I got asked the question again last night
"How do you manage your hair in the mikveh?" It's the second time I heard that in a week.
My hair is long. At this point, if it's down, I have to pull it out from under the waistband of my skirts. I assume that's waistlength - I don't have a waistline. This is my best guess.
Combed out, the very wispy ends touch the top of my seat. I wear it up - pulled back in a ponytail and then twisted up and fastened with a large barrette. I can do this in seconds, and it's easy to cover. I think the barrette is breaking my hair, but I can't think of anything that would be easy and flat.
The thing about the mikveh, the ritual bath, is that there can be no barrier between me and the waters of the bath. That means being completely clean, with no stitches or bandages or adhesives. Permanent fillings are permitted; temporary ones are a question. It also means no nail polish, cosmetics or contact lenses. Hair dye is fine; hair extensions are, at the least, a question.
Tangles and knots are out. Hair must be fine combed and tangle free. This is easier with short hair, and was the reason the first woman asked me this question. She wears her own hair short, like many Orthodox married women. This is, I think, a result not just of piety but just the general trend of women in their thirties/forties in the US, especially after having a kid or two. I know a number of women, religious and otherwise, who cut their long hair after the second baby just out of sheer practicality, and there is also a thing about long hair being inappropriate after a certain age, and at 39, I've passed that age.
And she's right. My hair is fine and curly and it knots and tangles if I look at it funny, so it's an extra thing to worry about on mikveh night. However, it's permitted to use conditioner and even when I didn't know that, I managed.
But that is a reason that Orthodox married women keep their hair on the short side. It's also easier to dunk, which was the concern of the mikveh lady. Hair floats. If every bit of it is not immersed, the toveling is not effective. I have to make sure it's completely wet, usually by holding it down for the first dip, and go down deep. This is not a problem for me. It's even fun. But it does mean I have to be watched carefully.
The third reason is that very short hair is easier to cover. Which is not quite right. Very short hair is easy to cover. So is hair long enough to pull into a ponytail, or longer. It's the inbetween hair that can't be pinned up that sticks out from a wig or under a hat. I'm too lazy to get my hair cut as often as would be required to keep it short enough, so I might as well keep it as long as I want it. Which is as long as it will grow. It probably wouldn't look good under a wig, but I don't wear wigs.
There's a book out now whose name I've forgotten - essays by women about hair covering. There are two by women in groups that shave their heads. Neither present this as a major trauma. One, who was raised a Satmar chasid, was very matter-of-fact about it. You grow up, you get married, you shave your head. Everyone does it - your mother or mother-in-law or both come to you the day after your wedding and it's almost a party. Then you just touch it up once a month. They wear hats-on-wigs or bangs-and-scarves outside the house and turbans inside, and some keep a long wig or floaty scarf to wear for their husbands. It's not a big deal for them. Although, there is a flaw in their logic. Yes, it's *easier* for them to dunk this way, but if long hair means that dunking is nonkosher, they're in trouble, since they have long hair for their first time, *before* their weddings.
The other was a convert who never liked her hair, and she got all "it's a sacrifice and it means removing the last of her former life." when she got married. She finds it light and convenient, and the money she saves on shampoo! :) But, and on the other hand, this is a sample size of *two*. Not enough to come to any conclusion.
The other essays had hat wearers and scarfwearers and wig wearers, including one woman who began wearing a wig because of chemotherapy but kept it on afterwards for modesty, and what takes to make the decision and even how to buy a wig. I found it fascinating, but then again, it's my life.
And I suppose as long as my hair is as long as it is, I'll get that question.