The Big Chop
In the animal kingdom, physical attributes evolved to optimise chances of finding a mate, so males of the species gained more colour to gain the winning edge over the competition. However, these rules change when it comes to humans, as patriarchy overrules nature. Women are expected to be ‘refined, doused in ornaments’, skin tone matters, and even the length of a woman's hair is linked to her ‘femininity’.
The longer her hair, the more ‘feminine’ she is. An image carefully projected on social media, advertisements, and cinema. Every actress has long, gorgeous hair, and if you see one with short hair she's probably playing a vamp, or a ‘westernised’ character.
Short hair seems to be only acceptable on cis men, every other gender identity is questioned on their choice of hair length. When a person who is not a cis man, wears short hair it is still seeen as an act of ‘rebellion’.
With the pandemic now in its second year, people have had plenty of time away from the hustle that marked ‘pre-pandemic’ days. Staying in, working from home, many were able to try things they had always wanted to. Many experimented with the way they wore their hair.
We all know a quirky friend who either got a haircut, or dyed their hair in an unconventional colour. For many, there was a sense of freedom in experimenting with their hairdos.
As a cis woman with a not-so-slim face, I won't be exaggerating if I said it took me around seven years to get my hair as short as Emma Watson's! Something I found in common with many who went for the big chop, for the first time during the pandemic. Here are some who shared why they went for the big chop.
There is no single reason why I cut my hair short, a combination of factors compelled me to do so. In 2020, while I was visiting a meditation centre I spotted a woman with a shaved head, and all I could think was that I wanted to do it too. During the lockdown, while mindless scrolling became the norm, I came across an image of Buddha with a shaved head. I sent it to a friend, for her to try, but she refused because she was married. This made me think that I had no such ‘obstacles’ and maybe I could carry a shaved head well. My hair was in bad shape too, so I shaved it off.
What was holding me back from getting a haircut was the fact that the men I was dating were focused on my hair. Everyone admired my long, flowing hair. When I mentioned I wanted to get my hair trimmed, people were against it. But this time I knew I'd be fine because no one was going to see me, and if it didn't end up looking good, we were under a lockdown and I could grow it all back in the comfort of my own home.
However, a lot of people who I may have lost touch with told me I looked really “good and bold” with my shaved head, and there was also a lot of curiosity as to why I did it. So I put up a post on social media to explain. Many had assumed I had “broken up with someone”, some even asked if I was okay, assuming that I had cancer and was losing my hair.
Many who recently cut their long hair are asked if they did it due to medical issues, and even if they did, questions, disappointment, stereotypes, and apathy are nearly identical.
I prefer long hair. I believe that short hair is not for me, but due to a medical condition resulting in excessive hair loss, I was forced to cut my hair short. I'm anaemic and haven't been well for two years, when the body suffers from a nutrient deficiency, it has a significant impact on hair.
I had long dense curls so if I went to the doctor they couldn't examine it well enough to diagnose the problem. The comfort of avoiding public scrutiny due to the pandemic gave me the motivation to get a haircut.
I'm from a small town in Rajasthan, and the state isn't as progressive as we'd like it to be. A salon dedicated to women is rare, and even those salons do not offer shaving services. My cousin had to accompany me to a men's salon. If you want to do something “drastic “ like this in a small town, you need a male family member to accompany you. I don't think I would have gotten my head shaved that day if he hadn't been there with me.
The barber was taken aback by our request, and initially refused to shave my head. To persuade him, I had to explain my medical condition and why it was necessary to shave my head. He eventually agreed.
Shaving my head was a life-changing decision for me, because my hair was my identity; everyone knew me as the "curly-haired girl." I was extremely sensitive for some time as I adjusted to my new appearance. I was aware of the absence of my hair every moment. I saw how others reacted; many were unsupportive, many thought it was a joke. And, I got absolutely no male attention. I saw how people treat you when you “don't look good”. They were indifferent about my medical condition and couldn't understand why shaving my head was necessary.
This was a learning experience for me. When the one thing that has become your identity is taken away from you, you are forced to start from scratch. You learn how to “look good” even in that phase, which I did manage to do.
Hair has a significant impact on all of our lives, for some, it's a necessity while for others it's a way to express themselves.
I always wanted to cut my hair really short, I was waiting for the opportunity even during the first lockdown, but was hesitant back then. Recently I just decided to get it done. This haircut is also significant in terms of how I feel and experience queerness. I felt this haircut may help me express myself better. The pandemic was when I could experiment with my hair and if things went wrong I could stay at home and no one would see it. At some point, I had thought it might be harmful in terms of safety.
