Friday, June 10, 2016

Hiding Behind Hair

At some point in my career as a psychology student, I ran across a study done on attractiveness in women based on their hair. I was not surprised to find that in this particular case, women with long hair were considered to be more attractive to men than women with short hair. This case even looked into other things that men might find attractive for women and it revealed that a woman to could be a little too anything (big, small, strong, overweight, etc) and if she had long hair they would still find her more attractive than someone with short hair who might also be in a little better shape. Not only that, it turns out that the longer a woman's hair was the more attractive she was found to be.

As a 20-year-old reading this I knew I would never EVER cut my hair. I love having long hair and now I had actual proof that it was a good idea to keep it long if I want to be considered pretty. 

Well, in college, that was something I valued- lookin' good. Not to say that I don't now, but I think of beauty very differently at 30 than I did at 20. I kept my blond hair as long as I possibly could through the rest of college and well into my twenties.

One morning, at age 27, I woke up restless. My hair was getting in my way. It was so long that it was catching on my seat when I sat, it was getting caught in my pillow and sometimes it even held me down. I had highlighted it so much to keep it looking bright blond that it had gotten pretty fried on the ends. I even had a youth (I was working in youth ministry at the time) look at my hair and say, "If you aren't going to take care of your hair, why do you keep it long?" From the mouth of babes...

The problem was when I thought about cutting it I felt like I was removing some part of me that was empirically attractive. I was coaching a team of 3rd and 4th graders for Girls on the Run and I knew that they would let me know that cutting my hair was a bad idea. Little girls associate long hair with beauty too. It is the whole Disney Princess mentality. I wondered what my husband would say as he often let me know that he loved my long hair.  I knew my mom liked my hair long too. Then I wondered if the rest of me could hold up without long hair...would I need to workout more? Should I start wearing makeup again? 

The more I thought this out the more I realized I have a BIG problem. I put WAY too much stock in my hair. I allowed this study to manifest into a value that was keeping me from doing something I actually wanted to do. Not only that, I kept thinking about how other people would think of me if I cut my hair, rather than doing something that was right for me at the time. This realization sent me storming into the bathroom. 

All I could think was that I wanted to be free from this burden of "beauty". I grabbed my scissors and gripped a chunk of my long hair and started chopping it away. My blood pressure immediately began to rise and I could see my face turning red in the mirror. I joke now that this was my "Mulan Moment". I cut my hair to my chin that night. This was the shortest my hair has ever been. Looking at myself in the mirror I felt GREAT!

When Joel got home, he was surprised but not disappointed. When the little girls saw me, they mentioned that they liked my hair better long but it wasn't the end of the world. At that point, I did not care anymore. I felt liberated. I knew I had been hiding behind my hair for years, allowing it to be some strange crutch for beauty that really was never even truly confirmed. 

Three years later, my hair is very long again but I don't think of it the same way that I did then. I grew my hair out because I like it long. It is all my natural color and taking prenatal vitamins certainly made it grow much faster than I anticipated. It is nice to have long hair again and I like it because I WANT long hair. I did not grow it out so that I could live into some standard of beauty I believed exists. I don't keep it long because someone else wants me to have long hair. It is just how I want my hair.

Photo by Jacki Harp

Recently, I was talking with a friend who mentioned that men will do the same thing with their beards.  I have also read that some people keep their hair the way that it was during a really happy period of their life.This made me realize that we attach symbolism to all of our hairstyles. No matter why people keep their hair the way they do, there is a symbolic and often, an unconscious reason for their decision. The question simply is, are you hiding behind your hair? Do you long to have a cute bob but you are too afraid to cut your hair because you might not think of yourself as pretty anymore? Do you wish to grow a beard but won't because you are afraid you won't look professional enough to be taken seriously at work? 

I don't really care how folks decide to do their hair or maintain their beards. For me, this hairy journey has taught me to find beauty within myself. I no longer want to hide behind my hair.

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