What I Learned from Cutting My Hair Off

Jo Boon discusses the crossover between style and identity when it comes to hair cuts, and what she had learned from having her hair cut off. Good decision, or bad; and how do we quantify beauty standards today?

It was almost six months ago that I had my hair cut ‘boyishly’, pixie- cut style short and I still have very mixed feelings on the decision. I’d always wanted to try it, since high school at least, but had never been brave enough to take the plunge. Hair is so much a part of feminine beauty standards that sometimes it can be hard to imagine why someone would choose to go against the mainstream; especially if they started out by meeting societies standards. Right from the image of Rapunzel’s long blonde locks, through to the politicisation of black hair, we’ve turned haircuts into a statement about identity.

Part of me simply wanted to defy expectations of me, and what we expect from perfect feminine beauty. An ex - boyfriend once told me he thought I would look beautiful whatever I did… unless I cut my hair short. This was my retrospective fingers up to that kind of thinking. A feminist statement that I don’t have to be pretty or conform or do what others want me to all the time. The reality is: it’s a hell of a lot easier having short hair. Washing my hair takes seconds and it dries in an hour. This is perfect for me. I realise it would look a lot better if I styled it but I don’t really want to. Women are expected to waste so much time presenting themselves, and I’m starting to lose energy over the whole charade.

Inevitably, I knew my new hair would prompt mixed reactions. A family member recently visited for my graduation and was appalled; I’ve always been the ‘nice’ girl – why would I do this? In their eyes, this was subversive as I no longer looked pretty and neat, I didn’t meet their standards of femininity. I’m almost certain they won’t display my graduation picture because they hate the way I look in the photo. When it comes down to it, my appearance is considered more important that graduating university. On the flip side, another family member loves it, as she thinks I look more grown up and professional. I am iron deficient, which seems to mean very little except tiredness and hair thinning. She thought it was the best thing for my hair to be cut short, so that it stays healthy looking. These reactions are polar opposites but focused on the same concerns: my appearance and the way others will perceive my attractiveness.

The thing is, why is it any of their damn business?

There is a world of difference between commenting on someone’s hair, or even stating your personal preference, and telling someone why what they have done is right/ wrong because society will think X about you. I don’t give a damn, I did this because I wanted to know if I would be brave enough and find out if I like it.

I don’t – I can’t wait for my hair to grow back out. I may resent being told it was a mistake by other people, but this is not a decision that I will repeat. Having said this, I have no regrets whatsoever. I’m pleased I had the bravery to do something that was a big step for me, and that I experimented with my appearance. At the end of the day, you can’t please everyone so it’s just about figuring out what pleases you. I’ve always been very femme looking and, to be honest, everything that could be wanted from a nice, white, middle class girl. This grates with my politics. Since coming out, developing my feminism and, well, just growing up I’ve been trying to experiment with my appearance to find out what I choose for myself. I hate wearing bras with a passion, but I do like shaving. I don’t understand nail polish at all, but quite enjoy a little make up. I like baggy, conventionally ‘unflattering’ tops and jumpers, but am excited to grow my hair a little longer again.

I’ve rebelled against the patriarchy and loved it, but I’m never going to look like a stereotypically queer girl either. When people come out, there’s often an attempt to integrate into the community and fit your label. If you’re a lesbian/ bi/ pan/ queer this is typically cutting your hair and wearing plaid. I love the plaid but am excited to have my hair back. I don’t want to fit the queer label any more than I fit the femme one. I want to float somewhere in between these identities, and use my appearance as a way of expressing that. There’s no getting away from the fact that I am a ‘nice’, white, middle class girl. I am privileged, and I was brought up to perform femininity. I’ve practiced that performance for over two decades so is it really that surprising I more comfortable falling back on pretty dresses and curls at times?

So, what did I learn when I cut my hair off? That people are always going to comment on your body and feel they have a right to it, especially as a woman. That it’s good to experiment and work out what you would choose for yourself. That trying to conform to a label, and present yourself as coming from a group is not necessarily good, even if it’s subversive. That it’s so much easier to just be yourself.