A while back, Willow Smith’s hair made the news… again. So did her mother, Jada Pinkett Smith, for “letting” her cut it off. Smith gave this excellent response, originally shared via Huffington Post:
Yes, yes, and yes! Although it’s hardly just the mothers’ insecurities at play when girls are shamed for having short hair — and when their parents are shamed for “letting” them alter their bodies to be less attractive to straight, old dudes — Smith makes a fantastic point when she says that girls “are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves”.
This story strongly resonates with recent experiences of mine.
Last year, I shaved my head.
I’ve had long hair for most of my life, but was time for a change. Fierce pixie hair cuts were practically beckoning to me every time I hopped on the internet. (Looking at you, Ellen DeGeneres, Halle Berry, and Rachel Maddow.)
At a family reunion, a bigoted-against-most-social-groups uncle of mine announced to my mother his horror that she had “let” me cut my hair. How dare I, an adult, choose to alter my appearance in such a way as to lessen my sexual attractiveness, based on my uncle’s heteronormative, outdated, sexist standards?
His solution was for me to stop “hanging around dyke teachers”. (I had told him about a beloved, out-and-proud lesbian professor from the prior semester.)
He’s an asshole, to say the least, but he’s also a victim of a larger societal problem.
After I cut my hair, some people called me “brave”, as if to say that choosing to be less sexually attractive (heteronormatively, speaking) was somehow courageous. I wasn’t brave; I was bored, and I found an indefatiguable canvas for my creative urges.
Other people asked me if I cried, either during or after the cut. Anne Hathaway supposedly did, y’know. So, don’t all women? It’s bad for women to not have their long hair. It’s unhealthy, obviously a sign of some emotional issue.
No, we do not, and no, it’s not. I proudly told inquirers that I cut my hair off myself, as I’ve been doing since my sophomore year of high school, and that it felt GREAT. Not just having control over my own hair, but physically cutting the hairs, myself, is, more often than not, exhilarating.
And yet, no one gave my mother (or father) grief when they “let” me cut my own hair in high school, back when my lock length was halfway down my chest. Rather, I was praised for my skill, initiative, and frugality.
Having short hair should not be a big deal.
It’s just a hair cut, y’all. But, because it’s not within the normative gender scripts, I now get dirty looks from old people, and my presumed heterosexuality is regularly challenged.
Shortie-short hair feels amazing to touch, but with curls like mine, anything longer is a hassle in the morning and when the wind blows. I’m currently growing my pixie out for physical reasons (I miss the sensation of all my hair being pulled back into a ponytail), but I won’t be surprised if I find myself shaving my head again prematurely. All it’s going to take is a few too many obnoxious “You look so much prettier!” comments to irk me back to my razor… at least until I flash my hairy legs with a coquettish grin.
My body’s still mine, regardless of perceived fuckability, and I will style myself how I choose. If only it hadn’t taken me so many years to learn that.