Three years ago, I cut my hair from chest-length to around chin-length. No big reason behind the chop, I just thought it would be nice to try a new style, plus I thought a sophisticated short cut might keep people from thinking I was in high school when really I was about to start graduate school.
To me, it was just like any other haircut. I was happy with my new style and I’ve never regretted it. But judging from the media coverage following a certain celebrity’s transition from long locks to a shorter ‘do, you’d think cutting a few inches of hair is one of the most emotionally charged, drastic decisions a person can make.
Why does a decision as inconsequential as taking scissors to hair rile people up so much? Just watch any season of America’s Next Top Model on makeover day, when inevitably one of the contestants will go from having long mermaid hair to a pixie cut and she will behave like Tyra just asked her to amputate her thumbs. It’s the reaction of a person conditioned all her life to believe long hair is beautiful and feminine, and short hair is frumpy and undesirable.
Think about it: when was the last time you saw short hair presented as sultry in the media? From shampoo commercials to romantic comedies, the ideal mane always seems to stretch past the shoulders. The media teaches us that short hair is, at best, edgy, and at worst a form of punishment. The dichotomy of long hair as beautiful and short hair as a dubious choice is stressed at every turn – even in the middle of a glowing review for Anne Hathaway’s performance in Les Miserables, the critic takes the time to note that Hathaway’s hair at the premier is “appealing, but still short” early in the article. The underlying message: short hair can be acceptable, but only as a transitional state. Its only redeeming quality is that it can grow.
I am tired of all the judgments that come along with the way we choose to wear the keratin that grows out of our heads. I would like to say that I have always been immune to the pressure to wear my hair a certain way, but that’s not the case. As a curly-haired teenager living in a city where there were no curls in sight, I straightened them until they refused to curl anymore (the issue of curly hair being regarded as less pretty deserves its very own article). I can’t remember what sparked my “a-ha!” moment that the only person I needed to please with my hair was myself, but I had to grab onto that conviction hard when I decided to quit straightening for good, because I had no support for my decision. Even now, years later, it’s hard for me to understand why everyone else seemed so bothered by the way I wanted to wear my hair. To me, it was about more than just saving 30 minutes each time I washed my hair; it was about taking the reins of the way I wanted to look back from a socially constructed ideal. Back then I couldn’t find the words to explain it, but if I could go back I think I’d say something similar to Jada Pinkett-Smith when she defended her daughter Willow’s decision to shave her head:
“[Willow’s hairstyle is] a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.”
Currently, I am letting my hair grow out again, because after three years of short hair I am ready for a different style. But that’s not to say that I will keep my hair long forever; in another few years I’ll probably want a change again. Someday, I hope our bodies will stop being battlegrounds, and to me one of the first baby steps in that direction is taking control of our style without regards for the way society tells us we ought to look. I wear my hair the way it makes me happy because my happiness makes me feel beautiful.
Written by Sully Moreno
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