Happy New Year!
I started this series just before the holidays and so now that things have gotten back to normal I thought now would be a great time to post parts 2 and 3.
Just in case you need a refresher as to what this is all about and who the participants are, here is a quick summary:
With this series I hope to uncover a bit how some women relate their hair to their femininity and how they feel their experiences after having cut their squares with larger narratives about women, beauty, femininity and hair.
Teshini-“I am student at York University studying Political Science, Spanish, and French. Currently studying in Brussels, interested in international affairs, food, thrifting, and challenging most of the things that bother me about the society we live. Love music, art, dance, and film.”
Vivienne-“I am a nurse and I am currently studying project management. I love music, baking and the beach.”
Paula-“I am a 25 year old Canadian currently living in Wales doing my PhD in psychology with a focus on motivation towards healthy living. I sail, I dance, I ski and like to be active. I love food and find a certain stress relief in cooking it. You can follow me on twitter @pfosc where I tweet about my PhD, living in wales and other random stuff that pops into my head and I decide the world needs to know about.”
Jess (a.k.a Sparrowqueen) -“Is a queer, 20-something glamourwitch femme and lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She just finished her Masters degree in Communication and Culture. She is currently applying for PhD programs and moonlighting as a burlesque performance artist. You can catch her on her blog, http://sparrowqueen.tumblr.com/“
Adwoa (the Street Idle)- Currently pursuing her M.A. in the Humanities, working and blogging at the Street Idle
3. How did your family, friends, partners, coworkers and/or strangers react? Did people change their behaviour towards you? (i.e.did you feel that coworkers/classmates started to take you more or less seriously?)
Vivienne: Ironically enough just after I got my haircut, a girl representing some store front at the mall asked me if I would like to participate in a modelling campaign for the store. It could have been complete co-incidence but, the fact is that it happened.
The moments right after I had gotten my hair cut, I felt very self-conscious. I felt as though people were staring at me and I kept thinking that they must think one of two things; a. that I’m a little boy or b. that faux hawks are on their way out and that it’s all about the undercut right now. That feeling dissipated quickly enough, but those feelings were there.
I would consider my dad to be fairly “hip and with it” in some respects but when it comes to aesthetics, I would consider him a fairly traditional, Indian male. His reaction to my haircut was “You look like a zombie.” Other parental figures said “While you’re young, you should have long, flowing hair. When you’re old, you’ll have to keep it short.”
Teshini: When I cut my hair the first time, my sister said I looked like a boy. I think my mother and father were okay with it. My coworkers and my friends took it a lot better than those in my extended family. My boyfriend at the time said he didn’t like it and cutting my hair reminded him of his mother (which was weird). At first I felt uncomfortable because I never had my hair that short in its natural state. I became a little self-conscious, but eventually got used to it, especially since my friends and coworkers actually loved it and appreciated it. I had one friend say, “This is much better!”
I actually noticed that the male population was not as interested as before, or there were times when I would be on the bus and guys would stare really hard, and I would look and they’d turn their heads. It was odd and funny at the same time.
Paula: I don’t remember any initial changes but I first started cutting my hair short about three or four years ago. I have received many compliments over the years and if I did receive any [criticisms] either I did not let them impact my view of myself or they were very mild.
Jess: [First Time] My mum walked in midshave and started sobbing. She couldn’t understand why I would do that to myself or why I’d intentionally “want to be ugly like that.” I never regretted it, except for the fact that it was March and then my head got really cold. Also, I went to Austria and Germany three weeks later and some people thought I was a skinhead/neonazi. I guess I hadn’t considered the connotations outside of North America. I actually almost got arrested in Munich when I accidentally wandered into anti-Iraq war protest.
My dad and stepmum though it was rad. Most of my friends like it too. I also was kind of obsessed with Tank Girl at the time, so I thought it was badass. Years later I found out that everyone in my high school assumed I was a lesbian when I shaved my head. I was none the wiser and didn’t hear any of that gossip at the time.
Almost every reaction I received this time around was positive. I had a bit of remorse this time though, I felt like it was harder to hide behind my hair when I was having a bad-skin day or wasn’t feeling well health wise.
Adwoa: It’s funny, because when I went to work after getting my hair cut (it was a small to medium sized Afro before) people sort of freaked out about it, but in a good way. They were all supportive, but they kept commenting on how “edgy” it looked and some people had no idea what to say. Literally. All one co-worker said “Oh….you cut your hair…that’s a different look.”
Vivienne: I hadn’t told anyone that I was planning on cutting my hair so when I walked past the nursing station, the girls at work actually screamed when they saw me. They seemed impressed that I had the courage to do something “so drastic”. They all really seemed to like my haircut. One of my co-workers actually sought out my manager to show her my new haircut and my manager couldn’t get over it. She always compliments me on it. She also mentioned that it made me look more mature.
Perhaps others take me more seriously with my haircut but I don’t really notice a difference. To be honest, I am not overly aware of my new haircut so I wouldn’t say that it has given me more or less confidence. The one observation I did make however, is that everyone’s shock regarding my haircut made me realize that a lot of people I consider a part of my daily life, who I assume to “know me”, really don’t.
