her eyebrows. Miranda stood up from the chair, long pieces of dyed-black hair tumbling from her cape. She looked fantastic and I really hoped that she’d feel the same about me at the end of the evening. It had been a few weeks since our last guest lecture.
Five more guys came onstage next: the boyfriends of five Alpha Zetas who did not want to have their hair cut but were happy to volunteer their partners. All five stood up a few minutes later sporting new buzzcuts. The longest was buzzed with a number four guard. The shortest was buzzed without a guard at all. Their adoring girlfriends, my fellow Alpha Zetas, smiled and rubbed their boyfriends’ heads as they left the stage.
Finally, it was time for the Alpha Zetas who were getting haircuts to start taking their seats. The first two, our chapter president and vice president, walked on stage with their boyfriends and a guy named Michael who Sam had recruited as a participant from the Black student union. The Alpha Zeta boyfriends looked like they could have been brothers, with their thick, wavy hair falling across their foreheads and partly obscuring their blue eyes; Michael sported a short afro. The boyfriends high-fived as they sat down and a few minutes later high-fived again as they stood up, still looking uncannily alike in their matching number two buzzcuts. Michael, assigned specifically to the stylist Sam knew was experienced with afro hair, was initially clippered down to a number two as well, but as the stylist was finishing, he reached up and rubbed his head, then turned and said something to the stylist. She nodded, removed her guard, and took Michael practically down to the skin. I looked at Sam as she looked at Michael and began to suspect they would soon be more than friends.
The guys’ cuts took so little time that their stylists looked toward the audience to see if anyone else wanted to share their fate. Three enthusiastic and perhaps slightly inebriated guys who hadn’t raised any money but had at least bought event tickets took the stage and were clippered with the same guards the stylists had just finished using, which is to say that two of the new volunteers wound up with a number two buzz, and the third was left almost hairless. Across the stage, the first two Alpha Zetas to take the stage were getting their hair cut.
Our chapter president, Layla, had felt it was her obligation to participate in our event and bought into the side bet, but she made it clear that she was planning on losing the minimum amount of hair possible for her cut to be considered “noticeable.” Her wavy hair fell to her bra strap when she sat down. When she stood up again, it fell to her shoulders. Boring, but at least we already knew it would be. Tisha, our vice president, had stick-straight, very thick black hair that fell past her waist. She showed her stylist a few photos on her phone and the stylist gathered Tisha’s hair into a ponytail and secured it above her shoulders, presumably so Tisha could donate the hair later. The stylist took guardless clippers to Tisha’s hair just above the elastic and a minute later, the three-foot ponytail came away cleanly in the stylist’s hand. I had always thought of Tisha as being a little conservative, so I was surprised when the stylist then pinned up most of Tisha’s remaining hair, affixed a number two guard to her clippers, and proceeded to buzz off all the hair that grew below the curve of Tisha’s occipital bone, leaving a dark carpet of hair no more than a quarter of an inch in length. The stylist let the rest of Tisha’s hair down, dampening it slightly, and began to cut a sharply angled line on Tisha’s left side, starting below her chin and reaching a point at the back of her head that revealed several inches of buzzed nape. She repeated this on the right side and then finished the look with short, blunt bangs. Not only was Tisha clearly not as demure as I had thought, but she was also clearly vying for victory in our side bet. I looked toward Becky. She was nervously swiping something on her phone…perhaps looking for shorter haircut ideas than what she’d been planning? She had seemed so sure that none of the sisters would do anything drastic and yet right out of the gate, the stakes seemed significantly raised.
Five more Alpha Zetas took the stage next. Three of those girls were newer Alpha Zetas: Amy and Amber, the pledges who were to be initiated as full members in the coming weeks, and Kara, who joined our chapter the previous semester. We had made it clear to these newer sisters that they were under no obligation to participate but they had all enthusiastically signed up on the condition that if they won, their exemption from kitchen and bathroom duties could be deferred to the fall semester, when they planned on moving into the chapter house. And they were clearly looking to win.
