07.18.12 Beauty

Hairy Politics

Hairy Politics

BY Maggie Jankuloska

Like many women, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my hair. It is too thick, too unruly and even manages to amaze hairdressers with its abundance.

Recently I read an article about Harry Potter star Emma Watson. Following the end of the Potter film franchise, Watson famously cut her long locks and flaunted her short pixie hairdo. Albeit resembling a young Twiggy and looking cute, the young Brit revealed “I had journalists asking me if this meant I was coming out, if I was a lesbian now.”

Others were similarly shocked by her new hairdo, which she has described as “liberating.” This prompted me to ask myself about the link between our identity and our hair and our obsession with the perfect mane.

Hair and hair styles reflect our personalities, our desired image as well as culture. Different cultures reflect different beliefs about hair, today and historically. Long hair has symbolised: fertility, wisdom, mourning, devotion rebellion and youth, with men and women in different ages and cultures.

In Biblical references, growing hair was associated with your devotion to God. Prior to World War I long hair and beards were accepted with men. Yet in the 20th Century short hair on men has become assigned with “control” “obedience” and “discipline.”

During the 1960s counterculture movement, Rastafarians and iconic revolutionaries have overthrown those ideals with their long hair symbolising rebellion. In the later 20th Century, men with long hair have quickly become associated with anarchy or music or sometimes both.

According to some popular opinion, men with long hair are immediately dubbed as “liberal,” “lazy,” “unclean,” “musical” or “has beens.” On the other hand are bald men seen as the complete opposite or are they seen as tough macho men a la Vin Diesel or Bruce Willis?

Similarly black women are renowned for the lengths they go to, in an effort to maintain their hair. Chemical straightening and weaves are in high demand and popular with women who desire straight hair. Yet some women have rebelled against pressure to meet Eurocentric hair styles; presenting their natural hair as a cultural symbol, synonymous with their identity.

The criticism of Emma Watson’s appearance is an example of the narrow-minded attitude towards women’s sexuality. Men with long hair are dubbed “rebellious” while women with short hair are “masculine.”

Does this mean that as society we don’t expect lesbians to have long hair? Heterosexual and homosexual women cannot be spotted by hair or dress code. Can’t short hair be also labelled as feminine or seen as an act of confidence and empowerment? Similarly would greying hair on a woman label her as ‘distinguished’, as it would a man? Or is a woman with a few grey hairs ‘mature’ or ‘tired?’

This made me wonder, are we as a society still labelling blondes as ‘dumb,’ redheads as ‘fiery’ or ‘overly sexual’ and brunettes as ‘prudes?’

Although a sign of freedom, it seems that hair has the power to separate and assimilate people in society, through outdated stereotypes of value and beauty. A friend of mine with thin hair envies my thick, unruly hair while I envy her easy to maintain hair.

Yes we’ve all had bad hair days, where your mood is ruined by your tresses. Days where you think every person’s eyes are glued on your scalp and you imagine your hair as this larger than life persona, somehow attached to you.

Sadly we are somehow enslaved by our hair. We paste other people’s hair to feel more ourselves, we retouch, we curl, we straighten, we braid, we tease, we tame, we colour. Is this being more ourselves or projecting our desired version to the world?

Although it is tangible, something we mould, change and admire, it appears hair is something that is also abstract. It is fluid and constantly evolving in meaning and appearance. With it, it carries a social significance and hair is tied with our outer sense of self and image.

Featured image via lindawagner.net

Maggie Jankuloska is an Australian writer and contributor for HelloGiggles and The Conversation. Avid reader and writer of her debut novel, Francophile, Leonard Cohen aficionado and history nerd. Follow her on twitter- @maggiejank and her blog  http://maggiewritesmoderndread.tumblr.com/


  • kathyw

    Yes, society is still labeling people by their hair. I have strawberry blonde curly hair. All of my life people have argued over whether it is blonde or red. If they decide I’m a blonde, then I’m dumb and they are shocked by my intelligence. If they decide I’m a redhead, they either don’t like me because they don’t like red hair or they think I’m fiery, angry and a nymphomaniac. The curls get a different kind of judgment. Some love the curls; others don’t. Men hate that they can’t run their fingers through my hair. I have been judged as creative, lazy, and a free spirit because of my curly hair. I wear it long to the middle of my back because I dance hula and Tahitian. I would probably have it shoulder length otherwise.

    I hated being considered a redhead because there is a tremendous amount of hate about red hair. As I got older and my hair got a bit darker, I added blonde highlights. I recently colored it all red–much closer to my natural color after 10 years of highlights (my hair was damaged and extremely pale). I love the red. Some people love it; others don’t. I no longer care what they think. People are going to judge me no matter what, so I’m making myself happy.

  • Kistmet29

    Probably the worst thing I did after a particularly bad breakup in high school was go and get my hair cut to a pixie cut. It was kind of short-medium length to begin with so it wasn’t as radical a change as Emma Watson’s but walking into school cut that “I feel better/changed” high when everyone started treating me like I had a neon sign that screamed “lesbian”. One guy who I had gym class with started refering me as “The Dyke” (even infront of the teacher) and when I finally had enough, was even lectured by the principle that I should have expected it to happen since I “was obviously looking for that sort of attention”. All because of a hair cut!! Now I get slight anxiety attacks when I think my hairdresser has cut an inch too short. It’s horrible the amount of stereotypes that follow hair and how it can actually make someone a target for some real hate.

    •  Sorry to hear about that. Personally I love a girl who can rock short hair.

  • Ali

    One of my friends once said the following and I think it is so true. “Your hair was put on your head to remind you that you can’t control everything.” Something to ponder.

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