May 11, 2012

The Tyranny of Long Hair

Vidal Sassoon died this week, and it made me think of practical hair cuts.

I didn't realise Vidal was credited for inventing "wash-and-wear" hair styles - the idea that you don't need to subject your locks to hours of primping, perming, pinning and shellacking, just comb it and go. Vidal supposedly set us free from oppressive hair.

But I would argue that many women still labour unnecessarily with their locks - because fashion remains in favour of long hair for women. And I would like to start a movement encouraging women who are living with long hair - but, importantly, not doing anything with it - to lop it off, and try life with lighter, shorter tresses.

I've always had tricky hair - thick and bothersome. As a girl, it was blonde and straight. Pubescent hormones saw it grow thicker and darker, and a 1993 haircut saw the surprise appearance of tight curls, and led to me being dubbed "Afro" for a year at school. I worked with the curls as best I could until my late teens, when I decided to try to grow it long and luxurious. I imagined all the beautiful ornate hairstyles I would wear - the cute high ponytails, the braids, the chignons.

What I ended up with was this:

This is me on my 21st birthday, with a ratty, poorly-cut, badly-coloured, brassed-out curtain of hair. You can see the curl from my teens still in there - a curl that disappeared somewhere in my mid-twenties, along with my cheekbones. But you can also get a sense of how thick and heavy my hair is - it pulls down so much the top half is virtually straight.

I couldn't bear to put it in a high ponytail: the super-tight hairband would give me a headache. Wearing it out was annoying in the wind or the heat. So I would end up pulling it back in a low ponytail at the nape of my neck. It looked boring. It was boring.

It was also a pain in the arse to manage. Every wash was torture, as I combed out the knots that would build as I slept. Complicated hairdos were virtually impossible - no amount of bobby pins would hold those suckers up.

Eventually I realised I would never achieve the beautiful tresses I admired in magazines. I had the hair, but without the money or patience - what was the point?

Around a year after the above picture was taken, I went to an expensive hairdresser and had much of it lopped off. Throughout the 2000s, I went shorter and shorter. Before our big world trip in 2006, I got an ill-advised pixie cut, and while it was good for travelling, I realised my hair is too thick and puffy and my face too round for it to work well.

And so now I've found the general length and style that seems to work - and you know what? It's great. On rare occasions, I wonder if I could grow it again. I have more money and better hair care products now than I did at 21 - perhaps it would be a different story? But then I think... oh, I can't be bothered. I am lazy. And I don't want my head to be weighed down all the time.

Lovely photo taken by Heath C, who wanted a guinea pig for his new lighting rig.
Being a camera 'ho, I happily obliged. You can see more of Heath's work here.

I know many women who keep long hair because of what I consider to be slightly dodgy reasons, and I'd like to offer some simple rebuttal arguments, to see if my position does in fact have any credibility.

1) It's feminine.

Answer: it's one idea of femininity. Not the only one. If you're worried about not looking enough like what you think a woman should look like, may I suggest a push-up bra and some red lipstick?

2) It's fashionable.

It's hard to deny Hollywood and the fashion and music industries tends to prefer long-hair in their ladies. But remember, these women have stylists, and money, and helpers, and money, and time, and money. Their hair becomes part of their job. But even they resort to help - Beyonce and Lady Gaga love a wig. And also, long hair seems to be a de facto term for "beautiful". She must be pretty, she has long hair. Think Kardashian for a moment. Take away the long hair, and what have they got? Weird teeth, that's what.

3) I'm getting married.

Apparently long hair works better for "up dos", which are apparently better for weddings and wedding photos. I'm not sure why this attitude still exists, but then I know very little about weddings in general. If this is your preference, I don't see why a hairpiece or hair extensions couldn't work just as well - they might be slightly more expensive, but then, it's a wedding. They cost money. Just ditch an unwanted guest or two, or forego a band for a karaoke machine. I'm an ideas woman.

4) I like it.

And that is entirely fair enough. I'm not trying to hassle people for their appearance. I really believe you can do whatever the hell you want with your body. But my argument is aimed at women who have long hair, but don't do anything with it. Maybe it's a hassle, maybe they just don't have time, and always end up tying it up, or back. I know one woman who keeps it long because she sweats around her hairline. She thinks short hair would make her sweat more. But I always think of her as a short-haired woman precisely because she always wears her hair tightly pulled back in a bun. I've never seen it out. So what's the point? Chop it off, get a crop, rock it. You'll be sweat-free, you'll get time back, you can get out of the shower, rub on some pomade and go.

Long hair is a tyranny. It's time we realised it, and started freeing ourselves. Use it or lose it. It won't be the end of the world.