Amy, a chatty girl from somewhere down south, had worn her long blonde hair in homecoming queen curls that tumbled past her breasts to all our rush events, but now that she was a pledge and didn’t feel she had to try so hard to impress us, she usually wore her hair in a messy bun or a ponytail, as she was doing today. After a brief consult with Amy, her stylist didn’t even bother taking Amy’s hair out of her ponytail. Instead, she just slid the rubber band down a few inches and inserted her shears an inch or two below the base of Amy’s skull. The blades did their work and soon Amy’s hair was falling in a rough bob that grazed her chin. The stylist cleaned up the cut, giving Amy a deep part and cutting the front section so it fell as a playful side bang. As she checked the cut to make sure it was even, she stopped and asked Amy a question. Amy nodded enthusiastically and the stylist shifted Amy’s part a bit further to the side, pinning the bulk of her hair out of the way. She created another part, running vertically from the new line she had created down to Amy’s ear, and pinned the hair behind it back, leaving a square patch of hair hanging down. The stylist then grabbed her guarded clippers and, switching them on, placed the humming machine at Amy’s temple and ran them upward toward the line she created a few inches above. That strip of hair peeled away, revealing a patch of shortened hair so blonde it almost looked like there was nothing left. The stylist repeated her action twice more and Amy was left with a cute little side cut that completely erased her homecoming queen image. The stylist unclipped Amy’s hair, returning it to the original part she had made while cutting, and Amy’s side cut was concealed until she tucked a lock of chin-length blonde hair behind her ear. Her commitment was unquestionable.
To Amy’s left, her pledge sister, Amber, sat in the chair of the stylist Sam had hand-picked for her talents with Black hair. Amber wore her natural hair in a very curly layered cut that reached to her collar bones; on those occasions when she straightened it, it was several inches longer. The stylist sectioned her hair quickly and cut several inches from each section, bringing them all up to meet what had previously been the shortest layers in Amber’s hair. She was left with a cute triangular-shaped cut that hovered above her shoulders.
Next to Amber was Kara, the quiet girl I recruited to Alpha Zeta myself last semester after I met her in a class I was TAing and realized she was actually very funny when she opened up. Kara’s light brown hair was very straight but not very thick, hanging limply to the middle of her back. She never really did much with it and I had seen her get it caught under the straps of her backpack a few times. I got the feeling, though, that her hair was a bit of a security blanket for her; I was shocked when Kara not only said she was signing up for our event but also mentioned that she’d been thinking of having her hair cut off for a while. Like Tisha and Amy before her, Kara’s stylist cut the bulk of her hair off in a ponytail. Kara’s hair hung only briefly in the resulting bob before the stylist began removing even more length, until no hair on Kara’s head was more than four inches long. Then she clipped the top of Kara’s hair out of the way and began to buzz her back and sides with a number four guard, reducing it to about half an inch in length while short clumps of hair rained down. The final bit of Kara’s hair was finally let down, misted, and trimmed a bit more, still long compared to the back and sides but radically short compared to what she sat down with. The stylist combed the long section to both sides, and then straight back, quickly explaining to Kara, it seemed, that she still had plenty of styling options with her new cut. I looked out to the audience where Becky was still swiping furiously on her phone.
The other two sisters on stage this round were Heather and Rachel, who had been at the chapter meeting where we first announced our fundraiser. Rachel’s dark corkscrew curls cascaded down the cape to the middle of her back. She showed the stylist a picture on her phone, and without hesitation the stylist separated a wide middle section of hair in the center of Rachel’s head, stretching from Rachel’s forehead to the base of her occipital bone, and pinned it in place. The rest of Rachel’s hair wrapped around Rachel’s head in a U-shape, starting above her temple on one side and following the curve of her skull to her occipital bone, then reversing course and continuing along the curve of Rachel’s skull to the other temple. The stylist placed her hand on Rachel’s shoulder and Rachel nodded, then tucked her chin toward her chest. The stylist then picked up her clippers, attached a number three guard, and placed them on the back of Rachel’s neck, running them upward as more than three feet of dark hair slid to the floor. The stylist repeated this action again and again, each pass of the clippers further mowing down the left side of Rachel’s head until no long hair remained there. Then the clippers were returned to the back of Rachel’s neck and the stylist began anew, clippering off all the long hair below the part on Rachel’s right. Because Rachel’s hair is so dark, the effect somehow managed to be subtle, but it was still very obvious no long locks remained on either side of Rachel’s head. The stylist unclipped the rest of Rachel’s hair. As it tumbled down, it was easy, for a moment, to forget how little hair now lay beneath. The stylist quickly resectioned this remaining section of hair and working from the back of Rachel’s head to the front removed very little length but added a lot of texture. Rachel was left with a surprisingly versatile style that she could wear down down and parted in the center to hide the large undercut section almost entirely, pushed to one side so part of her undercut was revealed, or up in a ponytail or french braid to reveal the whole cut. I expected her to stun everyone with some sort of updo at our end-of-semester formal.
