Monday, March 18, 2013

hair and agency

When I was 11 or so, I marched into a local mediocre chair haircutting shop confidently, slightly bewildered mother in tow.  I sat in the chair and told the scissor-wielding employee exactly what I wanted: for her to transform my waist-length, infuriatingly prone-to-tangles 'do into a cute pixie cut.

You see, I was sick (and tired!) of bringing myself to tears every day in the process of brushing my hair.  I have superfine, superstraight hair, and that leads to mega painful tangles.  As I recall, during one such session I declared that I was going to cut it all off, and that felt good.  It tasted like agency.

So I found myself in that chair, explaining my demands to the hair stylist.

She refused.  Point blank.

She said I'd be sad, and that I'd cry if I 'lost' my 'beautiful hair.'  I didn't really have the words for it at the time, but some part of me wanted to point out that it was my hair, I was the one who would have to live with it, and I could bloody well be trusted to make choices about my own damn body, thankyouverymuch.  Please stop lecturing me on my own desires, needs, and preferences, oh person-I-just-met.

In reality, we just went to the place across the street, where they were at least willing to do their job.

The slightly-less-reluctant stylist did, however, keep checking in with my mom to get approval before touching my hair.  My mom, in turn, kept deflecting back to me by pointing out that it was my hair.  And then she hid in a book to avoid the panicked permission-seeking stare.

Yep.  MY hair.

In my freshman year of college, I decided to dye my hair emerald green for a halloween costume.  This wound up necessitating bleaching it first, as my natural color apparently repels dye like you wouldn't believe.  When that faded, I had purple, blue, green, and red stripes.  Then it was blonde with green tips for a while.

Silly antics of a teenager?  Sure.  But it was also an expression of personal agency and, yes, responsibility.  My hair is my own, and I'll do whatever the hell I want to do with it, just to show you that I can.  See?

Over the last three years or so, I'd been growing it out again, and it was quite long.  I really enjoy change, and the long straight thing had gotten boring.  But Husband really liked the long hair, and was saddened by my proclamations of a desire to cut it.

So I squelched the desire for a while (to be super clear, this isn't his fault.  This is my own issue revealing itself, here).  I would rage silently at my tangly, unwieldy, boring hair, and then quickly remind myself that I 'should' keep it, and to stop fantasizing about haircuts.  So I stewed and grouched and hid it all behind a forced smile.  I fixated on the mythical haircut.  Everything would be better with short hair!  I'd be happier, and I'd enjoy life more, and I'd be a better person!  Fester, stew, grumble, pine, mutter...

Boy, did that not work.  Ya know what happens to suppressed anger that's allowed to stew?  It builds up pressure and it explodes.

Eventually I snapped, while detangling it yet again.  I even flung my brush across the bathroom, in what in retrospect looks like a toddler's adorable tantrum.  I yelled, peevishly, that Husband wouldn't 'let' (ha!) me cut my hair!

Poor guy.  Never knew what hit him.

So that very day, I went to another mediocre chain haircutting shop.  But as I was sitting in the car before going in for this fateful cut, a funny thing happened.  I realized that, now that I no longer had a perceived force preventing this event, it wasn't actually all that important to me.  The coveted haircut had lost its power, and I considered not bothering, and just keeping it long for a while longer, because I wanted to.  Not because I was afraid of cutting it, or because I felt social pressure to keep it, or because I want Husband to be attracted to me.  Because it's my hair, and it's MINE, and I could totally do that, too.  I don't hate my hair, even when it's long; I just wanted a change, and to check to make sure I still could effect that change.

I ended up going through with it, lopping off about 14", but that moment was really revealing.  It's not about the hair.  It was never about the hair.  It's about bodily autonomy, it's about choices, and it's about freedom.  If I'm not free to do what I want with my own body, then something has gone fundamentally wrong.

When Emma Watson cut her hair, she loved it.  She also got some significant pushback from Hollywood, the entertainment industry, and random schmucks everywhere.  Because somehow we make a woman's choices about her body into fodder for public commentary and judgement, and seem to think that's okay.

That is not okay.

When Willow Smith cut her hair, her parents had to endure an endless torrent of questioning about why they would LET their daughter do that.  The Smiths totally get the Awesome Parenting Award of the year for their response to the situation:
"The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women,girls are constantly reminded that they don't belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It's also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother's deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be. More to come. Another day."  --Jada Pinkett Smith
"We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it's like how can you teach her that you're in control of her body?  If I teach her that I'm in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she's going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world.  She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she's going out with a command that is hers."  --Will Smith

On the first workday after my haircut, the first thing my boss did was ask me 'why would [I] do such a terrible thing.'  Dude, I don't have to justify what I do with MY BODY to you, and that is not your value judgement to make.

My hair is mine.  And I do feel great with the decision, and may cut even more off.  Or maybe not!  Because it's my choice.  Because I can.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with Jada and Will. Great writing, Free. Wonderful memory.


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