Summer hasn’t officially begun in the northern hemisphere, but summer hair has been emerging in my friend group. The end of the school year (which brings with it the pressing need for change) and the sweltering weather has all of us trimming, shearing, and shedding our locks. The conversations around our haircuts have been an interesting insight into the continued expectations and pressures placed on women’s appearances.
It seems like everyone’s partner has an opinion on how a lady’s hair ought to be styled. Either it’s suddenly too short or it should have been cut even shorter. I think we’re all interested in the opinions of our friends and partners. When it comes to the choices we make about the way we look though, I wish people would keep their criticisms to themselves.
I cut my hair ridiculously short my freshman year of college. It looked really cute, but I got so tired of complete strangers asking if I was a lesbian, I just grew it long again. Now that I’m older and more comfortable talking back, I almost want to cut my hair off again- not because I want short hair, but because I would really enjoy getting into rows with all the idiots who a) think that short hair is a signifier of sexual preference, b) that there’s anything at all wrong with looking like or being a lesbian, and c) have the audacity to comment on my appearance at all.
Even the process of getting a haircut can be a bit of an ordeal. I never feel more out of place than when I’m sitting in chair surrounded by beautiful people with perfect hair and flawless skin. I always feel like a female failure when my stylist asks what I usually do with my hair and I say, “Um, you know, I wash it?” I’ve never had my hair cut without the stylist asking me about my boyfriend. I guess that’s a good conversation starter, but I always have the urge to make some snarky comment about having a girlfriend. I never do- I don’t want to even risk offending the person with the power to shave my head- but I can’t imagine how alienating those questions must be for people who actually are (my goodness!) lesbians.
So much about the presentation of race, gender, and sexuality are wrapped up in the way a woman’s hair is styled. Our hair is another site of bodily ownership, yet another place that is constantly coopted by others. Do we wear our hair the way we do because it makes us feel great, or because it’s the way somebody else wants us to be wearing it? How funny, when hair is at the very bottom of the List of Things that Matter. Rather, it’s at the very bottom of the List of Things that Should Matter. Hair is pretty near the top of the List of Things that Inexplicably Do Matter. Especially if you’re a black woman! There are so many politics around a black woman’s hair. I have a very limited understanding of it. I watched the documentary Good Hair and thought I’d learned a lot, but this article helped me understand how much of the film was playing into and perpetuating white dominance.
My dear friend gave me a bracelet that says, “fuck off”. It’s not the most polite thing in the world, but it is my absolute favorite piece of jewelry. It’s my response to every unwelcome comment about trivial matters. You think my summer hair looks stupid? Allow me to direct your attention to my bracelet! You don’t like that I won’t get a pixie cut even though you think it’s so super hot? Have you seen this bracelet I’m wearing? But while being self confident and assured are great attributes we should all strive for, they don’t in and of themselves depoliticize our presentation of identity. And that’s frustrating. It shouldn’t matter how we look, what we wear, or the way we cut our hair. It shouldn’t matter, but it usually does. I can flash my bracelet all day long (and I’m more than happy to do just that) but the real change is going to happen when we stop making judgments and assumptions about identity based on appearance.
For what it’s worth, I think your summer hair looks great.