Initially, I was sceptical about how I would look with a short haircut framing my round face. Now, with this haircut and the way I dress it has become easy for people to perceive me as queer. My partner's family is very religious and I thought if her family saw me they may wonder “why is my daughter spending so much time with this person whose hair is so short?” Short hair is not acceptable in society, and that was one of the fears I had. Now I dress according to the occasion. There are times when I want to look more feminine and there are times when I don't.
I feel empowered, I hate to say it but a few times people addressed me as ‘sir’ and that made me feel safer. India is safer for men than it is for women, and if you appear masculine you will be safer. Short hair is also liberating. I don't put much thought into how to style my hair anymore, this was also a reason why I wanted to cut my hair. Hair is not something I want to think so much about.
While long hair becomes an extension of your femininity, people with fluid gender identities feel that a haircut liberates them. Arushi, who identifies as Non-Binary, had a different hair struggle.
My hair is linked to my identity. However, while in college, I was so preoccupied with everything that I didn't pay much attention to myself, and my hair simply grew out. But during the pandemic, I felt suffocated in my body, and the way I looked, because I was looking like a woman. I didn't like it because I'm neither a woman nor a man.
So one day, on a whim, I shaved my hair off. I've felt liberated ever since. I had no idea how confident I felt just by being comfortable in my own skin. Earlier, I couldn't be confident because I was misidentified as a woman. I couldn't look people in the eyes, couldn't look at myself, couldn't accept compliments, and my body ached the entire time.
Now that I've cut my hair, I feel like the person I am, I look like the person I am, and people don't just assume I'm a woman. I'm not sure how it works, but it does.
People around me constantly tell me that I looked “more beautiful, womanly, and elegant” with long hair. I have a simple response, “I feel better with my hair short, and that's all that matters, it doesn't matter how I look”.
I am fat and have a round chubby face, and so the barber always told me that if I cut my hair shorter it won't look good, and they would hesitate. It took me so long to get to the length that I am at today, I would tell them ''bhaiya aur kaato, aur kaato (brother cut it shorter, shorter)”.
They are so hesitant, but it is my hair, and I want it as short as possible because I don't like my hair! I tell the barbers to imagine me as a boy in the fifth grade of a very strict school who has to keep his hair super short, “cut it like that”, but they're still hesitant to do it even now.
I just don't get why society has to be so suffocating, why does it matter? Just let people do what they want. I would even dye my hair if I was not studying law. I don't see the point in these “hair norms”. How does my haircut, hair colour, clothes, or body define me? Does it define my temperament? I have a tattoo and I want more tattoos but the “perspective” is that I won't make a “good judge”.
I can deal with relatives, I can shut them up, but these notions are so deeply rooted in the profession that it bothers me. How am I supposed to work if I can't even express myself? For me to work for society, I have to be mentally bare.
Many organisations require a specific appearance. This is also a limitation in Indian art forms. For a trained Indian classical dancer, cutting her hair short was a glass-shattering experience.
I used to have short hair as a child because it was too challenging for my mother to maintain, I began growing it out from class seven and have had long hair ever since.
While scrolling through social media during the pandemic, I noticed that a senior of mine had shaved her head and shared her story about how liberating it was. I was curious how short hair would look on me.
The hairdresser suggested several styles that would suit me, and when the time came to cut my hair short, he double-checked with me to make sure I was sure about it.
I had an invitation to a get-together on the day I got my hair cut, and everyone had something to say. Everyone asked, "what did you do with your hair, girl?" or commented "How could you do this to yourself as a woman? Do you not have womanly pride?”
I asked them if their pride in being a woman was in their hair because I had no idea if it works that way.
My childhood friends, both male, and female, told me that I “didn't look nice with short hair”, that I “looked like a boy”. I said, "that's fine."
People tried to demoralise me; my Facebook profile was swamped with comments, which I ignored. I replied, "I appreciate your concern, but I like my hair and I am perfectly fine with it." Someone even asked me, "You're a classical dancer, how dare you [cut your hair]?" To which I replied, "Who told you that a classical dancer must have long hair?" I am myself, and I'm still dancing.
Some even questioned my character, saying, "We used to appreciate you before, but now that you have a bad haircut, your character is visible through it." The problem is that people cannot digest something bold or different, and if you look different and can still carry it, that somehow bothers them.
In classical dance, A typical feminine attire may require long hair, because most Indian classical dance forms are devotional. The association of a classical dancer with long hair is a mindset. I take it as a challenge that even though I don't have a “typical feminine” appearance, my dance will be so impactful that people will be struck by the femininity and grace of my performance. They will appreciate my art, which should be the focus, not my appearance.
A haircut can be so many things, but it is ironic that while hair is the most intimate thing on a person, the control they have over it is minimal. Society dictates how we present ourselves, so when I see someone dressed differently than what has become the norm, I am happy. Every change represents a new opportunity for a better life for many.