As I sat in a salon chair to get a hair treatment, I heard a little girl who could not have been more than six, screaming and crying because her hair had been cut short. It took me back to the time when I was also a four or five-year-old girl who felt utterly ugly because of the length of her hair.
By contrast, my best friend had waist-length, shiny black locks, the kind you see in shampoo ads. I was far from being the Rapunzel I read of in short stories. I was far from being pretty. Even at that age, these beauty ideals weighed heavily on my mind, just the way they affected the self-perception of the little girl who was crying next to me.
Why does the length of a woman’s hair matter so much?
So many of us women are taught to measure our value in terms of our femininity, which in turn becomes a measure of our beauty, and that goes on to determine our sense of self-worth as a human being. Hair plays a disturbingly huge role in this.
Hair is loaded with politics. We hear people stereotype women based on their hair. A woman with a short and sharp bob is a Karen. A woman with a pixie cut must be a “tomboy.” A woman with long hair is vain and ditzy. We, as women, cannot win. In this system, which involves boxing us into clichéd niches based on the length of our hair, we cannot ever be just normal human beings.
The femininity of a woman with short hair is often questioned. Why?
As someone who has had short hair of various lengths, ranging from a pixie cut to a short bob, I have heard a lot of assumptions about women who look like me. From being called a lesbian to a tomboy, there are a lot of things people have said to prove that my hair alone makes them jump to conclusions about me.
While there is no need for one to fight assumptions about such matters, because there’s nothing wrong with being either a lesbian or a tomboy, the issue is that it shows how society views personal appearances in terms of gender binaries. Per social standards, short hair is masculine, long hair is feminine, and a man or a woman who wants to incorporate a gender-fluid style into their look cannot exist.
Isn’t it wild how rigid gender norms are? That we can’t even accept a superficial physicality like short hair without jumping to conclusions about a person’s identity?
Why is it that long hair is seen as a beauty trait?
Hair growth is normal for both men and women, and hair can be long enough for anyone who takes care of their locks and spends the time required. Many women can’t go for long hair, and many men can. But somehow, it is only women who are required to have long hair, and only women whose appearance is judged based on it. Do we stop and ask ourselves why?
Well, because it is yet another marker of gender differentiation. Much like hairless skin or an hourglass body, our beauty standards are based on how different a woman’s physical features are from that of a man. Think about it: men have to have heavy square jaws, but the “ideal” feminine face has to have a heart-shaped, V-shaped jaw. Men should be hairy, women should be hairless. Men should be tall, dark and handsome, while women should be fair, petite and pretty.
These binaries are social constructs designed to reinforce the gender divide, and they have no impact on how attractive or unattractive a person of any gender is.
Many parents have an inordinate obsession with controlling the length of their daughter’s hair
There is a huge stigma against cutting one’s hair in India and a lot of it is reinforced by parents who view their daughter’s body as property to be controlled. In many conservative societies, women are required to dress and look a certain way in order to be considered worthy of marriage. Parents often try to control the appearance of girl children due to this. So we, as women, are conditioned to have gender-based ideas of physical beauty. We are not taught to see the beauty in being creative with our appearance or expressing our freedom with how we dress or do our makeup. We are taught that beauty is all about conformity.
So, if you want to cut your hair, cut it. If you find long hair is nothing but the burden of having to look pretty enough per social standards, cut off that hair. If you’re tired of taking care of long locks for the sake of pleasing others, cut it off. It’s not our job to be a version of ourselves that society finds acceptable. Your hair, your rules.
Lead image credit: Dharma Productions, Red Chillies Entertainment