Ever since I chopped my hair off three months ago, going from very long, straight locks to sassy, choppy, very short hair, I have heard the same sentence over and over. It makes me mad, but I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on why.
“Normally I don’t like girls with short hair, but…”
(you really pull it off, it really suits you, etc).
So…this…this is not a compliment, y’all. It makes me feel squicky and angry. But the person saying it is usually trying to be nice, so I usually smile and thank them, unless they are idiot men on OkCupid, in which case: DUH-lete.
And then recently I read this article Why Patriarchy Fears the Scissors, and a ray of feminist light broke through the clouds (go on, read it like right now- it’s great).
My reasons for cutting my hair were intensely personal, rather than political. The catalyst was a show that I was in where I played a genderqueer character, and because the options for short wigs are not great, I was asked if I would cut my hair. My first response was a firm, “No.” The show wasn’t running for very long, it would be inconvenient and expensive to get new headshots, my long hairstyle suits most of the characters that I audition for, it would take forever to grow back out, and well, I just liked my long hair. Then a picture of Felicia Day, who is one of my heroes (She’s smart, funny, and nerdy; she writes, directs, produces, acts and sings. Oh, and she’s beautiful. I mean, come on.), popped up on my Facebook feed. Looking like this:
BAMF had cut her hair, and it looked cute as hell. Sometimes I get little jolts from The Universe that mean, “Hey, pay attention to this. I’m not going to tell you why it’s important yet, just…look.” I’d seen other actresses I love and look up to go short with their hair, but for some reason this pic caught my attention. I still wasn’t ready to cut mine at this point though, so I put it away in my brain file.
I was talking with Captain Mal (names changed to protect the guilty) about the rehearsal process, and mentioned that they had asked me to cut my hair, and my reasons for not doing so. His response, as always, was right to the point, “Look, fuck that. Fuck worrying about getting cast. Cut it if you’re ready for a change, and if you’re not, don’t.” And I realized that I was ready.
My friend Megan talks about something called the “ingenue mindset.” The ingenue mindset is a trap that young women can easily fall (or gleefully waltz) into that essentially is a very passive, submissive way of living one’s life. The archetypal ingenue doesn’t make things happen, but instead lets things and people happen to her. They tend to be taken care of, and get used to not having to work as hard in order to get things in life. Now, I don’t feel that there has even been in a time in my post-pubescent life where I wasn’t working my ass off, but ingenue mindset-esque struggles with self confidence and fear of putting myself out there are leftovers from the depression years that are still lurking around. They are things that I’ve been working on, but much like rehearsal shoes change the way you move and therefore the way you carry yourself, my long princess hair was making it all too easy to stumble into the ingenue mindset. Unconsciously, I was literally hiding behind my hair.
I made the appointment, and then every time I started to quail at the impending haircut, I repeated a little prayer, “Felicia Day. Emma Watson, Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Carey Mulligan.”
Long story short, I went from this:
I LOVE my short hair. I love being able to choose to look feminine, or boyish, or androgynous. I love that because it’s not so girly, I can wear things like bows and headbands without feeling like an 8 year old. My hair is endlessly entertaining and fascinating; I never know what it will be doing when I wake up. It might look perfect, or I might have some crazy cowlick that I can’t put into a ponytail, so I just have to rock it. No more hiding.
The response has been really really positive as well, which is great. Except for that one irking nonpliment. “Normally I don’t like girls with short hair, but…”
But I need you to stop and think about why you don’t like girls with short hair. You can have a personal preference. Of course you can. But when you say it like this, you sound like I owe you something. It’s only men who say this, and they really think that I do owe them something. For heterosexual identified women, long hair is the norm, and to choose to defy that norm is to say, “I don’t make my decisions based on what is attractive to you. If you don’t think that this is hot and I am awesome, I don’t actually care.”
Because I no longer want to let things happen to me. I am not Ophelia, I am not Juliet. I am Rosalind. I am Lizzie Bennet, I am Jo. I am no bird; and no net ensnares me.