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Annie Lennox in Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) — 1983

Short Hair on Women and Girls Should Be OK. And Yet, It’s Not.

Stephanie Brail
Apr 10, 2019 · 9 min read

My short hair is just that. Short hair.

It means nothing else.

Yet, in today’s world, it sadly does.

It’s “the current year,” as they say. I would have thought that by 2020 we would have evolved beyond such petty things as hair length.

I’m a straight woman who is not using my hair or clothing as an indication of my gender non-conformity or anything else.

I just wanted my hair short.

It was simply super hot last summer, and I was tired of my hair. I wanted to try something different.

So, I got a pixie cut for the first time in my adult life. It looks pretty good, and it’s sooo easy to take care of. I’m not sure if I ever want to go back to long hair.

And yet, if I, a female, have hair that is short, it supposedly means something.

Maybe, it actually means I’m not female. Or, at least a proper female.

At least, that’s what some people apparently think.

A Girl With Short Hair: A Modern No-No

Case in point: Recently, in the UK, a young girl was being teased in school because she had short hair and apparently wore “boys’ clothes.” I’m not sure what “boys’ clothes” mean in this context, but let’s just assume she was wearing some jeans and a t-shirt — something that was a standard uniform for girls when I went to school, though that was many years ago now.

So here is a little girl who apparently prefers to be comfortable. She wants to run around on the playground without having to worry about her dress getting soiled or her undies showing. She’s just minding her business, being herself, and the kids are now trying to force her into pink glitter tutus, Farrah Fawcett locks, and glam make-up.

What does the teacher do?

The teacher (not a psychologist, let’s remember) determines that the child is gender dysphoric, and has the class read a children’s book about a boy who likes dresses and is really a girl on the inside. Except, the girl is not gender dysphoric. She just likes having short hair.

No matter how you feel about the transgender issue, this ought to really disturb you.

Since when does short hair have anything inherently to do with gender?

And yet, apparently it does, and it seeps into our conversations without much thought. Take this line from an article about transgender women competing in the Boston Marathon:

“Although she hasn’t done anything to lower her testosterone levels, Romer legally changed her gender, grew her hair out and started living openly as a woman.” (emphasis mine)

OK, wait a minute. Am I to assume from this focus on “growing hair out” that this person would no longer be a transgender woman without the long hair? So, are we saying that only transgender women with fluffy Charlie’s Angels hairdos are authentic?

No pixie cuts allowed?

Hear that, transwomen? If your hair goes below a certain number of inches, you are no longer in the club.

What the ever living…??

It’s almost 2020, and I’m gobsmacked by this odd limitation on hair length.

I’m not sure what happened. Somewhere between the 1970s and today, short hair became this thing that mainstream women couldn’t do.

In the 60s, we had Audrey Hepburn and her gorgeous pixie cut. Then, men started growing their hair out. Even though hippies were dying out in the 70s, young males and rock stars still had long flowing locks. For gals, the Dorothy Hamill bowl cut was a thing. In the 80s, we had Annie Lennox with her flaming orange masculine cut. It was during this decade that Jamie Lee Curtis cut off her blond locks for her signature short hairstyle. We then had Meg Ryan in the 90s with her eponymous sassy do.

I’m not sure what happened in the 2000s…style seemed to stagnant, and suddenly it was hair extensions for all — for women, at least. No matter what your age, or your place in life, women suddenly had to have super long hair that was impossible for many without synthetic help.

Whereas for guys, on the other hand, long hair was no longer hip after the millennium, making hair length more gendered than it had been in decades.

We regressed.

So nowadays, it’s simply not “normal” for a woman to have short hair, unless she’s old, and even that is changing. Older women are now under a lot of pressure to look young, and that means long, flowing hair that is never, god forbid, gray.

If you are young woman, and not trying to make a statement about your identity, you might be able to get away with a bob, but a close, boy-like haircut? Iffy.

Otherwise, lesbians can have short hair, but more and more it’s a thing reserved for men, transmen, and the “gender nonbinary.”

While the styles are shifting for men — longer hair as well as “man buns” are now a thing for fashion-forward men — hair lengths for women are stubbornly long. Maybe this trend will start to shift the moment I publish this article…but still, something deeper is going on here.

If having short hair is enough to get a girl singled out in school for “gender dysphoria,” we have a lot of deep programming to undo.

Fashion is programmed into us in subtle and not so subtle ways in the media.

I do blame the media. Movies and the music industry have created this impossible image of beauty that average women can’t live up to — but we continually try.

This image includes the perfect long hairstyle.

Sure, once in a while, you’ll see a main female character with a pixie cut — the most striking was Snow White in Once Upon a Time. But these are exceptions. And, often, if short hair does show up on a woman on TV, it means something.

