Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Cropped, covered, au natural – what does it matter? We wax lyrical on the complicated representation of hair, and how opting for the chop could actually mean the biggest weight off your shoulders…

Words by Shannon-Paris Cross

Zoe Kravitz. Image by Getty Images. 

In 2007, Britney Spears was famously shaving her own head in a hair salon in LA while in the throes of a nervous breakdown. She later checked herself into a rehabilitation facility, and the world has been talking (and memeing) about it ever since. Isn’t it interesting, that when she felt most desperate, her natural instinct was to shave off her hair (herself, no less) in a bid to wipe the slate clean, in every way imaginable?

There’s a reason that the ‘break up’ or ‘new start’ haircut is such a popular decision. After going through a life-changing situation, or turmoil, the feeling that then comes with cutting off your hair (and in turn, letting go of the past) is incomparable. It’s not only physically freeing, but emotionally too. Each snip, snip, snip of the hairdresser’s scissors says bye, bye, bye to your current – soon to be former – self, and that’s a very powerful thing.  But what does that say about women’s choices in terms of their looks, in relation to their romantic relationships? Often, it’s the association with an age-old myth that ‘men only like women with long hair’ and since said break-up, an ‘I can do whatever I want’ phase ensues. A newfound confidence to do something to please yourself and yourself only, without the approval of a man. This of course, is great. Live your truth girl. But the empowerment that comes with cutting off – or completely covering – your locks altogether really shouldn’t be reserved for your next heartbreak or nervous breakdown, because going against the status quo when it comes to your appearance can have amazing, life-changing, results. I know this, because I’m 10 years into my short hair journey. If this sounds like I’m describing some form of therapy, that’s because for me, it was.

I’d love to pretend the cutting of my own hair was an act of rebellion, a feminist protest to social conformity, or even my own subtle way of laughing in the face of ancient beauty ideals – but it wasn’t, at first anyway. In fact, it was the idea of my hairdresser mother, who, knowing how much I absolutely loathed my lifeless hair, suggested it as a way of dealing with my ultra-thin Gollum-from-Lord of The Rings-style situation. But the decision to keep it short for the next 10 years, throughout which most men told me they hated it? After people repeatedly asked me why I did it? After all the ‘jokes’ about my sexual orientation? That was all me and my ‘anti-male gaze’ gusto.

Before my pixie cut, I hated my hair. I never wore it down, even as a child. As a teenager, I despised struggling with fake hair pieces and extensions that made me feel less like myself, but ‘improved’ the appearance of my hair. But back then, looking at my reflection in my grandma’s kitchen mirror, my hair went from being a daily burden to something that defined me. Finally, I not only had a hairstyle that made my hair look thicker and better than it ever had but a look that I felt really encapsulated my personality: it felt spontaneous, wild, rebellious. I didn’t just get a haircut, I got confidence. The ‘you’re so brave, I could never pull that off!” comments that followed forced me to wonder: Why does it feel rebellious? Why don’t more women feel ‘brave’ enough to do it? Cutting your hair isn’t brave. Being a firefighter is brave, facing your demons is brave. But cutting your hair?

The answer is pretty simple. Firstly, we’re subconsciously brainwashed into thinking women should never cut their hair from the moment we’re born. Secondly, hair covers a very large proportion of our bodies and therefore a cut can completely alter our appearance, (which if you’re not the type to embrace change, can be daunting). And lastly, as women, we’ve largely been raised to be seen but not heard, and to do so in a feminine way. Hair has become such a big deal to us, because we wear it as a form of protection. It’s for this reason in particular that it makes the act of chopping it all off so much more freeing. It says, ‘I’m here to be heard’, it commands a room, it shows you’re comfortable in standing out, and that you’re not going to be bound by what society thinks you should do. It says you’re more than your hair.

Twiggy. Image by Shutterstock/REX Features.

Going against the status quo when it comes to your appearance can have amazing, life-changing, results. It shows you’re comfortable in standing out, and that you’re not going to be bound by society. It says you’re more than your hair

Long hair = beautiful is a tale as old as time, literally. Most young girls have set their sights on their first ever role models before they can even walk and often they’re long-haired, doe-eyed cartoon princess. Now, don’t get me wrong; I firmly believe that Disney films are a pillar of every good childhood, but the representation of women in these animated movies is questionable. The lack of diversity in Disney is not a new topic but until now, the conversation has been predominantly focused around the absence of ethnic minorities. But what about the lack of female diversity in general? Rapunzel let down her hair so her knight in armour could climb up it and rescue her (ouch, by the way). Ariel’s fiery red mane floated beautifully through the blue ocean. And the only ‘colour of the wind’ I remember is Pocahontas’ thick black mane blowing in it. But where is the princess that jumped out of bed at 8.05, and was ready to go about her business at 8.25, because she had no hair to wash, straighten or put in an intricate up-do? Where are the short haired girls? The curvy girls? The not-conventionally-beautiful girls? Showing a young girl (whether it’s consciously, or not) only one type of beauty is a bizarre concept when you really break it down, and most importantly, it’s a lie.

