I’ve been thinking about my hair a lot lately. Partly this is because it’s got split ends, and I need to have it trimmed. But then I started thinking about how much I should have it cut. Should it be just a trim, or should I really get it cut?
I’ve pretty much always had long hair. Very long. By the end of my third year of college, it was getting to the point that I could sit on the ends when it was down. I got it cut short for the first time after I returned from my semester abroad, in a sort of “I have the confidence to do something really different now!” act of independence. They cut off 25″ all in one go. Then I grew it out again for 2.5 years, only to get it cut short again in the middle of my second miserable year of grad school, this time with the hope that it would symbolize some sort of grand turning point for many things in my life then. It didn’t work, but they did take off 12″ that time, and it did mean that while I remained depressed for the rest of year, I didn’t have to worry too much about brushing my hair.
Anyway, I’ve recovered since then, and I’ve been letting my hair grow again ever since, so it’s back down to almost my waist. And I like it. So why would I want to cut it? Why do I sort of feel like I’m expected to cut it?
Some time last year, at whatever time of year it was that the local paper decided most new college grads would be seriously looking for job interviews or going to their first real jobs, there was an article about “how to look professional.” Most of it was dedicated to discussion of different levels of casual vs. formal professional clothing, but two things stood out to me from their suggestions for women:
- Wear heeled shoes, because flats will make you look juvenile.
- Do not have hair longer than is fashionable.
I have problems with the first one, of course, because I end up doing a lot of walking around during the day (at the time I actually walked to work,) and are there really heels out there that people want to walk a mile in? So I dismissed that suggestion as impractical and moved on. The second one gave me pause, though, because I don’t really understand why having long hair is considered so strange and, apparently, taboo in the professional setting.
I’ve thought about it off and on for months now. When I interviewed for my current job, I wore my hair up in a bun, so no one could see how long it really was. (And yes, I wore heels.) Now that I have the job, I do frequently wear my hair in a free ponytail or sometimes a braid, and since the job is on a university campus, I also frequently find myself being taken for a student. I’m not sure how much my hair may or may not contribute to this misconception. Does having long hair make it look like I’m a student because I don’t appear to frequent a salon? Does “professional” hair require that women look “styled”? Is this the pale-girl equivalent of criticism of the afro, which also happens to be a natural, less “styled” look?
This is frustrating to me, because I really don’t like the apparent expectation that in order to fit with some ideal image of what a professional female looks like, I need to 1) change something I’ve always liked about myself, and 2) be willing to spend a lot of money to look properly coiffed. I also don’t think this standard applies across the board. In my area of the university, there are many international professors and scholars, and when some of those women have long hair, it’s just culturally exotic, not unprofessional. (I suppose, for all I know, these women are seen as unprofessional in their home countries. Not here, though.)
I’ve also been trying to determine how having long hair makes me look. I don’t particularly think it makes me look young, because as far as I’m concerned, it makes me look the age I am, because that’s how I’ve always looked. But at one point I do think I caught it making me look kind of defiantly punk, so I think that’s how I’m going to think of it now.
You hear that, world? You can’t make me get my hair cut professionally short! I defy you. Fight the power, long-haired women.
-posted by Dana