A Feminist Haircut

October 9, 2010 § 2 Comments

by SARAH

For a pretty good portion of my life, I had strawberry-blond,  can’t-get-it-in-a-bottle hair that went almost all the way down to my hips. It was thick and long, and I would get constantly complimented on its length and color. As a chubby, socially awkward, relatively insecure preteen, it was one part of myself that I was the most proud of.

Two years ago I cut it off up to my jaw. A week ago I dyed it dark brown. After both drastic changes, I felt different. Different in a really, really good way. Somehow renewed, as if I had taken a step in reclaiming and reshaping my identity.

One pervasive gender stereotype that’s used to differentiate girls from boys is hair length. Long hair is feminine, short hair is masculine. The butch lesbian stereotype includes a short, choppy haircut, while in this day and age, long, shiny, straight hair is equated with traditional feminine beauty.  Talking about hair as a way of self identification and external expression may seem slightly superficial, but considering the strongly gendered implications it has, hair can matter if one chooses to make it matter.

I like to think that my short hair distances me slightly from traditional femininity, while helping me create my own femininity. For me personally, the choices I’ve made with my hair – to cut it short, to get rid of its oft-complimented color, to shape it so it suits me more – have all been a part of constructing my own queer, femme identity. Being 18, I’m naturally in a different place than I was two years ago when I chopped off my locks, but I think the desire to make that drastic change was fueled by the same motives that caused me to dye it. Although two years ago I may not have been able to tell you what a “queer femme identity” was (I probably just barely could now), I think I had some recognition of gender’s fluidity, about both the power it can give you and the power it can take away from you. As someone who is femme, yet strives not to let the boundaries and limits of traditional gender roles define me, I found myself naturally drifting towards a physical expression that includes many traditionally feminine aspects, with a few kinks.  I wear makeup, my closet consists of mostly dresses, what my hair looks like matters to me. But I wear bright red lipstick and green eye shadow, much to the chagrin of any Cosmopolitan reader. I couldn’t care less what the current fashion trends are, and instead I get my clothes, most of which are pretty retro or vintage, at dusty thrift stores. And I care what my hair looks like because I want it to be different and to express my own personality, not because I want Giuliana Rancic to give me her gold seal of approval.

When I was proud of my long, red-blond hair, it wasn’t because it represented me. It was because I was young and a little awkward, and the attention people paid to it was a substitute for the lack of attention I paid myself – for my lack of identity. As I grew up, transitioning from a pre-teen, to a teenager, to where I am now at 18 years old, I became more self-assured. How I choose to express myself physically is no longer for anyone else’s benefit, but to truthfully express myself. My short hair actually makes me feel more feminine, simply because I feel it’s a physical manifestation of my personality – a personality which includes femininity. But it’s my own, reclaimed, personal version of femininity. A version that includes my feminism, my pansexuality, all my individual quirks, and short, dark hair.



§ 2 Responses to A Feminist Haircut

  • Emily Jane says:

    I used to change my hair–cut, style, color–compulsively. I’ve had it almost every which way, by now. And it has amazed me, every time, how much people really do treat me differently based on the way my hair is, even just subtly, and how it changes perceptions about my gender and sexuality (I guess a straight femme girl with a mohawk is particularly confusing). Not to mention the fact that apparently it’s still super radical or something to not shave body hair. Sheesh.

    Good for you for letting yourself find what you like!

  • Adamantine says:

    I used to be very proud of my long, dark hair. I would spend at least half an hour every day blow-drying and straightening it. At the time, I was very insecure and I wanted to be conventionally perfect. Getting my hair cut really short was, for me, part of a long process during which I read more and more feminist stuff and understood that my previous stance according to which you could be very conventional, very feminist and very happy all at the same time totally collapsed. You have to do what you feel like doing, which often as a feminist does involve going against the people’s expectations.
    A few months ago I stopped shaving my armpits and legs. The weather’s getting really cold a no one actually sees it in the street or anywhere, so I guess it’s not very revolutionary, but what’s good about it is that it makes me feel really better with my own body. It’s the first time in years that I see my body with all its natural hair on!
    I remember when I was eighteen or so (that’s three years ago), after I finished reading The Second Sex, I thought of a problem that Simone de Beauvoir doesn’t really address: how are women supposed to the equals of men if they spend hours every week shaving, waxing, blow-drying, applying make-up…? I began to see all this as a terrible waste of time and one of the many ways of keeping women under control. While I understand that it is a comfort for many women, for me to stop doing all this felt like a real liberation.
    It takes courage to change your hair like you did, and I’m really glad you feel better this way. Dark, short hair rocks! :-)

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