I fondly remember sitting on a stool in the bathroom, patiently fighting through the semi-painful experience of my mother doing my hair before elementary school. She didn’t offer much variety in hairstyles, it was either a ponytail or two pigtails; but they were always perfectly tight and neat. Hair symbolises many things, it carries sentimentality, and haircare can create a moment of bonding between parent and child. Hair, especially women’s hair is treated as a prized possession, and why wouldn’t it be — it takes time to grow, and energy and money to take care of.
Go to your local newsstand and take a look at essentially any magazine cover and the subject’s hair is most likely flying voluminously in sexy artificial wind. Or a certain KJ-Klan having gained monstrous profits from their hyper-feminised and sexualised portrayals and endeavours including selling luscious hair extensions; or even the recognisable washing-hair-equals-sexual-pleasure shampoo commercial. A woman’s hair is synonymous with her beauty, femininity, and sexuality, and thereby inherently subject to the male gaze and gendered power dynamics.
Over the last couple of years pop culture saw a rise in femme bodies shaving their heads: Kate Hudson, Amandla Stenberg, Kristen Stewart to name a few. Actress and feminist Rose McGowan shared that she was sick of “long, glossy Kardashian-esque hair that says, ‘fuck me, big boy’.” And that she never quite grew comfortable with long hair because it made her feel like she had a plant on her head and a sex target on her back. In her memoirs I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, the legend and icon that is Grace Jones explained “My shaved head made me look more abstract, less tied to a specific race or sex or tribe. I was black but not black; woman, but not woman; American, but Jamaican; African, but science fiction.” Alternatively, Emma Gonzalez, the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor turned gun-control activist shaved her head simply because “It’s Florida. Hair is just an extra sweater I’m forced to wear.”
I thought long and hard about this decision; there were so many things to consider. Before cutting it all off, my hair was the longest it had ever been; I frequently received compliments and was often asked for hair advice. I was proud of my long, shiny hair, and it was definitely a source of my confidence. But then I started to be wary of it. I’m into makeup, I’m into fashion, and I express myself accordingly. My hair acted as the cherry on top of this sundae of conventional hyper-femininity, and it was just too sweet for me. I realised I didn’t feel comfortable presenting myself in this traditional feminine way, that ticks certain boxes in order to be deemed conventionally attractive by the general public, or more significantly, men.