And then there was Heather. Heather had been maintaining the highlights in her own naturally dark hair by herself rather than paying salon prices to have her roots touched up, and I know that the last several inches of her hair—from about her shoulder to the middle of her back—were pretty dry and damaged as a result. Heather could have just cut this much off and walked away with a noticeable enough haircut, but I suspected she would be losing more hair than that. She had, after all, kind of given her intentions away in that chapter meeting when we first announced the event when she asked how we could determine the winner of our side bet if the hair that remained on someone’s head was too short to put into a measurable ponytail. Heather didn’t have a photo to show the stylist. Instead, as she talked, she used her hands to draw a diagonal line starting above her right earlobe and ending just below her chin on the left side of her face. The stylist nodded and picked up her guardless clippers and a comb and, pulling Heather’s hair taught with the latter, began to carve a line out of her hair that mimicked the shape Heather had indicated with her hands. The asymmetrical cut was cleaned up from there, with the stylist spraying Heather’s hair before grabbing her shears and cutting more length from the right side of Heather’s head, leaving that hair the length of a long pixie that gradually got even longer as it moved toward the back and then the left, where it ended in a short bob. Then the stylist leaned over to ask Heather something. Heather nodded and the stylist picked up her guardless clippers again, tidying the area behind Heather’s right ear and then continuing the line down down, redrawing Heather’s hairline so it, too, was diagonal. I was surprised the stylist was able to create such a complicated-looking cut in her allotted time, but when Heather stood up with her completed look, there were actually still a few minutes to spare.
At last, the hour had come for the final three haircuts of the evening. Sam and I smiled broadly as we took the stage from the wings, where we had been standing the whole time. Becky sort of nervously climbed up the steps from the audience.
There was so much hair on the ground. Although the stylists had been sweeping up a bit between haircuts, nobody had collected any of the hair yet. All but the ponytails that were cut off as donations had been pushed to the back of the stage, where it had amassed in an impressive pile of all colors and hair types. I certainly hadn’t been expecting to see that much hair cut off today, and I was running the damn event.
Samantha and I had agreed to take the second and fourth chairs, leaving the third, right at centerstage, for Becky. We wanted to make sure she could be very aware of what was being done to our hair, and it didn’t hurt that the other sisters whose hairstyles she had been dictating over the past two years—some of whom had now cut most of that hair off—would have a clear view of her either admitting defeat or sacrificing far more hair than she actually wanted to. The stylists at the two end stations had departed and the three who remained were standing beside us, ready for some guidance. After a few brief moments of consultation, they returned to their cutting positions. It was time to begin.
Because the three of us were getting our hair cut at the same time and we didn’t have any mirrors set up, I was really hardly aware of what was being done to my hair or anyone else’s until it was all over. But a few friends recorded the final haircuts from different angles and a couple of days after our event I was able to watch how everything went down.
In the videos, it looks like Becky may have been trying to explain our side bet to her stylist, because of discussing the length of the hair that would remain on Becky’s head, the two seemed to be calculating how much she would need to lose to remain in contention. The night before, when we were counting and measuring ponytails, we saw that although Becky’s hair might not have been the longest in the room, she was on the higher end of the thickness spectrum. This seemed to come up in her conversation with the stylist, too, because the stylist picked up Becky’s hair and looked closely at how thick it was before letting it fall. The stylist then placed her hands at Becky’s chin, indicating that she thought that might be enough. Becky nodded a little sadly—this was several inches shorter than she said she would go last night, and she was clearly hoping to be able to keep more length—and the stylist quickly ran a comb through Becky’s hair before picking up her shears and placing them where she had indicated she would start the cut. Then she seemed to reconsider, put her shears down, and picked up her clippers, removing the guard. Becky looked terrified as the buzzing machine came near her precious hair but the stylist seemed to reassure her, then combed a lock of Becky’s hair in front of her right ear down toward her chin, stopped, and ran her clippers over her comb. Almost two feet of thick, perfectly highlighted hair tumbled onto Becky’s lap. The stylist and her clippers made quick work of the rest of Becky’s hair. You can’t hear it in the recording, but I remember sitting next to Becky and being very aware of the sound of the clippers running across the teeth of the stylist’s comb and the subsequent sound of a heavy lock of hair landing on Becky’s cape or the ground beneath her.
