On hair, boyishness, and feminism
September 13, 2014
I hated my long hair.
Don’t get me wrong– as a child, I had a 10 year old friend with a glossy, elegant, brunette mane. It flowed over her shoulders, down her back, even all the way to her bottom. My 5-year-old self aspired to grow my hair out like that someday. Now, hair like that seems like a bother.
Before 8th grade, anything resembling a “boy’s haircut” was out of the question. I cherished my tresses as one would a kitten. I hated it when my parents or relatives told me “Hey, have you thought about getting a bob? I think it would look cute on you,” because I knew they were trying to coax me out of this style rut. I was having none of that.
I never spent much time putting any product in my hair because I knew that it would just become a frizzy mess by the end of the day, and, heck, my middle school self had better things to do than blow-dry an inevitable disaster. I tried different trendy hairstyles like layering and side bangs in an effort to mimic the luscious locks of celebrities I didn’t otherwise know much about, but that didn’t make it any more manageable. I had this hair that I could style and flaunt, why not keep it? I usually kept it in a ponytail, anyway.
In the summer before I started high school, I wanted to try something new. Ponytails and braids were getting on my nerves, and fancy hairstyles were the last thing I wanted. A thought crossed my mind: what if I didn’t have to have a ponytail anymore? I could cut it all off. Rachel Maddow did. Emma Watson did.
No, I thought. That’s way too risky.
However, a good friend of mine had a bob, and it wouldn’t be high treason to try something similar. It would buy me some time to think about that rogue notion of having a pixie cut. Summer was coming, anyway.
The bob haircut lasted for two years. Then, on my 16th birthday, I wanted to surprise everyone with a pixie cut. None of my friends had hair much shorter than their shoulders, so this was a bold move.
Of course, I chickened out. “My birthday’s in December,” I thought, “so maybe I should wait until it gets a bit warmer.”
So, I compromised and cut my hair a week before spring break.
Most of my friends had nice things to say about my complete style change: “Woah! Nice!” “That is so great!” “You pull that off pretty well!” A teacher who I hadn’t talked to since sixth grade stopped me in the hall and said “Lookin’ sporty, Emma!”
I go to a girls school. I’m not often exposed to male hairdos. So, when I debuted my pixie cut at a city orchestra rehearsal, I realized that I had the same haircut as many of the boys. As a person who often compares herself to others, this was scary.
Then, there was lunch. One of my friends wanted me to french-braid her hair, which launched into a braiding circle. Exclusion from that ritual disconnected me from many of my peers.
And, of course, there’s the wind-blown hair conditioner ads and Pinterest hair tutorials and pictures of fancy updos on Instagram and that one blunt friend who asks “Emma! What did you do to your hair?!”
That’s when I started to regret my decision. According to the world around me, I had given up my femininity.
This wasn’t true. I couldn’t go back that longer hairdo immediately, so I had some time to think about my choice.
There are obvious perks to having short hair. I don’t miss the drawn-out showers, the search for a ponytail holder, or constant worrying as to whether my hair has turned into a frizzball. I’m never concerned about stray hairs catching in the compound miter saw. Exercise has never been easier.
Over time, I found ways to be less “boyish,” as my meaner peers called it. I wear earrings where my hair used to cover, and I feel free to wear more flattering clothes and makeup. Ignoring the pressure from billboards, TV, and my friends, I did what made sense for me. My self confidence has tripled. Now, when I see boys who have the same hairstyle as I do, I think “Nice. I can pull that off, too.”
I’ve also realized how cumbersome long hair was. Why did I like it so much?
Once in engineering class I was building a bench outside in the Texas heat. When my friend bounced over, her “natural” ombre blondish hair rippling against her back, I almost wanted to say, “How on earth can you stand that stuff on your neck? I’m sweating just looking at you!” Of course, she couldn’t abandon her God-given beauty. Instead of pulling back her tresses, she let them fall in front of her face as she leaned over to hand me a sanding block.
My long hair was never called anything but, at best, “pretty,” or “cute,” and at worst, “stringy.” I’ve never heard “That’s a nice head of hair you got there. I bet it comes in handy when you’re doing science homework,” or “Gee, it’s convenient your hair is that long. What would we do without it?”
Hair is a thing that grows out of our head to keep our heads warm. Everyone has it. You can style it to express yourself. You could keep it close to your head and out of the way, like I did. Maybe I won’t ever have my hair french braided again. Maybe no one will curl my locks into ringlets for prom, but I’m fine with that.
I’m not telling you how to style your hair. Keep it long, cut it, dye it, whatever. Feminism is all about each woman doing her own thing. Do what matches your lifestyle.
But, ladies, if we want to get stuff done, we need to put our hair up. It’s going to get in the way. Hair is an accessory, treat it like such.