I cut my hair short mainly out of pragmatism – my bleached hair was sorely damaged, and had to be oiled daily to at least look presentable. Having said that, I specifically picked out a 'boy cut' as a personal social experiment to measure the difference in reactions and treatments I got from others.
After the cut, a full-fledged panic attack instantly took hold of me. It wasn’t because I now looked like some sort of gargoyle, but rather, I was afraid that I’d lose my feminine identity. Admittedly, there are certain privileges that come with striving towards the cisgender (a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex or sex assigned at birth) feminine ideal of looking pretty. A person's hair, other than being a defining feature of a person, is closely tied to preconceived notions of beauty and gender identity.
This worry of mine was punctuated by a passing lady gawking openly at me after I stepped out of the salon. So intrigued was she by my newfangled appearance that she nearly collided with me when she stumbled backwards for a second look. Her eyes were wide open the entire time, puzzling over my newfound androgyny. I was rather surprised as I wasn’t exactly the first female around sporting a slightly masculine appearance, but this encounter only proved to be the first of many such occurrences.
Some friends furiously chided me for my foolish decision, even having the audacity to say that I should have asked for their permission beforehand. That filled me with a discombobulating mixture of anger and regret. I hadn’t known that my hair was a non-excludable public good that others felt entitled to have a say over. Yet, I knew where they were coming from, and public opinion does matter unless you opt out of the system in some way.
On the flip side, appearing gender-ambiguous does have its perks. One fantastic advantage it provides is making salespeople hesitate before approaching you – by the time they’ve ascertained your sex, the moment's passed and you’ve already walked past them in triumphant glee. I can’t deny that I've gotten major kicks out of being mistaken as a “sir” from behind – I felt positively thrilled. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to mess around with people’s heads a little?
More imporantly, this 'boy hair-cut' made me realise how afraid people are of erring on the side of what is socially acceptable. It is in our nature to desire for beauty and acceptance, a want exacerbated more so by the sickeningly ubiquitous amount of social media available to the point that it has turned into a kind of obsession – one that even I have found myself subconsciously swept along by. Don’t get me wrong: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look pretty, but it shouldn’t be all one strives for. People forget how fun it feels to dress in line with your own private joke, even if the end result looks more circus freakish than dapper cool.
After a few weeks, to my immense surprise, a friend remarked that I had actually became more feminine. I realised that I had indeed overcompensated in my dressing and mannerisms as a result of my mental homeostasis. Undoubtedly, I was elated to hear this reaffirmation that I was still fully in touch with my femininity, but it did strike me as ironically funny that I always wanted to defy the length of my hair in my appearance – when my hair was longer I wanted to present myself as more masculine, and now that it was shorter I wanted to appear more feminine. In the end, this entire hullabaloo over my hairstyle did allow me to break free of my preconceived notion that hairstyles affect the perception of a person’s gender identity.
That said, perhaps I’ll go for a trim soon – my hair’s grown quite a bit.