As the last bit of long hair was severed from Becky’s head, leaving her with a rather boring bob, she looked to the chairs on either side of her, at Sam and me, fondling the long hair in her lap while trying to figure out if she had lost enough hair or not.
The answer, of course, was no.
In the footage of Sam, you see her handpicked stylist push all of Sam’s hair toward the left side of her head and trace a line beginning above her right temple and following the curve of her skull, stopping a few inches above the base of Sam’s nape. The stylist grabbed a few alligator clips to keep the section separated, then pushed all of Sam’s hair to her right and trace an identical line on the other side. This section was also clipped, and the stylist gathered all the hair that remained—a bundle of thick hair that spanned between the outer corners of Sam’s eyes and continued from her forehead to her crown to the sharp point on her nape the stylist had marked as the bottom of that section—into a ponytail at the top of Sam’s head.
Then the stylist removed the clips she had been using to hold the lower sections of hair in place and picked up her clippers, pausing to say something to Samantha at this point. On the video, it’s impossible to hear what was asked over the noise of the watching crowd, but both question and answer are obvious from the way Sam holds up one finger and nods. The stylist nods back and puts her shortest guard on her clippers—the number one—and turns on the machine.
Samantha’s stylist stood just off to her right and placed her humming clippers at Sam’s temple. In a matter of seconds, she ran them up to the line she had traced, and a huge chunk of kinky hair was peeled away from Sam’s head, leaving hair so short it practically blended into Sam’s dark skin. The stylist continued along her path of destruction, leaving almost nothing in her wake as what seemed like more than half of the hair on Samantha’s head surrendered to the clippers and tumbled to her cape. The eighth of an inch that remained stood in sharp contrast to the massive ponytail sitting on top of her head.
Sam had never worn her hair short before but I knew she had been wanting to do this for a long time. She reached an arm out from under her cape at one point and rubbed the side of her head and then her eyes got wide and her jaw went slack. What had only moments before been natural hair so thick you couldn’t see Sam’s scalp if you tried was now reduced to sandpaper. After the initial shock, Sam grinned, in fact did not stop grinning until well after the her haircut was finished.
The stylist removed the guard from her clippers and proceeded to sharpen Sam’s hairline at her temples, around her ears, and at her nape. Then, the guardless clippers still humming away in her hands, she slightly loosened the elastic holding what remained of Samantha’s hair in place and plunged her clippers in just below it. Shortened locks of Sam’s hair began to spring away from the mass of hair that was still, at least for a moment, Sam’s. Her hair was thick, but it was no match for the hungry blades of the stylist’s clippers. The ponytail, bigger even than it looked when it was still attached to Sam, came away, leaving her with a wild, messy mohawk that was about six inches long in the front, and slightly longer in the back. Sam and the stylist both laughed as the bundle of severed hair was cast to the ground, and the stylist traded her clippers for a pair of shears. She first reduced the hair on Sam’s head to a uniform length and then began cutting more strategically, pulling curls taught and then letting go to watch how they sprung back into place before cutting another inch or two off the top of Sam’s head, graduating down until she was cutting four-inch pieces off the back. The stylist misted Sam’s hair, scrunched it, and her new, and very different, hairstyle was complete. Sam looked like she was born to wear that haircut. And it would complement her friend Michael’s newly shorn head, that was for sure.
Beside Samantha, Becky looked like she might be ill. It didn’t help that she was also extremely aware of what had happened to my hair.
The day of the event, I had styled my hair into a french braid, draping the long tail over my shoulder. After my stylist and I conferred about my haircut, she picked up her clippers, removed the guard, and held them against my braid right at the base of my skull. The thick plait came away quickly in her hand, and part of the braid that still remained attached to me began to unravel with nothing to secure it in place. The stylist placed her hands in my hair and tousled it until my hair was no longer braided. Once unraveled, it hung, slightly wavy due to the braid, a few inches below my chin. We were just getting started.
The stylist grabbed a comb and began to trace an oblong shape all the way around my head, two full inches above my ears. The hair above that line was pinned out of the way and the stylist picked up her shears. She grabbed a handful of hair at the side of my face and roughly chopped it off an inch from my scalp, then dropped that hair into my lap. She gathered the next handful and did the same thing, snipping at it until it came away and again dropping it into my lap. She repeated this three more times until the hair on the bottom half of my head was covered by uneven lengths of hair that stuck out in every direction. It looked ridiculous but it wouldn’t last long.
