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Why cutting my hair changed my relationship to beauty

Jan. 25, 2018
Avatar anna lee.jpgd25733c8 3ea4 49e2 b9e1 06cf385b1adc

We are well into the new year, and everyone is hustling to fulfill their new year’s resolutions. If resolutions are not your thing, you probably still have goals that you want to achieve to be a “better” person. Although I attempt to live by the “new year, new me” motto each year, I fall short and end up breaking my own promises to myself.

So to prepare for the new year, I made a promise to myself, one that I know I wouldn’t break. In mid-December, I got a pixie cut, complete with front bangs that I haven’t had since my middle school years. This was prompted by various things. I always had relatively short hair—mid-bob length—and I wanted a drastic change to my boring old cut. I also hated maintaining it, despite its short length. And the biggest reason of all was that I was simply bored with my face and all the hair that framed it. I initially went into the hair salon with an image and a vision—a short neck-length bob cut—but everyone told me that I would look better with a pixie. So I closed my eyes and wished for the best, and bam: I had a pixie cut!

This is where this gets weird. I somehow felt like I wasn’t Anna anymore. Although everyone told me that this new cut suited me better, I couldn’t help but feel less feminine, as if having hair meant being a “girl”. I live in oversized hoodies and leggings during the winter, and I felt more uncomfortable in my tomboyish, comfy outfit than ever before. I felt like I had to dress “more like a girl” just so my Starbucks barista wouldn’t mistaken me for a boy. I felt so self-conscious walking in my neighborhood Pavilions five minutes away from my house that I had to take an Uber to avoid the glances of strangers who weren’t even looking. I hated the face that stared back at me in the mirror, because I couldn’t recognize her. This disorientation and insecurity followed me throughout few weeks, and I felt like I had to compensate by wearing more color, putting on makeup that I don’t know how to use—all just to feel more like a girl, more like myself. 

But then I slowly began to realize that my discomfort stemmed from something that I had critically examined in a long time: the “ideal” notions of beauty derived from the sexist and patriarchal society we live in. Because it has been so ingrained in us that being a woman means having long, luscious, straight hair, I couldn’t help but fall back against these societal notions and shape my self-perception according to the ideas against which I had always rebelled. The concept of “beauty” in the society we live in today is limited by our culture the media. Because the “traditional” American notion of beauty involves being a blue-eyed, blonde, slender, tall white woman is the ideal, the media is geared to portray that one archetype. Things have gotten a lot better, of course, but not enough to stop a self-aware 19-year old from feeling self-conscious for getting a stupid pixie cut. A haircut, for goodness’ sake! I felt both confounded and dumb for feeling this way, but I soon realized that it’s not my fault—and as long as I could come to accept that the reflection in the mirror was someone just as feminine, tomboyish, intelligent, brave, and beautiful as the “old me”, that would be enough.

The more I delved into this, I realized that there are so many women who don’t have a choice about the hairstyle they get: girls dealing with alopecia, girls fighting cancer, girls battling acute stress disorder, girls suffering from malnutrition. I cut my hair because I had a choice, and that was—and is—a privilege I didn’t even know I had prior to this experience. Your hair doesn’t define your beauty, and you are beautiful with or without hair; if you think of it, hair is a genetic trait, a survival mechanism meant to keep us warm which has somehow morphed into this ridiculous standard by which we measure “beauty”. Hopefully, sometime in the future, we can laugh—albeit awkwardly—at how much importance we placed in hair (or lack thereof) as a measure of beauty: after all, according to my English professor, in the Middle Ages foreheads were viewed as erotic and sexual!

And for all my girls who have the choice to cut your hair, and are bored with the same old hairstyle, get a cut! Whether your dream look is a trim, a bob, or a full-blown pixie—or keeping your hair as-is—you do you, because contrary to what One Direction and the rest of pop culture says, you know better than anyone else what makes you feel and look beautiful.