When I was growing up, my mother worked during the week, and my father worked weekends. This meant that my dad was the one primarily responsible for helping to get my sister and I dressed and ready for school each day.
My father was my stylist. Every day, he ironed my Catholic school uniform and gelled back my medium-length, thick black hair into a very slick pony tail. It was plain, but it was my “look.”
Years later, my hair was longer, but my clothes were very much influenced by whatever sister-matching outfits my mom had picked out. My face was plain, my “look” was plain and my friends were beautiful. One day, as we walked down the hall to class two of my friends chatted about a mall modeling event they had gone to the previous weekend.
“You’re so lucky you’re pretty,” I told them. One of them turned to me and stroked my hair, saying “You’re pretty too!” It was the first time I remember feeling pretty. My hair stayed long for many years after that.
Long hair was great, because I could do so many things with it: Straighten it, curl it, put it up in a pony tail, twist it into a bun, braid it, flip it in everyone’s face, use it to flirt. There was only one thing it couldn’t and didn’t do: Make me feel like myself.
My hair was long during a time when I was trying to figure out what it felt like to be beautiful in the exact same way as everyone else.
Last year, I decided to cut my long, wavy hair into a shoulder length asymmetrical cut. Six months after that, I got it cut up to my jawline. Three months later, I got a pixie cut.
I did this the day before my 22nd birthday. The day after, my then-boyfriend came to visit. He smiled politely and told me I looked nice, but later admitted that he just “wasn’t as attracted to me with short hair.”
He gave a sigh of relief. “I feel so much better now that I finally said that.”
Good for him.
Most recently, I buzzed the sides of my head and left just enough to style on top. A friend brought up my new hair on the phone the other day. He told me he liked it but joked that my previous pixie made me look like I was “on some Waiting to Exhale sh-t.”
A woman’s hair is such an important and powerful element of her identity.
The social implications of a woman changing or cutting her hair are that her look and identity become open for discussion and commentary by others, which often causes so many unfair judgements and conclusions.
Like in “Waiting to Exhale,” the act of cutting hair short or shaving your head are seen as red flags for “crazy.”
In 2007, Britney Spears shaved her head in an infamous “meltdown” that took the world by storm. Her shaved head became a huge symbol of the appearance of insanity.
Actress Viola Davis caused a similar media frenzy when she sported her natural, short, curly afro instead of her usual long wig at the 2012 Oscars.
When the actress later discussed it on Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show she explained, “I took off my wig because I wanted to step into who I was. … I felt like I was saying, ‘OK, my characters aren’t very glamorous, but look at me, see me. Aren’t I pretty?’ And I felt like I didn’t want to do that anymore.”
Cooper’s audience applauded, and Cooper joked, “I’m wearing a weave right now too, just so you know.”
Viola politely laughed. I didn’t.
There are also the lesbian assumptions. People have joked to me about how my hair “makes me look like” a “boy” or a “lesbian” so much so that I have unfortunately begun to internalize the notion that I need to be cautious of what signals I send to other women.
It is an embarrassing thing to admit, especially coming from a person who considers herself very much able to think beyond these shallow limitations. Have others’ poor jokes swayed my way of thinking that much?
All I can do is examine this question, and be strong enough to know that it shouldn’t be the issue that others are trying to make it. What is most important is that I understand that these are just others’ explanations of a me that they might not understand.
It is a way to simplify me and others with short hair or shaved heads by making us small enough to label without actually having to comprehend.
There are days when I miss my long locks. Sometimes I’ll catch myself looking at photos of girls with long, perfectly curled hair and it makes me feel like I am somewhere on the outside of conventional beauty standards.
When I look outside of these frames, however, and take a better look at myself, I realize that I am looking at a person who has made the conscious decision upon how she wants to frame her own identity. I’ve never been more beautiful.
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