Neither Hair Nor There: Why Short Hair On Women Is Not A Matter For Public Debate


As with everything women can choose to do to their own bodies, everyone and their Internet connection has an opinion on women cutting off their hair.

Articles and opinions decrying short hair on a woman as something awful abound; short hair deemed a total rejection of femininity, even of discarding the idea of being sexually available (mortified gasp). According to various opinions, a shorter style on women implies “poverty”, even “illness”, or “shaven-headed asylum inmates” (because as we know, if your hair isn’t hanging to your butt it might as well not be there at all.)

Here’s the thing. I used to have long hair. And I cut it all off. So I have personal experience of what it’s like to go from much-praised, superbly-feminine long hair to much-condemned short hair. So, imagine my surprise when, after getting my Important Haircut, I did not in fact become repulsively ugly. If my femininity wasn’t destroyed utterly by having hair that hung to my neck instead of my waist, was there no hope at all of becoming a condemned, desexualised and apparently non-feminine individual as described by various rude people on the internet?

But, despite the opinions of judgemental people, it appears it takes more than a haircut to make someone ugly.

Whilst feverishly skimming articles at the kitchen table, my (queer) (female) flatmate wandered over to see why I was gently foaming at the mouth. After hearing me curse out one article in question, she scanned it herself, and asked the ever-important question – “Where are the lesbians?”

Every article I have read so far condemning short hair on women is forcefully targeted towards heterosexual interactions, like a ballistic missile with the words STRAIGHT PRIDE painted on it. Apparently, the reason that short hair on women is unattractive is because, well, men don’t like it. Women are meant to be feminine if they’re going to be attractive, and sexualised femininity is for heterosexual guys to consume and for heterosexual women to struggle to execute perfectly. Never mind the women who put effort into their appearance for themselves alone, and surely, surely there’s no such thing as a woman who wants to attract … other women?

Grabbing the nearest heterosexual man I could find (my other flatmate), I decided to do some research in the field, and asked – “Would you still fancy a woman with short hair?” I received a confused look and “…Yes?” He then helpfully added “It’s about as relevant as eye colour to me.”

So it turns out that even heterosexual men still fancy women with short hair. No doubt some people might find this surprising, but they’d also seem like the kind of people who consider under-arm hair on women “unnatural.”

When it comes to long hair, apparently there’s still much scope for sinning. Long hair on older women (read: past the age of 40. Which as we know, is the time when men are “mature” but women are “past their prime”, as though gender is a selection of sub-par dairy products) was described by one article as “desperate” and having an implication of “indulging in late-life promiscuity.” Gosh, imagine women having a sex life after their thirties. Horrifying.

But on a more serious note, this policing of women’s bodies is sexism incarnate. Condemning short hair on young women and long hair on older women is exactly the kind of paradoxical, nonsensical argument that patriarchy is so good at pulling out of its ass. Just like how, apparently, women who cover themselves are oppressed or frigid, and women who show their bodies are sinful nymphomaniacs: there’s no winning here. There’s no universally accepted way to be a woman and exist in a physical body, it seems.

Maybe some women do cut their hair as a symbol of renouncing the trappings of conventional femininity, and good for them! Maybe some women cut their hair because spending over twenty minutes in the morning styling it when you could be eating second helpings of breakfast instead is a no-brainer. Maybe some women cut their hair because they bleached it whilst drunk at a friend’s house, and it turned straw-yellow, began to flake apart, and looked awful. (Definitely not me. Well, mine turned more pumpkin-orange.)

Regardless of gender identity, this body policing and narrow defining of beauty is gross. Everyone has the right to make choices about how they want to show their body, and who they want to attract (or not attract.) One of the reasons I found my own haircut so liberating was knowing that I could still be pretty with shorter hair, but more importantly, that I didn’t have to be pretty. Because prior to my haircut – despite my best efforts – I’d definitely still internalised a lot of heterosexist bullshit about how a woman “ought” to look, and being forced to live without my protective security blanket of nearly waist-length hair was a well-needed shock to the system. I certainly did have days at a time where I regretted my new hair, wondering if I’d made a mistake. But I got over it – my body is mine, my gender is mine, and the choice of how to look is absolutely mine.

To women who may be thinking about cutting their hair but are scared they won’t be pretty or feminine without it, I wouldn’t worry. There are plenty of things that might make you turn out as threateningly described by judgemental articles on the Internet (from the extent of the revulsion from some voices, it seems that stealing a magic ring and hiding in the Misty Mountains for several hundred years is a good place to start) but otherwise, I think you’re good. It’s your body, it’s your hair, and remember, haircuts are not permanent. Even if you get that haircut and somehow end up hating it, it’ll grow out again. And remember, loving yourself despite bullshit gender and body norms makes the patriarchy suffer. So why not get that haircut, and know that your body is, as it should be, entirely your own.

[Morgaine Das Varma]

Pictured above: Laura Mvula being unimpressed by your bullshit gender roles.

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