For example, on Star Trek Discovery recently, a peripheral character just announced she is a lesbian. Of course, she has short “manly” hair and wears no make-up. It’s great that Star Trek has a lesbian character. But you would think that hundreds of years in the future, we might actually have a gruff woman engineer with short hair and no make-up who was maybe also a fussy conservative straight Jesus freak who loved baking Christmas cookies in the middle of July.

In other words, not a stereotype.

Now to be fair, the main character of Star Trek Discovery, a (probably) straight female ironically named “Michael,” also has (mostly) short hair, with a bit of afro on top — and that’s mainly because she was raised on Vulcan.

African-American women in sci-fi seem slightly more immune to the long hair requirement (such as Naomi on the Expanse), but don’t tell that to Beyonce, who tends, more often than not, to be trying to top country-legend Crystal Gayle in terms of hair length…and in platinum blonde to boot. In the real world, all women, no matter the race, are under this ridiculous pressure to have the perfect long locks.

Worse, black women can be shamed for not having longer hair, as if it were indicative of some sort of lack of personal hygiene on their part.

“The idea that kinky, short hair is somehow less ‘cared’ for than long, flowing, tresses needs to be dismantled in the Black community,” writes Keyaira Kelly on Hello Beautiful.

While it’s positive that science fiction allows for some variance in women’s haircuts, the overall message is still that females should have long hair.

On Star Trek Discovery, from what I’ve seen, almost every other woman on the show (except for the woman named “Michael,” the lesbian, and a female who was half-robot and had a head of plastic) has long hair. The white woman who plays the admiral looks like she’s 60, and yet still has straight, long, black hair. (Which, for some reason, seems a bit greasy to me — she’s trying too hard — she would look so much better with a short bob.) Captain Philippa Georgiou, played by the awesome Michelle Yeoh? Long hair. The long hair thing includes the security officer, an alien with bouncy, lengthy loose curls that would make the Boticelli Venus jealous.

Yes, even alien females in Star Trek have ridiculously long hair. The Klingons didn’t have hair in season one of Discovery, but now, the female Klingon chancellor has a silly braided moptop with cascading hair, the likes of which you’d normally see in a Biblical epic about Cleopatra.

Yes, male Klingons have hair too, but c’mon. At least B’lanna Torres from Star Trek Voyager had a respectable, short bob. Of course, that was back in the 90s, before the Western world became pornified and all women had to become “sexy.”

This alien hair fetish includes the two “Xelayan” security chiefs on Discovery’s rival, The Orville. These alien femmes not only have long straight hair (the second with a bizarre side ponytail), but the most ridiculously overdone eye make-up seen since the original Star Trek series.

Sci-fi shows are supposed to represent the future, but, typically, they often represent our present, especially when it comes to style. Just take a look at the bouffant hairdos (and miniskirts) in the original Star Trek to see what I mean. It’s really rare to see a science fiction show actually break through the current fashion zeitgeist and envision something different.

I haven’t even touched the greater world of TV and media. But you can potentially see how embedded our fashion expectations are, when we still expect to see women (and female aliens!) in the 23rd century wearing the same make-up and hair extensions we see today.

And maybe, just maybe, this explains why so many people today are thrown for a loop when a girl wants to wear her hair short. The fashion programming runs too deep. Some folks just can’t fathom that short hair might just be a girl’s preference, and has no greater meaning or context.

Now, this might simply be annoying when it comes to your family. But, when a teacher uses a girl’s short hair to misdiagnose gender dysphoria, unasked, Western culture has major problems.

We are supposedly in this age of transcending gender. Ironically, we see to be becoming more and more locked into these stupid gender-based fashion rules that have nothing to do with anything but tradition and media programming.

The flappers of the 1920s were far more advanced than we are on this issue in many ways.

These young women rebelled against the Victorian social mores of the time by cutting their hair short. That was almost 100 years ago, and they might be surprised to see so many women cling to the long hair they so bravely chopped off.

Can we just simplify things? Make hair just hair, and not some sort of permanent statement about a person’s internal being?

Let’s try this instead:

If you are a female, whether straight, gay, or trans, and you want to wear your hair short, go for it.

And if you are a male, whether straight, gay, or trans, and you want to wear your hair long, go for it.

And if you are a teacher, don’t be an idiot and assume a girl wants to be a boy just because she prefers her hair cut short. Maybe she just hates dealing with tangles. It’s possible.

In other words, short and long haircuts are for EVERYONE — for people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, and identifications — or home planets— and these hair lengths absolutely nothing to do with anything but your own personal preference and style.

Do I really need to be writing this message today?

Apparently, I do.

Smack my head. With my short hair.

* * *

Please read my followup article: Should Older Women Have Shorter Hair? And Do We Really Need to Be All That Sexy Anyway?

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