Beauty / Feminism / Society & Culture

Why Are People So Afraid of Short Hair?

Jennifer-Lawrence-Short-HairThe second Jennifer Lawrence debuted her short hair, the pop culture world was in a frenzy. Hollywood is like a fire-breathing dragon–no matter where you turn, you’ll get burned. Countless magazines and blogs had headlines such as “Important News: Jennifer Lawrence Has Cut Her Hair Short,” to “Hunger Games Fans Upset After Actress Shows Off Short Hair,” which is both hilarious and upsetting. No one’s hair should be that important (or interesting) nor should anyone be personally upset by another’s fashion choice. There seems to be too much micro-inspection when it comes to how a woman chooses to wear her hair, especially when in the spotlight. Of course, this is not news.

What I find most  troubling, however, is there always seems to be backlash when a woman, famous or not, decides to chop her locks. While plenty of critics and fans alike supported her chopped cut, there were many disparaging comments made that are innately sexist, such as: “Should have cut her dessert as well.” When googling articles for “short hair” I often found men, and even women, writing articles about why women shouldn’t cut their hair, or the ridiculous reasons why they do, such as “wanting attention” or to “play a girl wanting to be a guy in a movie.” Of course, in media, it is often perpetuated that a woman cuts her hair only because she is distressed. Even in my own life, there have been several times I cut my hair, and people often asked me if I just went through a break up.

While I have usually kept my hair short, I personally I don’t care what kind of style a woman chooses. I don’t think having short hair makes a woman more independent, intelligent, or subversive than a woman who doesn’t. However, the freely given criticism is mind-blowing to me. A few weeks ago, I had my hair trimmed; the woman cutting my hair kept saying it was “too short” and that I needed to grow it long. Keep in mind, my hair isn’t even that short right now, it’s in a bob. When I was in high school, I had cut my hair a la Joan Jett, and many girls looked at me in disgust, asked me “why” I had done it, as though I had killed someone.

When I started studying at Sarah Lawrence College for my MFA, I went to a party to meet some of the other writers. There was a male poet who insisted I would be “more beautiful” if I had long hair. While I couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks of my fashion choices, I couldn’t help but wonder why people still think this way, especially people who are apparently educated enough to be aware of gender stereotyping. In other instances, people have assumed I must be a lesbian just because I have short hair, which is giving a uniform to different groups of people. Welcome to the perpetuation of stereotypes, ladies and gents.

When men and women assume a woman cuts her hair because she must be upset, or going through a break-up, it sends a terrible message: a woman’s value lies only in her beauty (or perceived lack of), and that only emotional instability would cause a physical change. It also implies women are less beautiful, thus less valuable, when they cut their hair. Hair choices should not be shocking or dramatic, it’s just dead cells growing from your scalp.

Of course, long hair has been historically viewed as a sign of luxury, in that it implies two things: you can afford the maintenance and you are healthy. In the past, the idea of long hair was not only just an ideal feminine standard, but extends back to the process of natural selection, as thick and healthy hair is a sign of youth and fertility. Simply, to have long hair means you are young. Our culture is obsessed with youth.

While it could still  be that men may intrinsically prefer long hair for evolutionary and biological reasons of sexual selection, the backlash is also due to what is considered masculine and feminine. Short hair is still seen as a masculine trait. Unfortunately, women who choose to have short hair are seen as threatening, because they are rejecting the feminine standard of beauty, and in some ways, rejecting male and female power dynamics. In general, change makes people nervous, even if the change is good.

Men and women are also afraid of ceasing to be seen as attractive to others, thus less valuable, since our culture defines a person by their outward appearance. In the same way young women are meant to have long hair, older women are supposed to cut theirs off. Again, it stems from evolution, in that women past a certain age could not bear children, thus were not deemed as objects of fertility, and thus, sexuality. Obviously, we are somewhat behind the times if we still think a woman in her seventies cannot be sexy, have a healthy sexual life, and still have long hair.

Perhaps I’ve always had short hair because I don’t like being told what to do. Having always been accustomed to examining my emotions and the reasons why I act the way I do, why I desire the things I want, I’ve always questioned this “feminine” ideal. I prefer to experiment with my hair, simply so I know what I actually want–it is essential for me to explore my own face, to know what it looks like in various dimensions. I can say I’ve had it all:

long-hair-joanna-valente

medium-hair-joanna-valente
short-hair-joanna-valente
I never wanted to be afraid of what others thought, of what I thought of myself. Even as a child, I knew I could be just as pretty even if my hair didn’t resemble Cinderella’s. Regardless of personal preference, judgment should also remain just that, personal.


