Short Hair and Femininity
Why did having short hair make me feel as if I had lost a part of my femininity?
Photo via Elle Magazine
In 2017, I decided to cut my hair from shoulder length to a pixie cut. When people asked me why I did it, I never had a proper answer. To be honest, I still don’t have one. I guess I just wanted to explore a new look. Even though I'm back to chin-length hair, having short hair for nearly six years taught me a lot about femininity and the perception of gender in our society.
When I cut my hair short, I dressed relatively femininely and people easily assumed my gender correctly from my clothing. The only change I saw in people’s attitudes was the strange number of questions I would get. I was asked things like: “Are you gay?” “Why did you do it?” or “Were you depressed?” by people I sometimes barely knew. It felt slightly strange, but I got over it quickly.
However, this changed when I experimented with fashion and wore baggy hoodies and pants. All of a sudden, people would presume I was a guy. For a while, this was also fine by me. I never really minded the assumption that I was anything other than a woman. I would simply either correct people, or not bother at all if it was irrelevant to the context.
My appearance never seemed important, nor did other people’s perceptions of my gender, until I tried going back to a stereotypically more feminine look. Suddenly, I felt as though I couldn’t be feminine without longer hair and, for a while, regretted cutting it.
This experience made me question why my hair had suddenly become such an integral part of my femininity. I reflected on my own for a while and decided to do some research, eager to see if other women experienced a similar struggle.
I found that one of the major reasons why I believed my hair affected my femininity was because I was told it did. Not by my parents, who were very supportive, but by advertisements, social media, and people around me who thought it was appropriate to tell me I had “turned into a guy.” Although I initially did not care that some people perceived me as masculine, as time went on, the comments started to toy with my head.
Likewise, I felt I was treated differently when I had a pixie cut compared to now with my longer hair. With my short hair, others perceived me as what is typically associated with masculinity: assertive and powerful. This is not to say I hate being feminine. On the contrary, I love it. I just do not understand what hair has to do with character.
As my research progressed, it became evident that what I was confronted with was not a unique experience. In fact, I discovered that many women have felt a similar sense of being looked at and treated differently due to their change in haircuts. The story was almost always the same: with short hair, women would be regarded as more masculine, fueling their confidence. Yet, they inevitably would be faced with distasteful comments about the “decline in their feminine appeal.”
In her article Why Are All The Men In My Life So Angry About My Short Hair?, freelance journalist Parisa Hashempour discusses her experience chopping off her waist-length hair to a bob. She recalls men commenting and asking things like: Why would you do this to your hair? or You know most men like women with longer hair, right? as if the mere goal of a woman’s existence was to fulfill the male gaze. Hashempour concludes the article with a powerful statement, one that I wholeheartedly agree with: “We are socialized to believe that when we cut off our hair, we are mutilating our femininity. But in fact, cutting my hair has been liberating.”
Cutting my hair short was a refreshing and freeing experience that, in hindsight, I could never regret. It allowed me to explore new hairstyles and hair colours. For once, the nape of my neck felt cool even under the burning heat of the sun.
There is most definitely a societal pressure put on all of us to conform to the expectation of our gender. For women, that might equate to having long, glossy hair, but that should not intimidate anyone into not doing as they please. The beauty of gender is that you can express it however you want. Femininity comes in all shapes and forms. It is not restricted to the way you present yourself. Cutting your hair does not mean losing any part of your femininity. I sincerely recommend experimenting with hairstyles because, at the end of the day, hair grows back. And, in the grand scheme of things, if it makes you happy, other people’s feelings really do not matter.