The role society plays in how we see ourselves and how we see the world is incredible. Many of us profess having this brick-wall exterior that renders us exempt from society’s claws. We don’t give a damn about how others perceive our haircuts or our frayed jeans. We are impervious to criticism or biting comments targeting our disposition, focused on our personality and who we are as a person, because we simply do not care and it does not affect us in any way. I aspire to this. But assuming this invulnerability is not only dubious, but unfortunately scarce.

Someone close to me suffered from an aneurysm a month ago. Most of her hair was cut off so that it barely reached her chin. Her husband’s first reaction when she came home was to tug lightly at her newly cropped hair and say, “But it’s going to grow back, right?” The inquiring tone posed a question he and everyone knows the answer to. Yes. Hair, like nails, grows back. The question was actually a skewed and subtle way of stating his dislike for her new haircut. Later, her youngest son walks into the room and tells her, “Wow, mom. Now you have actually become the epitome of the geriatric old hag.” The clear disrespect in addressing his own mother in such a matter is a whole other story. The point is that the only reactions this woman faced after cutting her hair were those of contempt, disapproval and objection. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that she found it mind-numbingly difficult to leave her house for an entire month. She simply refused to leave the house. She told me that those days she prayed to God, asking for forgiveness for letting such a trite thing like a haircut incite such strong feelings of embarrassment and disesteem and discourage her to leave her own house.

But was it really trite? When one looks at it as a simple haircut, than maybe it is. But when you see the layers behind the haircut and the social impact, namely her husband and her son’s clear aversion to it, and thus, her, it seems a whole lot more complex. The day she finally decided to go out, she happened to see a friend of hers at the supermarket. Said friend approached her with eyes that seemed to jut out of their sockets, so surprised she was. “Oh my God. I cannot believe you cut your hair.” Five interminable seconds later she would express her undying love for the haircut, professing it chic and modern. “You look so beautiful,” she said. She was so earnest that, since then, the woman who before felt so ashamed of her hair became rather proud of it. Ensuing outings proved to strengthen this sentiment by bringing a wave of exterior approval. And that was that.

The extent to which people’s approval translates into our own approval of ourselves extends more than what we can imagine. This is not limited to simple haircuts, but the initial triviality of the subjects brings forth how society’s perception of other more essential things will affect us. It’s sad to realize, but it also paves the way to strive, if slowly, to let ourselves be less affected by how others perceive us.