Let me just start off by clarifying that I'm hardly the poster girl for conformity. I mean, I'm a single writer in NYC for one thing. I currently have more interest in running off to Africa to write about the poaching issue than I do in starting a family or even having a boyfriend. I've been known to over-assert myself, including the involvement of curse words, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to have a small waist and long tousled tresses while telling you off.
Yup, it recently occurred to me that I'm totally brainwashed to never ever cut my hair.
I think it started with my grandmother. While other grannies had that tight to the head, "silver fox" grey thing, my nonna maintained long, curly black hair that she would painstakingly pin up every morning before floating down the stairs to greet us. All the women in my family, my mom and aunts, kept fairly long, flowy hair.
My mother, who I consider well-educated and a liberal with a healthy dose of feminism, has been known to dote on my appearance more so when I'm adorned in something covered up but form fitting, and my hair is down my back. I can remember chopping it in undergrad and hearing her on the phone referring to my "strange" decision as "some sort of phase."
Keep in mind, her idols, at least in the beauty department, were what we consider old Hollywood sex sirens like Brigitte Bardot and Raquel Welch, who were 90 percent hair and breasts -- the epitome of the feminine ideal.
Fast forward 50 years and our ideal sex symbols, Victoria's Secret models, may be 30 pounds lighter but look pretty similar -- a coveted waist-to-hip ratio, bouncy breasts and locks for days. (Even if some are extensions)
You could even use that model (pun intended) for further testing. Sex symbols Kim K. and Jessica Alba seem to always be rocking longer tresses. It's totally accepted, however, for the more talented, edgy and smart celebs like Lena Dunham and Emma Watson to debut different versions of chopped hair. Try it, I promise -- most celebs viewed sexier by the media and societal standards seem to maintain longer hair.
Hairstylists have always given me the proverbial thumbs up to my boob-length mane while confessing how they hate cutting hair short because a lot of women end up in tears. Manicurists have taken one look at my short, bitten-down nails and uttered things like "I like your hair," as if that allowed me to keep my membership to the female gender class.
And then there are the guys. Where shall I begin?
Everyone from my dad to that high school teacher (pretty sure that's not OK) complimenting my long hair. And the boyfriends. The guys I've dated are very different from one another but they all had this in common. I could have the plague and be in the same sweats for 10 days but as I long as I didn't cut my hair the world was still in order. Mention that I might go for that cropped trend, and a look that a zombie invasion was upon us flashed across their faces.
Even online dating in my current life, where I just have a few random photos posted and guys haven't even spoken to me yet, has proven that long hair approval ratings are still going strong. So, I could be dumb, dull and/or a serial killer but let me toss my hair around as those notions fade away.
So what gives? I get that the waist-to-hip ratio is an evolutionary thing -- showing off our fertility and ability to bear many offspring... but long hair?
I did some digging on the Internet and it seems everything from studies to males simply explaining this preference (some quite sexist, others just honest) all say similar things -- it comes down to looking youthful, healthy and classically feminine. Shorter hair seems to be associated with older women and long hair seemingly takes good health and hygiene to maintain.
Just to debunk this, let's all direct our attention to Jennifer Lawrence and her recent short dos. She defines a look of youth and vitality and seems pretty healthy to me, as well as witty and intelligent. She's also classically feminine, if there is such a thing. (Blame Bardot again)
But this isn't about keeping long hair just to please others. Sure, I've been brainwashed, but I have a tendency to rebel and would like nothing more than to chop and dye my hair platinum, especially if you tell me to keep it long and dark.
The truth is I've grown to love my long locks. I like that I can throw my hair up at any point and it's completely out of my face. I've been rocking the bed-head, side swept look for a little while now and it suits me. It feels comfortable and is fairly low maintenance. I'll admit, I like when a guy plays with my hair. I also don't mind mini Marilyn Monroe moments in the subway, when the breeze picks up as the train flies by, and my hair becomes a blinding furry. (It's the mostly gross NYC subway. Let me have my sexy moment.)
Maybe it also reminds me of my mom and grandma and connects me to them. I know this is the majority of the reasons why I keep it long, but if I'm honest I'm sure I also unconsciously (and consciously) buy into the ideal standards of beauty.
It's sad knowing these standards still exist, and are more stringent in some regards than during our parents' generation. But I don't think women are allowing those standards to define their entire identities as much and, well, that makes all the difference.
As a disclaimer, I should probably mention that I'm all about experimenting. I've tried every length and almost every hair color out there. I just happened to find what I like best on me, even if some brainwashing was involved.
So I suppose I'm OK submitting to some of our beauty ideals (only if they suit me and I'm happy in them) while making sure to offer up many more significant talents as part of my package deal to myself and society. Maybe that's the current "beauty" standard for women, or at least I'd like to think so.