I’ve been wearing my hair in some pretty outlandish colours for a pretty long time now, and I have to say, one of the most common and depressing reactions I get is other women saying “I wish I could do that.” It makes me sad at how many women feel constrained by societal pressures of how they ‘should’ look. I’m not saying that every woman should dye her hair purple. (Although I’m certainly not against it!)
But I’ll never forget a female co-worker talking about how she’d love to cut her hair short but, “My husband and kids would never allow it.” I pointed out that her hair is part of her body, and only she should have the final say over what she does with it. Before she could reply, a male co-worker, who had not been a part of the conversation, barked from across the lunchroom, “Don’t you dare!”
I was appalled. But I stayed nice. At first. I asked him why she shouldn’t cut her hair, to which he replied it was too pretty. I got considerably less nice at that point. I asked if short hair couldn’t be pretty, and he gulped a little bit, as he realized he was talking to a woman whose chosen hair length ranges anywhere from bald to short, messy spikes. He stood his ground, though, and said that women look nicer with long hair and that anyone whose hair was as pretty as my co-worker’s should wear it that way.
Nice me wandered away for a bit and let ferocious me take over. I explained a lot of things to him: how arrogant it is to expect women to conform to his personal beauty standards, how women with long hair are more vulnerable during physical attacks because it gives their attacker something to grab onto, how many women find long hair physically uncomfortable. I believe I closed with the question, “Would you appreciate being told you should wear a toupee because you’re balding?”
I think the saddest thing of all is that the man I was saying all this to is a close friend, with whom I’d had many conversations about how empowering taking control of my hair has been for me. He’d previously congratulated me on taking that power for myself. And yet the instant another woman mentioned tasting that same power, even in an abstract way, he shut her down. And he didn’t even realize he was doing it until I pointed it out.
Sometimes I get tired of fighting. Sometimes I think things will never change. Then I remember how my hair didn’t used to be mine, but now I own it. And I remember how when, over a decade ago, I dyed my hair a wild colour for the first time, I was one of the only women out there doing it. But now it’s rare for a day to go by without seeing multiple women with bright, vibrant, wildly coloured hair. And I realize that yes, we are indeed making progress.