Last week, I cut off all my hair.
Okay, not all of it, but definitely not an insignificant amount.
All big changes come with mixed emotions. With an uncertain outcome looming, it’s natural to feel both enthusiastic and terrified. I certainly felt cripplingly scared of the ten inches I was chopping off for Locks of Love, yet I simultaneously felt giddy and excited to have my hair gone. I actively had to resist telling everyone I encountered in the days leading up to my hair appointment about my decision because I was so thrilled.
I’ve been talking about cutting my hair drastically for months. At some point last summer I woke up and said, “You know, having long hair is way more trouble than it’s worth.” It holds in a lot of heat, which is uncomfortable on sticky August afternoons. True, it does help keep me warm in Ithaca winter weather, but the crisp air makes it radiate static energy every time I put on and take off my big fleece-lined coat. The number of times I’ve shocked myself after simply touching my hair is repulsive.
So why didn’t I get rid of my long locks sooner if I found them so inconvenient?
Simply put, long hair was in my comfort zone. It was a lot easier to keep it than to adjust to a new way of styling my hair. My everyday hair routine was simple: wake up, smooth the top down a bit, and pin the pieces formerly known as side bangs out of my face. Sure it crackled a bit (okay, a lot) due to static, but I told myself I could handle that in the name of being low maintenance.
More importantly though, I kept my long hair because of bizarre standards of beauty.
Snow White is the only Disney princess with hair shorter than shoulder length. Many scenes featuring Ariel, Pocahontas, and Jasmine display their tresses prominently. For Rapunzel, her hair is what makes her unique and powerful. When Mulan chops off her hair, she does it in an act of rebellion and casting off her femininity–she would never do so under ordinary circumstances. All these plotlines show young girls that they need long flowing hair because it is considered beautiful and womanly.
Older girls are also expected to want a long, elegant mane. Seventeen magazine’s April 2014 cover flaunts the words “The Hair Issue!” and “328 Fun Hair Ideas!” to encourage readers to revamp their ‘dos. In an issue advertising a wide range of hairstyle possibilities, you would probably expect to see several shorter cuts mixed in with the waves, top knots, and braids highlighted on the cover.
Too bad you’d be wrong.
In the entire magazine (including advertisements), I counted 20 total photos that included women with hair shorter than shoulder-length. Of those 20 photos, 7 were part of a double-page spread about a Pantene Beautiful Lengths hair donation event. Another 9 photos were printed on pages focused on cutting hair short. That leaves a measly 4 photos that feature short-haired women without calling explicit attention to the length of their locks.
Perhaps instead of “The Hair Issue,” the April edition should be called “The Long Hair Issue,” since that’s apparently the only type of hair Seventeen is representing. Whether we realize it or not, what we see in advertisements and other media affects our perspectives about what is normal and desirable, which is why this underrepresentation is problematic.
It’s no surprise that I was terrified to chop off my hair: I’ve constantly been told by men, women, and the media that having long hair is attractive and “correct.” It’s hard to feel beautiful with shorter tresses if everywhere you go, the women lauded for their beauty have locks that extend to their ribs and beyond.
That’s why I decided to chop it all off. The length of my hair shouldn’t determine my worth as a person. I’ve taken the power away from my long hair, and now I get to show off who I am with chin-length locks.