Scissors semper tyrannus!


  1. Nice post Nat.

  2. Most people don't realize that, in addition to inventing the "wash and wear" hairstyle, Vidal Sassoon also held about a dozen electrical engineering patents, including the "fractal antenna" - which is the foundational breakthrough that allows digital devices to connect wirelessly.

  3. I suffer from have thin, wavy, and flyaway hair, but also a heap of hair. Hairdressers always comment on just how much hair I have. Once it hits shoulder length it just becomes so heavy from the weight that the bottom part hangs in a sheet and the top part becomes a light fluffy baloon around my head.

    I stay on about a 3 year cycle of getting super short pixie cuts then growing out to shoulder blade length and realising that I will never have nice long hair.

    Straighteners help, but the ease of short hair is liberating. Currently I am at the point of gearing up for the big chop yet again

    Talking about big chops have I missed this weeks raven on. Where Joffrey acted like a big pork chop, Tyrion showed his chops, and Greyjoy and Snow made a mess of their big chops.

  4. Paul - I thought Hedy Lamarr invented WiFi? Do a google search on it, it's a great little story. Perhaps the two of them together should've hooked up to conquer the world... :)

    Anonymous - sounds like we have similar hair issues. And thanks for the kick in the pants regarding GoT - I have been slack this week! I'll hopefully have that up later today.

  5. I had short hair all through my 20s. Now in my 30s I'm enjoying the 'Decade of the Long'. Don't worry though, I'll probably go back to short in my 40s. :)

  6. Hi Amy - and that's totally cool. You're ENJOYING your hair, which is the point. I think it's a great thing to change your look and have fun with your hair. But it's for those women who are lugging around long hair and not enjoying it that I say - chop it! :)

  7. I am very familiar with the story. Lamarr didn't invent WiFi, but, like Sassoon, she invented something essential to the development of WiFi - ("frequency hopping") and she did it in the early 1940''s, whereas Sassoon's application of fractals to antenna design didn't happen until the 1980's.

    Lamarr is one of my heroes whereas, although I appreciate Sassoon's electronic engineering genius, I just could never get past his sartorial flamboyance.

  8. I think older French women (in their 50's,60's) who have long white/grey hair look so very classy.

  9. I found Hedy's story ultimately quite sad - people only thought of her as a pretty face, and then to try to keep it she got a lot of plastic surgery that went wrong. So sad that her intelligence wasn't given proper credit in her time.

    And hey, nothing wrong with a little satorial flamboyance now and then! ;)

  10. It is sad, but she lives now in our collective mind as much, much more than just a pretty face.

  11. Oh honey! I hear you loud and clear on this rather sensitive topic. I have just come from the hairdresser this morning and the poor, patient love was subject to my rather emotional telling of "LE MOP SAGA". I am going to do the shave for a cure in the next year or two! Care to join me?

  12. Monster - yeah, the but French do everything classier!

    Paul - true. Hopefully that recognition is now coming Hedy's way.

    Deb - thanks for commenting! Your hair has always been gorgeous, and you need it for your job. Not sure if I could shave for a cure - it's very daunting! But maybe. I'd have to get a LOT of money for charity for it. :)

  13. I remember the looooong red(ish) hair. I was in a steakhouse when this stunning 6 foot tall (high heels) redhead came over and spoke to me, wife and friends mouths all dropped to the table. How could this young woman know my first name? I think I let them in on the secret.

  14. Okay, I admit fabricating the story about Vidal Sassoon inventing the fractal antenna. He didn't. I was pulling your leg, as we seppos say.

    I sincerely apologize for my subterfuge and duplicity.

  15. Goddamnit, Boylan, you know I'm too stupid to Google. I *am* the chick who fell for the joke that the word gullible isn't in the dictionary. ;)

  16. I've really been enjoying my angled bob and playing with colours. I remember the dark days of long braids and frizzy ends and have never wanted to go back.

  17. Girl CLumsy, I took your advice and lopped my hair off about 50 minutes ago!!!

    I read your post about 2 days ago and have been mulling it over ever since. I couldn't remember the last time I'd worn it down.

    So I booked into the hairdresser and went from nearly waist-length to shoulder length. I nearly had a heart-attack when the first piece hit the floor but already I am loving it.

    Just thought you should know that your blog has a direct influence on people, in a good way.

    Kate F
    (former work-mate of "The Wah")

  18. Kate - OH MY GOODNESS!

    That's phenomenal, I never expected anyone to actually take me *seriously*. ;)

    But I'm so pleased that you're enjoying life with shorter hair! I'm sure it looks awesome too, I'd love to see a pic.

    How cool!