In February, I made a pretty radical change in my personal appearance: I had my hairstylist cut most of my hair off. I went from having wavy hair that, when wet, went past my ass, to having a short crop that fell just below my ears. There are a lot of reasons why I chose to cut my hair off and I don’t really want to go into those right now. What I specifically want to explore is the way other people reacted.
It was very jarring when I cut my hair and suddenly became the topic of intense attention and scrutiny; I was the same person, but apparently I had become someone radically different. One thing I didn’t expect was the first thing out of almost everyone’s mouth: ‘so, did you donate it?’
Let’s backtrack a little here. When I cut my hair, the stylist did indeed put it in a ponytail before hacking it off. Because that’s a fast and easy way to make sure you get it all with a clean sweep of the scissors. What I did with that ponytail, however, is my business and mine alone. Not anyone else’s.
Yet, everyone seemed to think that of course I had donated it to charity. When I refused to tell people what I had done with my hair, I received a lot of hostility. I was told I didn’t care about ‘the children’ and that I was being ‘selfish.’ I was shamed for wanting to keep the disposal of my hair a private matter. I was not fulfilling my social contract, evidently, of allowing other people to exert ownership over not just my body, but strands of keratin and dead cells attached to my head. People got angry when I said that what I had done with the hair was my business.
Here is some information about hair donation you may not be aware of: Most charitable organizations accepting human hair make wigs for people who have lost their hair, for a variety of reasons, usually medical conditions like cancer and alopecia. First off, some of those organizations charge for the wigs they make. A discount over commercial prices, but still, people need to pay money. They may also need letters of recommendation and support. These groups do not go around to hospitals handing out wigs to needy people.
Second of all, many donations are thrown away because they are unsuitable. Quality is important when you’re making wigs. Heavily processed hair, hair that got moldy in shipping, and other damaged hair is not acceptable and not worth processing to make it useful. In addition, many of those organizations sell a lot of their donations to raise funds; there’s a high probability that the hair you give, in other words, is not going to end up on the head of someone who needs it. Some people are ok with this and some people are not, and in defense of these groups, they make this information available, it’s not like they are defrauding people.
Talking with other people who cut long or even medium-length hair off, I noticed this was a trend with pretty much everyone I talked to (of all races), with the exception of men. Everyone else told me that when they cut their hair off, people asked them if they were donating it. And, furthermore, it was often the first thing people said, before making any other comment. Men of my acquaintance did not share this experience, but I don’t want to say it never happens to men because I didn’t poll the entire male population on this one.
This was only the beginning of the experiences I had with shorter hair. At the same time that everyone was demanding to know what I had done with the hair, was exerting ownership over it, people were also making all sorts of comments about my physical appearance.
I wasn’t aware of this, and it certainly wasn’t something I had planned for, but apparently short hair makes people look thinner. Several people said I was ‘looking good,’ by which they meant ‘thinner’ and asked if I had lost weight. Others told me that they were so glad I cut off all that ‘awful’ long hair[1. Oddly, many of those same people had previously made comments about how beautiful my hair was and how it must be so much work and I should never cut it.] because now I looked so much slimmer. People generally thought I would be happy to hear this, would view comments on my size as compliments.
People also thought I was ‘more friendly’ and ‘approachable’ with short hair. I’m not quite sure how having less hair makes me less intimidating, but there you go. I suspect it has something to do with the idea that long hair is unfashionable, and only dour, boring people have long hair, while fresh, fun, youthful, friendly people keep their locks short and manageable.
A lot more people try to interact with me with short hair. Other than my hair, nothing about me has changed, but people seem to think I am ‘more youthful’ and ‘more accessible.’ I found all of this puzzling and kind of upsetting. Another consequence of being perceived as friendlier is that when I am not, people appear extra affronted. Before, there was a sort of ‘well, I guess I should have expected that‘ kind of attitude, but now, it’s like I’m somehow personally betraying random strangers by responding to rude things in exactly the same way I did before, with a firm tone indicating that I had zero interest in humouring them.
There are a lot of things about my personal appearance that I am not comfortable with, and I don’t really like having my body be a subject, or topic, of attention. I don’t really know how to deal with it, and people say really odd things in the guise of compliments that just leave me feeling rather cold. Having this come with an added level of expectation that I play nicely with everyone, even people who are being impolite, was an expected burden I didn’t think about when I had Denise rubber band my hair, wrap it around her fist, and slice through with the scissors.