The stylist grabbed her clippers again and capped them with a number two guard, then brought the buzzing device to my left temple. I remember this feeling, the first time clippers had touched my head at all in three years, and the first time they had ever touched this particular part of it. I could feel the vibration of the clippers all the way down to my neck. It was delicious. My old undercut, from that freshman year bob, had nothing on this. When I watched the video, I laughed at the face I made here, my eyes closed and my smile huge.
The stylist ran her clippers up to the dividing line she had created, and clumps of dirty blonde hair fell to my lap, joining the longer lengths that had been severed only moments before. A wide strip of buzzed hair stretched from my temple to a spot several inches above it. She pulled her clippers away and then placed them on my head again, instructing me to tip my head toward my opposite shoulder. With her left hand, she folded my ear down. With her right hand, she again pushed the clippers up the side of my head. When she reached my nape, she had me tilt my head forward rather than to the side, and began running her clippers up the back of my head, stopping well above my occipital bone. She repeated this action again, and again, until I could feel a breeze coming from somewhere and I was aware that there was no hair left for the stylist to buzz down on the side or back of my head. She moved to my right side and pushed the clippers up from my temple to their designated stopping point, then repeated everything she had done on my left side, tilting my head, gently folding my ear, and making pass after glorious pass with her humming clippers. After the last short clumps of hair were peeled away from the lower half (two thirds?) of my head, she ran the clippers around the buzzed section again, presumably to make sure everything was even, but I suspect it was also because she knew I’d like it. I remember looking out into the audience and seeing Miranda. She made eye contact with me and bit her bottom lip and I knew I wouldn’t be going back to the Alpha Zeta house that night.
Once the stylist was satisfied that my sizable undercut was even, she removed the guard from her clippers and cleaned up the area around both ears, and then tidied my hairline, bringing it up a good inch higher than where it grew naturally so that the final cut would only further draw Miranda and other potential future lovers to my neck as if it were a beacon.
The stylist let the rest of my hair down. My bangs fell thick and long across my forehead as they had for the last year and a half; the rest of my hair hung in the uneven bob that resulted from the severing of my braid, concealing most of the stylist’s clipper work. The stylist dampened and combed through this hair so that it was evenly distributed around my head. The final look we were going for wouldn’t work if my hair were thicker on one side of my head than the other. Once that I had an equal amount of hair hanging down the sides and back of my head, the stylist picked up her shears and ran her comb down a section of hair near the front of my head, stopping when it was level with the corner of my mouth and slicing through everything that remained. That first three-inch lock of my light brown hair landed on my lap and I remember a feeling like something inside me was released when I saw it lying there. I was going to get to be me again—the me I wanted to be, not the one Becky had envisioned as the ideal Alpha Zeta. The stylist continued to carve through the longer hair locks that still encircled my head. A deliberate flick of her comb, followed by the sound of hair meeting blades so very close to my ears. Soon, I was back to that lip-length bob I had so loved as a freshman, only even more dramatic because of the high 360 undercut. To make sure the bob would lie as intended, the stylist next employed the use of her thinning shears, lifting sections of hair and chopping into them a few times. It was amazing how much hair came off with each snip. I didn’t see how I could have had that much left, but without the aid of a mirror I knew I just had to trust my stylist.
Finally, it was time for the stylist to do something about my bangs. When I watched the video I could see that they were both too thick and too long for my new sleek cut, and the stylist clearly agreed, picking her cutting shears up once more. She combed through my bangs a few times and then I felt her comb rest about halfway between my eyebrows and my hairline. The shears followed a moment after point cutting toward the comb instead of slicing straight across, and two more inches of hair plopped into my lap. She removed the comb and then dragged it through my bangs again, stopping where she had on the previous section, and began slicing upward again. Two more passes with comb and scissors and a couple of snips with the thinning shears and I was left with very short bangs. My haircut was complete.
I leaned over and looked at Samantha, whose cut was almost finished, and gave her a big thumbs-up. Then I looked at Becky and smiled. She stared blankly back at me, her newly-chopped hair swinging near her chin, then turned to look at Sam. You could see the wheels turning. She knew her odds of winning our side bet with this haircut were greatly reduced and it was obvious she was trying to figure out if five hundred dollars and a few months of reprieve from bathroom and kitchen clean-up was worth sacrificing more than she already had. Oh, but she hated to lose. It didn’t matter what the competition was, she played to win. And so she looked back to her stylist and it was clear she was giving instructions to keep cutting. Sam and I were finished at this point, so we got to watch what happened next in real time.
