In late 2011, I decided to cut my slightly-longer-than-shoulder-length, classically feminine hair style very short — the shortest it had ever been.
My experience of deciding to cut my hair short
I think that for most girls who take the plunge and cut if all off, there is a defining must-cut-it moment. Certainly, these girls (myself included) may have flirted with the idea long before this defining moment occurs, but it is in this moment that it becomes something much bigger, a compulsion that threatens to overwhelm.
For me, that moment was while admiring Ashley Judd’s playful-yet-professional short cut in High Crimes (I became a big Jim Caviezel fan after the first time I watched The Count of Monte Cristo).
The movie was great, her acting was great, and my goodness… her hair was so great. It was then I think I knew I wanted to experience having very short hair, and that I would likely want something close to what Judd had in this most wonderful of wonderful movies.
Not one to make big decisions lightly (and trust me, this was a very big decision), I gathered all the information I could, googled for blog posts regarding chopping off one’s hair and my search led me to this article, entitled “Hair Dare: Why I fell hard for my pixie cut.”
Writer Stefanie Demas (photo above) wrote about how pulled-together her new crop made her feel — how on-purpose her new look felt… and I was almost completely convinced that it was time for me to cut mine off — any questions I had until this point about whether or not I should “man up” (in a manner of speaking) and make it happen were almost completely resolved.
And then I read the following piece by Joan Juliet Buck, and nothing* could stop me.
*There was something that almost stopped me. For me, there was actually an ethical/moral component to the decision (my parents raised me Sikh, and for years I never cut my hair — as an adult, even though I decided that cutting my hair was a decision I felt was alright for me, I still somehow felt that cutting it so short was somehow worse than just cutting it a little). After I went ahead with the cut, I (fortunately) did not regret my decision from a moral perspective, but, I admit I did struggle with it from a vain, comfort-level perspective.
ON SHORT HAIR
Written by Joan Juliet Buck, first published in American Vogue (c 1988)
Joan Juliet Buck, a devoted short-hair convert, explains why it makes a difference.
“Hair is time.
Women with short hair always look as if they have somewhere else to go. Women with long hair tend to look as if they belong where they are, especially in California. Short hair takes a short time. Long hair takes a long time. Long hair moves faster than short hair. Long hair tells men that you are all woman, or a real woman, or at the very least a girl. Short hair always makes them wonder. Short hair makes children ask each other –usually at the school-yard gate, when parents are late– “Are you a boy or girl?” Men married to women with short hair should not have affairs with women who have long hair kept up with many little pins and combs. Once you have cut your hair you have to remember to wear lipstick, but you can put away the brush, elastics, and the black barrettes in the form of shiny leaves with rhinestone hearts. When you cut your hair you lose a nose and gain a neck. A neck is generally better than a nose. It does not need to be powdered, except on extreme occasions. It does, however, need to be washed more often.
With short hair you suddenly dislike the month of March, when the wind blows down the back of your neck. With short hair you begin to crave pearl necklaces, long earrings, and a variety of sunglasses. And you brush your teeth more often. Short hair removes obvious femininity and replaces it with style. When it starts growing out a little and losing its style, you have to wear sunglasses until you can get it to the hairdresser. That’s why you need a variety. Short hair makes you aware of subtraction as style. You can no longer wear puffed sleeves or ruffles; the neat is suddenly preferable to the fussy. You eye the tweezers instead of the blusher. What else can you take away? You can’t hide behind short hair. Your nape is exposed. Men put their hands around your neck instead of stroking your long locks. You can only pray they have friendly intentions. The backs of your ears show, your jaw line is clear to anyone watching, and you realize –perhaps for the first time– how wide the expanse of skin is between cheekbone and ear.
You may look a little androgynous, a little unfinished, a little bare. You will look elegant, as short hair requires you to keep your weight slightly below acceptable levels. However, the first time you wear a bathing suit with short hair, you will feel exceptionally naked. People who used to look straight at you will love you in profile. Short hair makes others think you have good bones, determination, and an agenda. The shape of your skull is commented on, so are its contents. They can pick you out in a crowd, and you can be recognized from behind, which can be good or bad. But your face is no longer a flat screen surrounded by a curtain: the world sees you in three dimensions.
Chase to the cut.”
Chase to the cut, indeed — done, and done. I ended up cutting my hair into a very short, angled hybrid of a pixie and an inverted bob.
A harsh reality (or, why I struggled having short hair)
In truth, the cut was very chic, and it did suit me and often my style.
But the emotional components of cutting off my hair were not something I anticipated, because I had not considered them. Yes I had considered the more obvious questions, such as: “Will this haircut suit my face?” and “Will this haircut suit my style?”
But I failed to consider these, more disconcerting questions: “Will I feel comfortable with such short hair (this is, to ask, am I ready for the feelings I, as a self-professed “girly-girl” will encounter after making this choice)?” and “Will I be happy with the outward projection of myself after I am without something that fundamentally identifies me as feminine?”
Sometimes that transition was frustrating, and sometimes my very frustration made me question my own values (am I really this vain? am I really near tears because I miss my long hair? is hair even this important?) but it also taught me that change is good.
As writer Sarah Wilson poignantly points out on her blog, when you poke life, something is bound to come out. And poking life is healthy.
What I gained
As revealed in Ms. Buck’s prose, “short hair removes obvious femininity and replaces it with style” — a lesson Ms. Demas also discovered when she cut her hair.
And while I may not have been prepared for it, I did have to adjust to it. I no longer had this obvious, outer protective layer of femininity (one that that I had never before realized functioned as a coat of armor for me). I had to adjust to the nakedness of being a girl without the safety of long girl hair, and I had to trade “pretty” for edgy. I had to learn to appreciate “chic” in a new way, and in terms of evolving my personal aesthetic and my ideas about style, it was good for me.
But the unnerving nature of adjusting to being a girl without her long flowing hair was also good for me. In an odd way, I would like to think that it built a bit of character and taught me to redefine my notions of where my femininity lies; I am not my hair.
*Thank you to Paul W. H. Kan for the full text of “On Short Hair” by Joan Juliet Buck, which was found under The Poetical Quotidian on his website. You can view this text as it appears on his page by clicking here.
**Image Source for Audrey Tatou photo is here