Why Most Women Aren't Brave Enough to Cut Their Hair

POPSUGAR Photography | Faria Chaudhry
POPSUGAR Photography | Faria Chaudhry

It took me two decades to be comfortable with the idea of cutting my hair. I've been called a tomboy many times. I took little interest in cosmetics or fashion growing up, and often wore men's undershirts and pants (more pockets!). My long hair seemed like a security blanket of passable femininity. I wasn't brave enough to lose the locks and reconcile what "looking like a woman" meant to me.

Like many of the women in my family, I was born with thick, shaggy strands that occasionally grew long enough to sit on. Though I didn't know a ton of girls or women that had short hair, I had watched GI Jane and Empire Records and was tempted to go as short as Demi Moore and Robin Tunney. But I still had reservations: could I pull it off? Would I have to wear LOTS of makeup to emphasize my feminine features?

In my early 20s, I surrendered. After a humid Summer of trying to tame my waves, I found a picture of my mother from the late '80s rocking a badass curly bob. So, I decided to cut off 16 inches of hair. With my new style, I got tons of compliments, which melted away my initial fears.

I have worn a pixie for years now and love it. The lower-maintenance look fits my laid-back personality better. Though my insecurities about being perceived as feminine are long gone, there are a few significant differences in how others treat me when I have short strands.

Strangers question my gender.

Strangers question my gender.

On days when I wear gender-neutral clothing (jeans and a hoodie), people sometimes don’t know how to address me, or will venture a guess.

Children are sometimes openly puzzled. After my first big chop, a nephew struggled to readjust to calling me "auntie." I recently volunteered at a school, where a boy stared before gently tugging on my arm and asking bluntly, "Are you a lady or a man?"

I am rarely offended by these questions, and don’t mind the opportunity to clarify my gender. Most of my friends don’t fall neatly into conventional gender roles, so it feels important to add another set of characteristics to a stranger’s idea of a woman. (Besides, I get a kick out of being called "Sir," because of its agendered use in Battlestar Galactica.) When I'm asked these questions, I'm reminded to not make assumptions about others’ gender identities.

Friends and acquaintances question my sexuality.

Friends and acquaintances question my sexuality.

When I had long hair, people assumed that I was straight. Now, even people I interact with regularly are sometimes unsure. The other day, while receiving some (unsolicited) dating advice on "how to meet guys in the city," the person talking to me paused and asked, "Wait, are you even interested in guys?"

I don’t want to be treated a certain way based on my sexuality, and really don’t like that people’s default assumptions are based on stereotypes. You shouldn’t need to know what sex someone is attracted to in order to know how to be a friend, give relationship advice, or help style a b*tchin’ hairdo.

I feel more comfortable in public.

I feel more comfortable in public.

The long-haired version of me gets frequently catcalled in the street, abrasively hit on at bars, and stared at on the train when I’m getting home late. I used to rush places more often, avoid eye contact with strangers, and become defensive when interacting with men I didn’t know.

Post-cut, I noticed that all of these things changed. With short strands, I’m generally desexualized and less interesting to the average predatory dude. Of course, I don’t advocate that all women don buzzcuts and baggy pants as a solution to street harassment (don’t we make enough accommodations for men?), but my new comfort in my appearance does coincide with less catcalling.

It can be very stressful to go against a beauty standard someone has set for you, especially if this standard comes from your family, community, the industry you're working in, or even the person you're dating.

Even more stressful can be the fear — or actual occurrence — that you will be made fun of, subject to harassment, or told that you're not pretty. Long hair is deeply rooted in conventional and cultural ideas of beauty, but there are tons of ways to look beautiful, and I’m excited for that diversity to become mainstream.

Try to be proud of your beauty and fashion choices (they are part of your individuality!), let the haters hate, and challenge their close-mindedness when you feel comfortable. It’s important to remind the world that women are not crafted in an assembly line of long locks, dresses, accessories, and makeup — we get to define what women look like and make new beauty standards for ourselves.

In the meantime, we have a ton of cropped-coiffed role models to draw inspiration from (Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence, Ruby Rose, Halle Berry, and Emma Watson to name a few of my favorites). So come to the dark side: cut off that hair!