Cutting it Short

Zyaada chhote mat karna

If you identify as a woman and have ever been to a beauty parlor, you have inevitably either uttered this phrase or heard someone else say it. In a country where long hair has been traditionally linked to a woman’s femininity and beauty, pleading with your hairdresser not to cut your hair too short is almost a societal convention. While tresses reaching up to the waist have received their fair share of cheesy Bollywood songs and appreciative comments from aunties, the same cannot be said for short hair.

Even though it’s popularly known as a ‘boy-cut’ in India, it is not uncommon to see little girls with short ear-length hair. The fact that the country’s most well-known mascot, the Parle-G Girl sports the look is only a testament to the haircut’s widespread acceptance and popularity. Yet, somehow all this changes when girls reach a certain age, usually around puberty. It is at this time that looking ‘feminine’ starts to become important, not only to young girls but also to society. The harsh reality is, that it isn’t easy to see yourselves so terribly underrepresented in popular culture or put up with irritating remarks. People automatically assume that women with short hair are ‘tomboys’ who are either too invested in academia to bother about their looks or uninterested in the way they present themselves to the world. The transformation of a short-haired girl to one with longer hair is almost seen as a transition from innocence and girlhood to womanhood and maturity.

Paradoxically, the depiction of this haircut in the media has been both the cause of societal expectations and its consequence. Earlier the fact that only women with long hair were shown on-screen became a reason for society to justify a norm of beauty. Today, the stereotypes attached to having short hair are encouraged by mainstream culture. In a video titled Why Are Indians Obsessed With Long Hair Swaddle correctly points out that the only women shown as having short hair in films are either ‘career-women’, athletes, or ‘tomboys.’ It is this aspect of their physical appearance that makes them unique and ‘not like other girls.’

In advertisements. women who work as homemakers or have children are more often than not shown as having long hair to symbolize their femininity. On the other hand, a boss or a woman from an unconventional line of work usually has a bob or a pixie cut. Nevertheless, it is comforting to note that some brands have challenged these ancient notions over the years. In 2015, telecommunications company Airtel cast Sasha Chhetri to promote their 4G network. Soon both the actress and her short-haired look became an internet sensation! The great thing about the series of advertisements was that the ‘Airtel Girl’ was not the cliché of the short-haired woman. She was just an ordinary person who just happened to be really passionate about a certain company. More recently, Dove’s 2019 campaign #AapkeBaalAapkiMarzi aimed to highlight the biases women face because of how they choose to wear their hair by showing multiple women whose style did not fit the mold of the ideal long, straight and dark hair. Hopefully, now that these companies have paved the way, more will follow suit.

These days the image of the rebellious woman has come to be associated with short hair, piercings, and dark lipstick. While some refuse to conform to this stereotypical visual, others have completely taken it in their stride. For women coming to terms with their sexuality, short hair has often been a way to mark the metamorphosis from their old to newly accepted selves. When asked about the same, Aisha aged 22 said, “Cutting my hair short was a way to proudly accept my identity as a member of the queer community” In fact, the ‘bisexual bob’ has long served as a ‘valuable point of identification for bisexual women.’ When talking about the significance of hair as a means of expression for the LGBTQIA+ community I would be remiss not to mention the role it plays in the lives of trans and non-binary individuals. Our world dictates that women must keep their hair long and men must have shorter haircuts. This makes the societal construct of gender even more rigid. When a person feels restricted by such a structure, hair becomes an important medium of communicating to the world who you truly are. In the simplest words, it is a way to make your vibrant self on the inside match the way you look on the outside.

Here is some parting advice: You have the right to wear your hair as you like it. Whether it means looking like Rapunzel, coloring your hair bubblegum pink, or even going bald, never let others mandate your mode of expression. After all, as Fleabag rightly proclaimed, “Hair is everything.”