The Power of the Pixie

Since the weather in Memphis has cooled considerably in the last week or so, walking to my 8 a.m. Roman history class has been pleasantly chilly –– until I cut all my hair off, that is. My hair wasn’t incredibly long to begin with, just about an inch below my chin, but the sheer density of it  when it wasn’t confined to a half ponytail provided plenty of shelter from the wind. But I got a pixie cut last week, so with my neck, ears, forehead, and cheekbones bared, my morning walks are now downright cold.

Cutting my hair has really forced me to bare it all. I sometimes delude myself that the impulse to hide never rules me. But of course it does. If I’m among an accepting crowd, I reveal my opinions, my mannerisms, and my manner. In new environments, I curl up in a ball like an armadillo. Cutting my hair, though seemingly trivial, would pry open that protective shell and expose my soft belly. According to my friends, I have a more profound relationship to my hair than most other people. An intimate hair-lationship, if you will. My hair is the outward expression of my internal disposition. Seems pretty basic, right? Self-expression and all that. But as a woman immersed in Southern Christian culture and a liberal, progressive campus culture simultaneously, I am never totally comfortable being myself 100% of the time. This gets at a deep-seated issue I have, which is the compulsion to make myself constantly likable, even if it means disregarding my personal preferences and opinions.

Clearly, I am aware that I have this problem. But I never thought it would extend to how I cut my hair. I tend to be conscientious now about when I feel like I can’t voice my opinions, and then I usually voice them just to bite the bullet and prove to myself that it’s not the end of the world if people disagree with me. But my hair? Why would something so trivial have such significance to me?

The simple answer: a boy. About a month ago, I developed a bit of a crush on a guy in one of my classes. Crushes are my aversion. They make me feel disconnected from my logical side, lily-livered, weak, and distinctly “feminine” in the antiquated, pejorative sense. When these feelings began to surface, I started to have the typical body image issues. But I expected that, and I’m more secure in myself than ever, so I could handle that critical voice in my head – when it came to my body. As I was walking home from class one day, my bob flouncing about in the wind, a thought from who knows where wormed into my head: he won’t like you because you have short hair. All the pretty girls have long, straight hair.

This was nearly enough to stop me in my tracks. My hair? Really? I’m aware that a bob is not the conventional cut for a young woman such as myself, but come on. Why would a guy care about how long my hair is? If that’s the reason he doesn’t want to go on a date with me, then he is seriously disturbed.

But that thought had gotten into my head, and I couldn’t expel it with my logic (Julie Andrews has had short hair her whole life, and she’s one of the most beautiful women on the planet. Ever heard of Julie Andrews, you stupid little thought?), or by giving myself a pep talk while washing my hair (Julie Andrews would love your hair, Eliza. She would make you the next Queen of Genovia, your hair is so great). You can probably guess what my ultimate solution was.

Things had gotten awkward with boy before I decided to go in for the chop (and by awkward I mean that I discovered he lacks basic human empathy), but that perturbing little thought had upset me so much that I was forced to reconsider my hair-lationship. I quickly realized that I had taken it so hard because my hair is incredibly important to me, especially as it’s gotten shorter and shorter over the years. Getting my hair cut is one of my favorite things. Not because it’s a nice hour where you don’t have to do anything and can just be pampered, but because of the weight lifted off of my shoulders. I feel de-burdened when I walk out and hop into my car, blasting David Bowie, shaking my head around like a freshly-bathed dog, and savoring the feeling of utter weightlessness. I like getting my hair cut off

Why hadn’t I gone pixie sooner? I’m a woman of extremes, and if I do something, I do it all the way. But holding me back was my stereotypical Southern Christian culture which frowns upon young women with short hair. Emphasis on the young: almost all women past the age of sixty-five have really short hair. Women under the age of fifty and over the age of seven (who are “on the market,” if I’m being cynical) are all expected to conform and have long hair. What puzzles me is that it’s really not for aesthetic reasons. Before the 20th century, women all wore their hair up in intricate designs, so for all intents and purposes, their hair appeared short. This culture expects women to have long hair, then, for some moral or ethical reason. Look at depictions of Adam and Eve across the centuries, and you find Eve with hair to her ankles and Adam with close-cropped curls. Ruth, Jael, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene are all portrayed with long hair. There are no depictions in famous art of women in the Bible with hair that falls above their collarbones.

These paintings should not be viewed as paragons of biblical femininity when taken out of their cultural context. There is genuinely no reason to believe that the Bible prohibits women from wearing short hair. Many cite 1 Corinthians 11:6, which says that “it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head.” This seems pretty damning, but when taken in its cultural context it makes sense why Paul would tell women to have long hair. To identify themselves as prostitutes, women in Corinth would shave their heads, and prostitutes in this period were also associated with Paganism. Of course Paul would tell Corinthian Christian women to not shave their heads! In this culture, long hair would be a sign of the purity of the entire Christian community. It says, “there are no practicing prostitutes among our women, and our men do not have sex with prostitutes as a form of worship.” 

It is my contention that what I and other Southern women now experience by way of stigma against short hair is a holdover from this mentality. It’s not sexually immoral, just “frowned upon.” It can be hard for me to remember the modern associations with short hair outside of the church. Julie Andrews, Audrey Hepburn, Mia Farrow, Charlize Theron, Anne Hathaway, Winona Ryder, half of all female English professors (probably), Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, and Margaret Mitchell have all had ultra-short hair at some point. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. Short hair does not degrade, just as long hair does not dignify. The true degradation is letting the opinions of others define your hair-lationship; true dignity is found in reclaiming authority over your own hair.