I recently went through a drastic hair transformation, which for me was a giant leap in sensitive territory. I committed to it for personal growth and saw it through, and that to me is an accomplishment.
I think I’m okay with the result. I’ll never be fully satisfied, never think it’s as good as people tell me it is, because it will never be perfect. When I look into the mirror and see it’s not perfect, any negative reaction I have to that makes me feel like a triple failure: 1) my hair isn’t perfect, meaning 2) I let my hair get to me in spite of its superficial value, and therefore 3) I’m a terrible feminist.
I shouldn’t see the “perfect hairstyle” as something to accomplish. There’s no achievement to unlock, and there’s no Woman Scouts badge for it. (In fact, this vulnerability to the beauty myth may result in getting a Womyn Scouts badge revoked.) I’m convinced, however, that there are benefits and consequences, that a hair change results in a win or a loss to be recorded in my ledger. Making a bold change in hair affects my standing in life. Despite what consoling people will tell me, that’s not just in my head.
Women still need to worry about their physical appearance in realms of living beyond wooing partners. Men do too, but, well, men have shorter hair on average so bad cuts grow out faster, and women are held to higher standards of presentation, more uniformly across the range of genetic placements along the spectrum of the social consensus of beauty. It’s an institution of patriarchy I’d love to smash, but as I’m a product of the society into which it’s embedded AND because I have a day-to-day life to lead just like everyone else, the pressure to live up to that standard has been a part of me all along, and it continues. I’m expected of a level of attractiveness where sexuality is supposedly removed. To get treated with respect everywhere requires that I look acceptable, and to make matters worse “acceptable” is a very subtly changing spectrum of grey.
Leaving aside weight issues, the first and bigger of Pandora’s boxes, I feel the nature of my hair is an injustice that puts me on a lower level than others for reasons I can’t control. It’s wavy and curly and messy and I started going grey far too young. It’s been a life-long habit for me to oppress the first two characteristics, and for two solid years before this transformation I said fuck it and embraced the third. Aside from occasional fits of irrational behaviour I felt like I had a hold over one of my greatest demons. I stopped the seriously disturbed habits I had for well over 10 years in adolescence and young adulthood, like punching myself in the face for having a bad hair day. Any other genetic benefits towards “attractiveness” – my multi-coloured eyes and their complementing eyebrows, decently sized and shaped nose, subtly aesthetic ears that distracted from nothing (and I won’t even go into the deeper level of the whiteness of my skin) – weren’t appreciated, if acknowledged, because my hair dug into my head with more than its follicles.
I’ve never fully come to terms with my hair to the point of liking it, which I guess is a key part in how I dealt with this self-loathing. I decided to stop. I dyed it a few times in the past five years, but after hiding the whites for a wedding in 2010 I settled for growing out the grey. I let the rest of my face step in. I decided I didn’t look old with other features, so if anyone did notice the white hair they wouldn’t take it as a reflection of my age. And if they did, I had to accept that I’m not in the “young” category anymore. I was ready for that.
Since the worst emotional reactions came immediately following a haircut, I…stopped getting my hair cut. Hair dressers are supposed to build relationships with their clients on the basis of hair. I hated talking about my hair, and I hated people befriending it since it was one of my greatest villains. Hair dressers are paid to compliment people on their hair. When I’m complimented on things I shouldn’t be complimented on, I get riled and angry. That’s not a healthy state to be in, sitting in a chair strapped down by a bib and an overseer with sharp scissors in hand. I never developed a working relationship with hair dressers so I never saw the same one twice. And the choice to avoid them altogether saved me money, too, which served as a middle-level justification – the lower level being suppressing rage and the higher one being defiance of disempowering gender norms.
I could never claim that higher level anyway. I still wear makeup almost every day, and my sense of fashion doesn’t exactly shatter the patriarchy. I still hold myself to a standard of beauty for reasons that are completely outside of attracting a mate. I know I have to look good enough to get respect from other women, and in professional settings, and to get decent service in day-to-day micro-level commerce. This recent leap isn’t big enough to have escaped that. But I’ve lived through entrusting a professional armed with altering chemicals and sharp scissors to do something intentionally drastic. It’s a leap that doesn’t reach beyond the defined limits of a second-class citizen within a sexist power structure, but it does reach beyond the limits of the institutional oppression inside my head. Whether my hair looks any good, I deserve major credit for this. In fact, in some ways I should get more of a pat on the back if I took the risk and completely fucked it up. Hair grows back, but in the mean time I would proudly wear a bad hair style as a Womyn Scouts Badge.