Ageism, Gender Norms, and Rocking the Short Hair

I got this weird idea in my head that, because I'm turning forty this year, this would be my last chance to grow my hair out, which is pretty stupid.

hair's up for clipping

It turns out that I have all of these presuppositions about life after forty that I don't really notice I have until I base actual life decisions on them, and then I realize that I am dangerously close to turning into that person who sells all her flashy jewellery and any clothing with an ounce of cheer in it because it's her fortieth birthday and she has to accept that it's her old lady times now.

I decided that I had to TAKE A STAND against my own ageism, as though this were some kind of revolutionary power struggle against an oppressive political regime, and I secretly chose to let my hair grown out. I felt vert boot stompy, very 1990s riot grrrl about the matter (if that riot grrrl could see the adoption of 1950s' gender norms as rebellion, that is).

So, after my last haircut in late November, which left it at just under an inch long — I've been cutting my own hair with clippers for years now — I left it to grow. I imagined it growing down around my face and whisping under my chin. I imagined how it would feel to tuck it behind my ears again, or how it might look kind of poetic and tortured as it fell across my eyes while I worked furiously over a hard piece of writing.

What I didn't imagine was how slow the process was going to be. Two months into my experiment with hair growth, it barely covered the tops of my ears, and one side seemed to have grown almost a half inch longer than the other side, and my cowlicks along my hairline were sticking out in tufts like baby ducks on the back of my neck.

The other thing I should have known would happen is that I got a creeping sense I was verging on drag, again. When I was a kid, I truly believed that I would grow up into a man, so when I threw a towel over my head to simulate long hair and belted out Diana Ross songs, I was dressing in drag, and I loved it, but as I grew older and family and friends worked to impose the adoption of feminine accoutrements upon me — I had to suffer through many sessions that involved having my hair curled to "soften" my appearance and being taught how to apply eyeshadow just so — it became a different kind of drag. The first was a gender bent laugh riot, but the second was a true misinterpretation of who I actually was. Makeshift wigs were fun, but being soldier-marched into gender conformity based on my genital structure was heartbreaking.

I admit to wearing eyeliner and mascara on a regular basis now, and I love a pair of heeled boots and a bright scarf, but I do gender on my own terms, mixing it all in with men's flannel shirts and jeans and letting my body hair grow as long and as thick as and where it will.

Somehow, though, longer hair feels like too much. It is somehow the line that, when crossed, tips me over into feeling like I did at fifteen when my mother paid her hairdressser to give my hair a "feminine softness" with toxic perms and texturizing shears. As soon as that hair creeps down around my ears, it feels like a deep and shameful lie is being committed. I'm that kid in 1988 again who can't reveal the truth that lies in the great grey areas of her heart.

time for a shearing

So, because I was rebelling against the ludicrous idea that no one can grow their hair after forty, I was growing my hair out, never mind the fact that I'm not actually forty yet, and then I ran headlong into my heart's battle with cultural gender norms. It's not surprising that this wasn't working out for me so well. No one wants to listen to a person whine about how long her hair is when it's barely over two inches, so I got with my previously successful program and sat down with my clippers a few days ago, snapped on the 7/8ths-of-an-inch attachment, and returned myself to my beautiful, nearly brush-cutted former self.

I realized that this was not about turning forty, and this was not about confronting gender norms. This was about, once again, accepting my own sense of beauty on my own terms, because really? How much sense does it make to go through the awkward process of growing one's hair out and to perform an uncomfortable level of female drag for over a year just because I'm going to be forty in ten-and-a-half months? It makes no sense at all.

Plus? I really do rock the short hair.


PS. I'm up for a 2012 Bloggie, for which there is voting to be done. Ahem.

My Man

Unplugging the Cork