Questioning beauty ideals is not a new thing. Over the past few years, as the female voice has gotten louder, women have begun to question stereotypes that are so deeply etched on our minds, we almost didn’t even notice they were there; and hair, arguably, is one of the biggest culprits. Sure, there are some examples of women wearing their hair short throughout history; rebellious flapper girls visited barber shops in the 1920s asking to have their hair chopped off, because hairdressers wouldn’t do it, and their style has been admired ever since. 1960s supermodel Twiggy attempted to shake things up when she cut off her waist-length hair into an extremely short sporty style, sparking a huge trend for pixie cuts through the decade. Princess Diana became a hair muse for many in the 1980s with her heavy fringe and big blow dry. But still, the operative word here is some. Interestingly though, these women are among the most memorable of our time. Despite these exceptions, the ideal standard of beauty still almost always includes long hair. During such a powerful point in time, in which fighting female stereotypes is at the top of the agenda, it would be wrong to not address ‘women should have long hair’ as one of the important ones.

Historically, the majority of popular female musicians, actresses and TV personalities have long hair, and those who are considered the most attractive, almost always have a very thick, luscious and voluminous situation going on. Blake Lively, Brigitte Bardot, Ursula Andres, Sophia Loren, Jennifer Aniston: all undeniably gorgeous, all long and thick haired. With these kinds of women as our fashion and beauty muses, of course the majority of young girls are going to opt for long over short locks, but without even realising it, they’re conforming to one of the biggest beauty ideals of our time. Long is the hair world’s ‘default’ aspirational setting. Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I a thin-haired hater exclaiming long hair is wrong hair! (Although, for those who agree and are that way inclined, the phrase would make an awesome picket sign statement). Of course, it isn’t – long hair is stunning, it’s beautiful, it’s amazing. But so is short hair, and straight hair, and curly hair, and grey hair, and no hair, and whatever hairstyle YOU love to wear. Side bar: it’s just hair! Do you see where I’m going with this?


Princess Diana. Image by Getty Images. 


Adwoa Aboah. Image by Getty Images. 


Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things.


Emma Gonzalez. Image by Getty Images. 


The day I shaved my head was the most empowering moment of my whole life

– Millie Bobby Brown


#TimesUp, #MeToo and #HeForShe have fuelled a much-needed shift away from the male gaze and female sexuality. Instead, we’re not focusing on what is happening inside a woman’s head, rather than on top of it. In this time of change, new role models for young girls are emerging, praised for their talents, skills and opinions rather than their beauty, and it’s making a great case for seeing hair as a physical attribute, and nothing more. The style, colour, shape or length of your hair should not be a factor when considering workability or strength of character, and people are finally beginning to realise this. The exasperation around the stereotypes associated with hair affect women far and wide and in many different industries. Scarlett Johansson famously cut her hair into a pixie crop after growing tired of being typecast for ‘beautiful but dumb’ roles. Big Little Lies star Zoe Kravitz was not only applauded for her work on the show, but also for her experimental style and decision to rock a partly-shaved head, standing out as the coolest star with the most covetable style in a line-up of more ‘typical’ American femininity. Adwoa Aboah has arguably been the most impactful model of 2018. Activist Emma Gonzalez shaved her hair not as a political statement, but simply as a form of convenience, but in doing so, she forced people to stop looking at her appearance and to start listening to what she was saying.

The idea of hair being our security blanket or armour that keeps us safe is a sad one. A woman shouldn’t be threatened by the possibility of letting her guard down, and removing some (or all of) her hair shouldn’t be akin to stepping out from behind a shield. In fact, those are the exact reasons a woman shouldn’t hesitate to cut her hair (if that’s what she wants, of course). It can remove a burden you didn’t even know you were carrying. Award-winning Millie Bobby Brown was just 11 years old when she completely shaved her head to play the role of Eleven in Netflix drama, Stranger Things. She took to Instagram to share her experience, and beautifully encapsulated what cutting off your hair can do for the mind. She commented, “The day I shaved my head was the most empowering moment of my whole life. The last strand of hair cut off was the moment my whole face was on show and I couldn’t hide behind my hair like I used to. The only image I had in my head about what I could possibly look like is Charlize Theron in Madmax. As I looked at myself and couldn’t see my old self, I realised that now; I have a job to do and that is to inspire other girls that your image or exterior part is not what I think is important.” If at the tender age of just 11 years old, a girl already feels the need to ‘hide behind’ her hair, then we’re doing something wrong. In writing this, my hopes are not for you to immediately run out and cut your hair, but to never conceal the real you behind it again.

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