Nobody was terribly surprised when the stylist affixed a number two guard to her clippers. I figured Becky had asked the stylist for an undercut or a side cut, something that would allow her to keep most of the length she had left but also reduce the overall amount of hair remaining on her head, throwing her back into contention. What did surprise us, though, was when the stylist, standing behind Becky, placed the buzzing clippers at Becky’s widow’s peak and pulled them backward toward the crown of her head. Becky winced slightly as a two inch-wide path of chocolate brown fuzz—we had no idea her hair was quite that dark underneath all the blonde highlights—appeared in the center of her head, while five inches of blonde hair tumbled to the floor. Becky clearly did not plan to lose. The audience fell into near silence when they realized what Miss Alpha Zeta herself was doing, or at least was willingly having done to her.
The stylist placed her clippers back at Becky’s forehead, and once again pulled them toward Becky’s crown, widening the path of destruction left in their wake. The stylist kept running her clippers from front to back so the audience could see clearly every pass. She quickly reached Becky’s right ear and folded it down gently so as to get any long hairs trying to hide behind it. Then, when the right side of Becky’s head was fully buzzed, marking a dramatic contrast to the chin-length blonde hair that still hung to her left, the stylist returned her clippers to Becky’s forehead and began to denude the left side of her head as well. Soon, all that remained of Becky’s former crowning glory was a patch of blonde hair on the back of her head. The stylist instructed Becky to look down and placed one hand firmly on top of Becky’s now-fuzzy head, then ran her clippers up and over, from nape to crown. As the last bits of blonde hair hit the floor and the stylist took a moment longer to tidy Becky’s hairline, the crowd erupted into hoots and hollers.
Sam and I stood up from our chairs, waved at the crowd, and left the stage. Becky trailed behind us looking slightly dazed. The DJ we had hired to spin for a few hours as people mingled once the cutting was complete immediately launched into “Devil’s Haircut” by Beck.
By any measure, our event was a success.
As I had hoped, Miranda did invite me to spend the night at her place as the event was winding down. I waved goodbye to Sam, who was standing very close to Michael, taking animatedly to him while resting a hand on his arm.
Miranda and I spent the rest of the evening learning to appreciate other’s haircuts. When she slid low beneath the sheets, I reached down and pushed her longer hair to one side so I could stroke her undercut while she licked and sucked between my legs. When I returned the favor, she gathered the length of my bob loosely in one hand while running her long fingernails up and down my buzzed nape and sides. Later, as Miranda was getting into her harness, she insisted I gather what was left of my hair into a ponytail so she could fully appreciate my nape, stroking and nibbling at it while she mounted me from behind. Even if I hadn’t been raising money for charity—all the while also trying to bait my least-favorite sorority sister into getting a haircut I knew she didn’t want, as payback for years of her dictating what we could do with her own hair—my own new haircut would have been worth it just for the way Miranda was fucking me.
I rolled into the Alpha Zeta house around 11am wearing the same outfit I had left the house in the day before, only I looked very different from the girl who had left the house with a long braid thrown over her shoulder the night before. Samantha walked in a few minutes behind me, also in yesterday’s clothes, her trendy new afro-mohawk looking a little disheveled. “Michael?” I asked her, raising an eyebrow. She nodded and giggled.
The Alpha Zetas who had submitted to haircuts the day before were to gather back at the house at noon so we could take new hair measurements and determine the winner, even though after what Sam pulled last night it was really a foregone conclusion who had won. Still, it would be fun to measure the other sisters’ changes. We would calculate the percentage of hair bulk lost based on the number of one-inch ponytails that could be made from each sister’s remaining hair, relative to the number that had previously been on her head, as well as the percentage of length sacrificed by comparing the longest ponytail on each sister’s head today against the longest ponytail on each sister’s head two days ago. So if a sister who could previously make eight ponytails could now only make four, she had lost half of the bulk of her hair. If her longest ponytail two days ago had been twenty inches long and now it was only five, she had cut three-quarters of her length. The sister who led in both categories would be declared our winner.