Teshini: I would say that I am always confident in the workplace regardless of how I look. I am there to do a job and to make sure I am efficient and effective. And I strive to make the overall work environment better, by challenging or suggesting ideas. In school, I feel that people might have begun to take me more seriously. I was more confident in class, although in general I do not speak only if it’s necessary. Some of my thinking may have shifted, but overall I think cutting my hair made me think a little bit more about life and what I want, not what people expect of me. So I think it made me want to challenge the continual regurgitation that school provided. I would say I was already serious, but I became more serious in the process.
4. Do you generally feel that having short hair is liberating or limiting or even an act of resistance? What do you feel (if anything) that you’ve had to give up? Or what have you gained?
Vivienne: I feel that cutting my hair was a liberating experience. I felt like I was breaking some type of conformity. It feels like I’ve been doing things the same way forever; I typically wear jeans and always buy solid colour tops so that I can mix and match pretty much my entire wardrobe. Even my shoes are black, brown or gold (for dressed up occasions). At some point though, I just got fed up. It started with a really colourful, patterned pant that I bought. They were so loud, my friend dubbed them my “swagga pants” and said, “You’re gonna need your swagger to pull those off!” Studded shoes followed the pants, the faux hawk followed the shoes and a nose piercing is going to follow that, albeit I had one from before. I’m tired of scrubs, I’m tired of being practical, I’m tired of “not giving a sh**.
It finally felt like I was showing people that I didn’t need anyone’s consultation or approval; that I could make decisions for myself; that I could do something out of the ordinary. I feel like I have gained a sense of self. I don’t know how a single haircut managed that but, here I am.
The story I tell is that, I wanted to be pampered and since I hate getting my nails done, and can’t handle massages, the one thing I wanted was to get my hair washed. And, being the practical person that I am, I couldn’t spend money on just getting my hair washed, so I decided to cut my hair, all of it.
The truth is that I went to a party and got hit on, a lot. And, not in the kind of way that makes a girl feel special. It was the, I’m drunk and horny, and you’re the only girl that isn’t married here kind of way. So, within the next couple of days, I got it lopped off. My assumption, though it might be wrong is that most men for a purely aesthetic value, prefer women with long hair. I figured if I cut my hair, I wouldn’t garner a second look, something in their brains would just skim right past me.
Teshini: Initially it was limiting, in the sense that I had no idea what to do with it. Wash and go? Twists? What do I do? Eventually it became liberating. I learned about my hair and what it needed, what I could do with it. It was really low-maintenance and saved me a lot of money. It became liberating because it was me, the hair didn’t define my personality. I was in control of my hair, not it controlling me. It just nice to know that all I have to do is wake up, rub my head, spray some conditioner mixed with water, rub my head again, and I can leave the house without staying in front of the mirror for an hour.
Cutting my hair was an experiment in learning about my hair. It was practical because my hair was damaged and needed to be revived. Eventually, it became a combination aesthetic and practical because I liked it and wanted to try “pretty” hairstyles with it and so forth. And then I cut it again, for practical reasons.
Paula: I think in a lot of respects having short hair matches really well with my personality as it dries faster and I typically have to put less effort into styling it. I did sometimes miss being able to braid it or style it for events. I do think short hair gave me a little more confidence about my appearance as I felt it looked better and had more volume short.
Jess: Shaving completely bald was different than my punk looks – chelsea and mohawks were aesthetic and fashion choices. I saw my complete shave as a bit of an anti-fashion statement, e.g. no fucks were given/I could care less what you think about me/I don’t you or anyone else prettiness
Adwoa: Yes. Generally, I feel that cutting my hair was a liberating experience and even a form of resistance. I am aware of how having natural and short hair is sometimes read by people as a political statement, but again this depends on who’s doing the looking. My current hairstyle is very short on all sides except for the top, and that’s a look that’s kind of everywhere right now. But my cut specifically originated as a men’s hairstyle, specifically, a fade, (but with a longer top) and that was what I wanted to emulate when I first got it cut.
I do wonder if sometimes it’s read as queer as well. Because this is a hair style that a lot of queer women I know and see in queer media have as well and sometimes a little gender bending. I like that my hair is now read in so many ways. It’s read as subversive in some spaces, usually non-African/ black Canadian spaces, and completely normative in others, like African/Black Canadian spaces.
I like that my hair kind of confuses people, especially in the work place. I like that for some people maybe that my hair cut may be pushing the boundaries of what is considered professional grooming and hairstyling, Which I kind of love because I feel those ideas rely on/stem from heavily normative ideas about gender and race. In that way my hair is tool of political resistance, but again most of the people I work with are not Afro/Black Canadians, and my hair cut might have been read differently if they were.
But, even though in many Afro/Black Canadian spaces very short and closely shaved hair is largely accepted and considered feminine, I have been told by hairstylists that cutting the top part of my hair so angular, is seen as a men’s haircut and masculine and rounding out the edges would make the cut more feminine. Though I’m not sure how widespread this idea is. I’ve only heard it from a couple of hairstylists and I have had at least dozen over the years so it could just be personal preference on their part.
*Illustration done for The Street Idle by Awuradwoa