twirly twirly

Back in January, Courtney wrote a great post about externalizing internal milestones: in her case, it was chopping off 10 inches of hair.

Sadly, I think hair has become one of the most powerful tools in a misogynist culture, in a few different ways:

  1. Women use critiques of other women’s hair as a policing mechanism:  “Did you see [so-and-so]’s new haircut?  It looks awful.  I can’t believe she did that.”
  2. Men disparage women for spending so much time on their hair, using it as evidence of how women are vapid, self-obsessed and shallow.
  3. The expectation of “looking presentable” is disproportionately levied on women, because grooming (hair & makeup) takes much longer.  Elaborate hair processes are almost a requirement if you’re a professional, because to do otherwise is sloppy and a poor reflection on your ability to do your job well.
  4. Numbers 2 & 3 combine into a perfect double standard: our culture requires women to always be beautiful, but they are condemned for the amount of time it takes to create that image.

So all of that sucks, because hair is fun.  It’s a great tool for making a statement, or not, to rebel or conform, to play make-believe and to celebrate yourself.

It’s also a great distraction: since I started my career of sitting through things that are boring, I’ve twirled my hair between my fingers.  So far, I haven’t been officially accused of not paying attention, but I live for the day I get called out and reply with such a witty retort that my accuser is stunned into silence.  (I have a bank of imaginary interactions in which I impress people, which is another post.)

Courtney says her hair was a security blanket of sorts, and that was true for me as well, but for different reasons.

For a long time, the primary purpose of my hair was to be a personal characteristic that people could use to describe me other than “fat.”  I thought that if I had really  long hair, when people would think of me or refer to me, they might say “the girl with the long hair” instead of “the fat girl.”  (That these 2 options weren’t the only ones available did not occur to me at the time.)

I was also hook line and sinker for the fantasy of being thin, and thought that a sweet hairstyle would have to wait until I actually started living my life (i.e., got thin).  Not unrelated, I self-deprecatingly thought that styled hair on fat women looked ridiculous: Why don’t you go to the gym instead of the salon, fatty?

In my sophomore year of college I chopped my hair off, from halfway down my back to above my shoulders.  The picture I have from that day is the first one since I’d turned twelve that I was beaming.

Obviously the journey to self-acceptance took more than just a haircut, but it was my way of trying to kick myself in the ass and stop waiting around for my life to start.  It was the first act of many, many acts, done on a daily basis with varying levels of success, designed to convince myself that I was capable of being and doing more: not after school, not after I get a boyfriend, not after I lose 50 pounds, today.  Right now.

And 6 years later, as I sit here twirling my hair between my fingers, I realize that those daily reminders have become weekly, monthly.  They’ve given me the glorious power to try, and if I fuck up royally, either get over it or blame it on someone else.


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