Self-image is a tricky thing. I have very specific ideas about what type of person I am, often connected to minor details of my appearance or personality. I'm a book reader. I'm a long hair person. I'm a bit loud. I'm usually the youngest person in a group.
Not big, earthshaking revelations, but still important facets of myself. Things you don't mess with. It creates cognitive dissonance. I find that concept fascinating- cognitive dissonance. It's that feeling you get when reality clashes with your beliefs. Sometimes, you don't even recognize it's happening, you just change your beliefs so that you don't feel uncomfortable anymore. You rationalize.
All through grade school I was almost a year younger than my classmates. I assumed that as soon as I made it to college, everyone would be my age again. In college, my friends were usually 2-3 years older than me. When I moved and started staying home with my kid, my friends were still 2-3 years older than me, sometimes 6-7 years older. I am so used to this pattern in my life that I am genuinely shocked when I discover people in my life who are younger than me. I feel that I have to comment on how unusual it is that someone is younger than me. Now, I always have to think about what my actual age is, because once I realized I was too old to be precocious, I didn't want to think my age mattered anymore, and I refused to keep the information at the front of my mind. I didn't want it to have any part of my identity. Rationalization.
There can be relief in letting go of labels that no longer fit. I have had very long hair for most of my life. And for most of my life, long hair was less work than short hair. It was another label, a self image, an identity. I decided to quit cutting my hair to mid-length and grow my hair to Rapunzel length. And I hated it. At no point in my life have I ever complained about my hair so much. So I cut it all off. And it feels really good. There is no reason to hold on to the long hair girl. She's different now, and that's just fine.