Four months ago, I made the courageous decision to cut my 12 inch hair off entirely. Here’s a video of the day, the event, and the aftermath:
A huge thank you to my good friends Maxi Battaglia and Ponita Reasmy for making this video possible. It is a wonderful record of a major moment in my life.
If you’re curious about why on earth I would make that choice, here’s a little summary:
1. Short hair on women looks badass.
2. Binary gender stereotypes are best challenged on the body.
3. My sister lost a significant portion of her hair to cancer treatment.
4. The charity receiving my donations makes wigs for children dealing with hair loss from cancer treatment.
I wrote about my reasoning in an article named Four Reasons I’m Shaving My Head For Charity published by Aliljoy just days before the big shave.
While these four things are all great reasons, I think the biggest by far (for me) is challenging binary gender stereotypes. I’ve always taken an interest in challenging the authority of patriarchal social values that dictate and categorise the value of a woman’s behaviour and appearance.
Gender stereotypes are very clearly played out on the body. I’ve long imagined the female body as the ideal space for these to be challenged. To reference the ever-relevant Judith Butler, gender itself is performed: the gendered body is “the legacy of sedimented acts” (523).
When the body is both my private, personal space and my public, political sphere, I believe it the one place I can instigate my personal challenges to the world around me. Long hair is one of the primary things that makes me recognisably female, and one of the few that is distinctly impermanent. Cutting off all my hair – pushing my appearance to the extreme – is the ultimate act of rebellion against binary gender norms that surround us all.
Not only was this a personal challenge, but through the change to my appearance I challenged the people around me. I challenged my parents, my boyfriend, my friends, my boss, my students, passersby, and anyone who saw me in the three months my hair was unusually short for a woman. I challenged them to react and, in reacting, to show me their true views of what was appropriate for a woman my age to do with her hair.
The worst reactions?
The shock on my boss’s face when I told him my weekend plans. Six young students screaming their lungs out at my altered appearance. My boss telling me (with relief) that I looked like a ten-year-old boy, once my hair had grown a few inches. Being addressed as “sir” on a plane.
Being told: “you look super hot / badass / edgy.” Getting praised for my bravery. Having a friend copy my new hairstyle within the week. The look of admiration on my teenage students’ faces when I went back to work.
Probably the most common among my Chinese students, though, was an impulse to tell me I still looked beautiful. It was as though, like Samson’s strength, a woman’s beauty fades with a snip of her locks. This is precisely the stereotype that I wanted to challenge. I can’t assume it worked on everyone, but once they got used to my short hair many students – new and old – have praised me for my chic new look.
If you liked this post, why not check out: Does Having Leg Hair Make Me Less Of A Woman?
Butler, Judith. ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.’ Theatre Journal 40.4 (1988): 519-531.