Our shorn sisters began to gather: Layla with her minimal haircut that showed she was a team player but not at all interested in making a drastic change for the sake of a bet. Tisha with her dramatically angled inverted bob and fuzzy nape. Amy with her sleek blonde bob and subtle undercut. Amber with her triangular-shaped afro. Kara with her new pixie. Rachel with the dramatic contrast between her buzzed sides and the tumble of dark curls that ran from her forehead to her back. Heather’s asymmetrical crop that was both a pixie and a bob. Sam with her fashionable mohawk. Me with my dramatic undercut lurking beneath a classic Louise Brooks bob. This did not look like any gathering of Alpha Zetas I had been at in the last three years. But where was Becky?
A few of the sisters of the house who did not volunteer to have their hair chopped off the night before also joined us in the living room, ostensibly to learn the results of our side bet but because they knew as well as we did that the crowning of our victor was inevitable, I suspected that maybe it was also because they were a little envious that they hadn’t been brave enough for a big change. Those sisters helped the nine of us who had gotten haircuts put what was left of our hair into ponytails, asking as they assisted whether it was okay if they touched the closely cropped or buzzed sections of their sisters’ heads. Looking around the room as long haired sister after long haired sister rubbed their short haired sisters’ heads, I suspected we’d be seeing some dramatic makeovers at the house very soon.
Becky entered, not from the upstairs bedrooms as expected but rather through the front door. Like Sam and me before her, she was dressed the same as she had been when she left the house last night. But while she left the house with flowing blonde locks, she reentered it with a velvety brown pelt covering her head, so short you could see a hint of her skin shining through. She made no excuse for her tardiness; the small hickey on her neck told us what we needed to know. Someone at the event last night clearly liked this shorn version of Becky. “I’ll bet it was mohawk guy,” Sam whispered in my ear.
“Shall we get started?” Becky asked, settling into a chair as if there were any question that she was the winner. Sister by sister, we counted ponytails and measured length. With the exception of Layla, whose hair was shorter but still more or less the same as it had been this time the day before, the participating sisters of Alpha Zeta had lost an average of fifty percent of the bulk of their hair, and an average of sixty percent of their length.
It was an imperfect science—Tisha, for example, had chopped off more than a yard of hair length, but the longest hair that remained represented a quarter of her original length, while Kara, who had lost about two and a half feet of hair, wound up with only seven percent of her original length still attached to her head. With the competitive women of Alpha Zeta there might have been some debate if we didn’t have a clear winner in our midst. Becky had cut one hundred percent of her bulk and ninety-nine percent of her length.
Sam produced an envelope containing the $500 winnings and Layla ceremoniously struck Becky’s name from the house chore chart. Becky thanked them both and started to return to her seat but then paused. “Before we all go off to play with our hair, I just wanted to say something. I know that over the last two years I’ve held the sisters of Alpha Zeta to the highest grooming standards when it came to how we presented ourselves to prospective pledges. And I know that the guidelines I handed out made some of you pretty angry. So much so that in hindsight, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this whole side bet was someone’s way of baiting me into submitting to a hairstyle I didn’t really want in order to get a little revenge on me for making you wear hairstyles you didn’t really want.” She chucked as she made this last point but Sam gripped my knee, worried for a moment that something bad was coming.
Becky continued: “I have no idea if what happened last night really was a trap for your competitive sister or if that was just my overactive imagination getting the best of me while I was sitting up on that stage. But it doesn’t matter either way, because I’m actually really happy about how things worked out.” I felt Sam’s hand relax its grip from my knee as Becky ran a hand over her shorn head and went on. “I’m not saying I’m specifically happy about this haircut—I have no idea how I’m going to explain it to my parents when they show up for graduation, let alone to the people at my new job when I start working in a few months. But I’m happy because I’m looking around this room and seeing my beautiful, brilliant sisters free to present themselves authentically for the first time since they pledged Alpha Zeta. My desire to make us look like the perfect sorority meant that I was also forcing you to give up something of yourselves. And last night, while I watched each of you stripping away that facade I had imposed on you, I realized just how awful I had been. I don’t know why you elected me to a second term. I really don’t. So I’m sorry to all of you for being such an impossible bitch. As you know, Rachel has already been elected rush chair for next school year. Based on her new haircut, I strongly suspect she is not going to make the same mistakes I did.”
Becky started to sit down but again she stood up with a final thought. “Oh, and also: if I had known that this haircut would lead to me getting fucked the way I got fucked last night, I might have done it years ago.” The room erupted in laughter and applause.
Sam leaned toward me and quietly said: “You know, maybe Becky’s not actually all that bad after all.”
“I think you might be right,” I replied.