Joanna C. Valente
 currently lives in Brooklyn, where she is a part-time mermaid. She received her MFA in poetry writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Some of her words can be found in The Paris-American, The Atlas Review, El Aleph Press, decomP, Thrush Poetry Journal, La Fovea, The 22 Magazine, and other places. In 2010, she founded Yes, Poetry. Her ghost resides here@joannasaid

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9 thoughts on “Why Are People So Afraid of Short Hair?

  1. Although I occasionally bobbed it, I had long hair for most of my life. Then after going about 2 years without a real cut, I told my stylist best friend I wanted a change. I thought she was going to put in new layers and funky highlights – instead she made a ponytail and chopped off 15 inches of hair! It was a shock, but since then I have gotten so many compliments on my hair! I’ve kept it short for the past three years and I never intend to go back. It’s easy to take care of, looks healthier than my long hair, I can have fun with color without as much commitment…and I save so much money on conditioner. Haters will hate, but I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t love my short hair. Haven’t found a man yet who didn’t like it ;)

  2. All of this rings very true. I have had fairly short hair all my life. Between my hair being very fine, coloring and heat damage there is just no way I can grow my hair out without it looking dreadful. There is always a moment right after I get my hair cut that I think, this time I’m going to grow it. The thing is, it looks horrible (even after constant conditioning and good hair habits). Having short hair in a cute style shows the world that I value myself enough to try and look nice on a daily basis.

    I am constantly told “why don’t you grow it out? You should try long hair you will really like it.” I would rather look my very best than conform to the cultural norm of long flowing hair. No one should ever shame someone for their hair length. Short hair is attractive and sexy!

  3. I have had short hair for years. Many many people say I should grow it out, looked better when it was longer, but hell, I love it short! It’s funky and changeable and it just suits me. I love the way a brand new haircut makes me feel and I will keep doing it.
    I totally gush over other peoples long hair for about 10 seconds until I realise that I don’t want to deal with that everyday, and am happy with my short and sexy haircut!

  4. As a trendy 60 yr old, I have had short (90% of the time) since 1970
    My short icons were and still are Liza Minnelli and Isabella Rosselinni. My experience has been that other women were my worst critics. “You know men don’t like women with short hair”. And your husband doesn’t mind that u have short hair–he’s Italian!” Ladies give me a break! A real man comfortable with himself will embrace women who look good with short hair. If a guy tells you he prefers long hair–don’t waste ur time–move on. Men want us to like them short/tall/clean shaven/beard/mustache/short hair/long hair yet they will only accept women with long hair–I say men and ladies u agree with them–grow up!

  5. Ohmigosh I KNOW! I wrote about this on my blog once. When I cut my hair short the last time, everyone asked me “Why the short hair?” “What made you do it?” As if I had murdered someone or something! What the hell, it’s my personal decision and I love the way it looks, so fuck off. And as you say, “it’s just dead cells growing from your scalp.” (LOVE!)

  6. Men want to have short hair for utility. Short hair is harder to grab onto in a fight and easier to take care of.

    Women are encouraged to have long hair for beauty. Long hair is beautiful in general but looks appropriate on women because society holds them as the sexual object gender.

    it further proves your point that it’s all very sexist

  7. People can be… less than pleasant. Especially to celebrities and supposed “role models”(should a person you don’t know even be a role model?). I personally love short hair for a couple reasons. 1) My hair is mega thins AND curly, so the curls weight my hair down when it gets too long. 2) Simple and easy to style. Men or women that have issues with short hair on women are either very insecure or they just have too much time on their hands and REALLY need a hobby. ;)

  8. Not that it matters (just my personal opinion based on the two pics, which I realize are in different lighting and from different angles), but I think the short hair suits you best. It makes your face seem more doll-like, a little less long and angular. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — who beholds your face more than yourself? You know what you like, so no one else’s opinion means a thing.

    • thanks all the same! in general, i prefer short hair since i’m also a rather petite person, so i just think long hair makes me look like ‘cousin it’ from the addams family. which surprisingly isn’t my goal. ;)

      regardless though, it’s a weird preoccupation that people have.

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