I am not man-hating or anti-beauty product, but I am trying to make the outside of me better reflect the inside of me.
Last week Laurie Penney’s New Statesman essay about the “political statement” of short hair on women went batshit viral thanks to its catchy title, “Why Patriarchy Fears The Scissors,” and its straightforward but well-articulated explanation of why a certain brand of neanderthalic men express not just a preference for long hair, but a profound disgust for the “damaged” women who might, under any circumstances, choose something other than male desire as their predominant aesthetic influence.
No fewer than seventeen people sent me this article.
Right off the bat, let me learn from Penney’s mistakes and avoid both the knee-jerk and legitimate criticism she received. I am not, in any way, shape or form, suggesting that long-haired women are less feminist than short-haired women. I am not suggesting that there is a particular vanity or weakness in long hair from which short-haired women are immune. I do not advocate short hair for everyone. I do not advocate long hair for everyone. It is your fucking head. The stuff that grows out of it is yours and yours alone and you should dye it, twist it, comb it, shave it, braid it, cut it, iron it…or not, as you see fit.
I know, you were hoping there wasn’t a however (you and me both, friend), but the goddamn however just snuck in there. However, we do not live in a vacuum. The decisions we make about how we present ourselves will—in personal and professional settings—give us the edge and taketh the edge away. Are some people’s judgments about how we wear our hair sexist? Yes. Homophobic? Yes. Racist? Hell to the yes. While we fight the patriarchy and push back against the normalization of white hair, we still have to get up each morning, look in the mirror, and decide what, if anything, to do with it.
And so, with those sexist, homophobic, racist standards looming large, we make decisions. We make decisions about our hair and our makeup and our clothes. About how we walk, sit, stand, and shake hands. How we sign our names. The pitch of our voices. The height of our high heels. We decide, a thousand times a day, how to present ourselves to an imperfect and unfair world.
I can’t tell you when to compromise what you want for what you think will get you a job. I can’t tell you when to sacrifice your comfort for what you think will get you a date. I can’t tell you when to choose your heritage over other people’s expectations. Those balancing acts belong to each of us, individually.
When I polled friends, of varying racial identities, sexual orientations, gender presentations, and hair lengths, here are some of the things I heard:
Had to turn a pixie into a bob after a self-identified feminist woman told me it was “too militant,” given my sexuality.
When I chopped all my hair off, my entire extended family thought that was my “coming out.”
My mom took it as a personal attack. I got a faux-hawk about a year after I came out to her and she thought the hair was just another way for me to disregard her feelings.
I love having long hair and wish it were longer. I don’t even want to have a short cut when I’m old, but I associate short hair with older women. At some age I feel like my hair can’t be much more than shoulder length—that that is the social expectation.
Getting my hair chopped off was a huge confidence booster for me, and a really important formative step for my identity and sense of self.
When I have pixie cuts I get far more respect at work…men seem to listen to me. When I have long hair I get dates and sexual interest, but am taken far less seriously at work.
Here is the story of how I chose to cut my hair into the swoopy, Bieber-circa-2011 pixie that I will likely sport forever: Two years ago, I was at dinner with three short-haired lady friends. I had a moment of realization, over a deep-fried slice of avocado, that holy hell, my friends are super hot. How did I get such hot friends? One was gay and her haircut was an intentional step toward the vibe she wanted to give off. One had just buzzed her head for a cancer research fundraiser. And one had a cool, artsy, asymmetrical wedge thing going on. It’s not that short hair becomes all faces; it’s that for these three, it had the effect of revealing their prettiness and aligning their appearance more closely with their values. That was beautiful, and I wanted in.
I am not man-hating or anti-beauty product, but I am trying to make the outside of me better reflect the inside of me, because it makes me feel more whole. I would rather spend the 20 minutes a day I used to spend on my hair (three or so hours a week) doing other things. I would rather miss out on the attention of some men who assume my hair is a signifier of unfemininity, and whittle the pool of potential friends and lovers into those who recognize that “feminine” can take many forms and this is mine. Quality over quantity, you know? I’d rather have a drunk co-worker ask me at a table full of colleagues if I were a lesbian than invest time and energy into making sure people know I’m not gay. Those are my compromises to make.
At the salon, I showed the stylist a picture of Mariska Hargitay at her Mariska Hargitay-est and another picture of Laura Bush with a giant red “x” through it. This, not that. When it was done, I looked in the mirror and thought, strangely, that I looked more like me than I ever had before. And isn’t that something to aspire to?
Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo courtesy of the author