For women, long hair has been held as a high standard for beauty. Short hair on women is often associated with rebellion, alternative, and altogether – ugly. I had never planned on shaving my head, nor did I expect the gendered responses that would come about from a trivial topic such as hair. It is simply a choice I had made on a Sunday morning.
Growing up in a deeply Southern family, femininity was always attached to a woman’s hair. A woman’s hair dictated whether she was a “Southern Belle” or a “Southern Butch.” If a woman’s hair is long, flowing, and shiny it would mean she takes care of herself and she cares for her appearance. This is very apparent in the community, as many of the young, middle and older aged women have long hair that is very well taken care of. Only a small percentage of the women in the community have short or pixie length hair and they are typically much older women who no longer are able to maintain their locks.
Prior to shaving my head, I was very worried about how I would be perceived by others with a buzzcut. I was worried I would be seen as less beautiful, less feminine, less empowered. To me, beauty, femininity, and empowerment all were tied together with my hair. Is that thought process encompassed into beauty due to my upbringing in a Southern manner? Or is that thought process encompassed into beauty due to my upbringing as a girl? Is being Southern the impact factor or would I have been destined to feel bound to achieving long, flowing hair because I was simply born and identify as a female?
Based on these questions alone, I wanted to delve deeper into the history of women shaving their heads. Interestingly enough, women’s hair is often attributed to the patriarchal bind that men still have over women, consciously or subconsciously. Since women are often *persuaded* to believe that luscious locks would allow them to achieve the golden ticket of obtaining a husband, that is what they did. Since the only way out of one household of the young woman’s parents was to marry, the woman had to pride herself on what a man would want – a thin waist and long hair.
Even in Ancient Egypt, hair was accommodated with “gels” made from fat to accentuate all types of hair. Then with the Romans and Greeks in the first century seemed to be a shift of women of higher class or status to make more complicated hairstyles, which could only be done if the woman’s hair was long. The more wealth the woman had, the more complex the hair.
As time went on and progressed into the Medieval times, eligible bachelorettes would style hair to attract a husband and was also deemed as “their crowning glory.” Continuing with the women of status, Queen Elizabeth of the 1500s had one of the most coveted hair of the time due to her unique, curly red hair. Again, status and wealth attributed to how well-done and complex the hair was, which was the way the hair fell so to speak, until the 1920s.
In the 1920s, women were allowed the right to vote and with it came what seemed like a temporary lapse in the patriarchy. Women were drinking, smoking, driving cars, and cutting their hair into short, boyish crops. While women’s capabilities were more well-known and rights were upheld, long hair made a comeback, with a speckling of short and medium hair lengths about. Many studies state that the quality and length of a woman’s hair can indicate the health and youth of her reproductive potential. The longer and better quality her hair (shiny, not frizzy, etc.), the more likely she will have healthy offspring. This would also explain a lot for the many, many years of the female relationship with hair as previously discussed.
For most women, hair is an identifier for culture, gender, and sexuality. In the present day, the lack of hair is deemed as “alternative.” Women and girls who choose to have a short haircut are thought to be rebelling against her family or simply “going through a phase”. Women who choose to have short hair are thought to be apart of the LGBTQ community. A personal experience of mine since shaving my head is that more individuals believe me to be lesbian or bisexual. With this being said, people were more careful to say things that are more respectful and considerate such as providing minor changes to adjectives and pronouns. Instead of a question such as, “what does your husband do for a living?” changed to, “what does your spouse do for a living?” when I had longer hair. More people gave the side-eye when I’m questioned about my pronouns as if they were curious to the answer.
Upon shaving my head, my personal experience was exhilarating and also very relaxed at the same time – it was exciting, but also terrifying. I finally felt that I had, literally, cut away any excuse to hide behind a curtain. All that was left was myself, flaws and all, and I had to present my true self to the world. It felt as a menacing act, to be my authentic self to all of these people but upon deeper reflection, I thought why? Why is it so hard to be myself in the world? If I truly like myself, I have to stand in that fact and that fact alone can protect me from the opinions and actions of others. Upon the self-acceptance and love, I realized I did not have a care if my bald head made other people feel uncomfortable. Hair is a defining aspect of beauty in the female population; as is confidence, self-acceptance, and self-love.
Hair can be cut, shaped, dyed, adorned, and much more, but an uncommon practice for women is to shave their hair off. When women do so, it is often deemed as an oddity; they are shaving their head because they are more masculine, they identify as a “non-traditional” sexuality, or they shave it for a reason. Some women shave their head in honor of breast cancer survivors/victims, while some shave their head because they want to identify more with their own gender identity; however, some women shave their head, simply because they want to. All of these choices are exactly that – a choice.