The long and short of femininity

It was a typical day at work, brainstorming on a hair-care brand. A young colleague, with a puzzled look, asked me – ‘ Please tell me, why did you get your hair cut so short?” It felt like someone asking me – Why do you have such a long nose?

She just couldn’t fathom why a girl would cut her hair so short. She insisted on seeing my face-book timeline, hoping to see ‘my days with long hair’, but with no such luck. The older colleague (grappling with baldness) conjectured that it must have been the issue of ‘bad’ hair that made me take this (drastic) step!! I was quite taken up with the team brainstorming on my short hair.

By God’s grace, I have thick, black hair, with natural curls. It’s just that I like it short! Till now, I owed this ‘long-haired beauty quotient’ to the old-traditional-stereotypical mindset. But that day, I realized that it is integral and intrinsic to the Indian psyche, across age, class and gender.

It made me delve deeper on the cultural codes related to length of hair and beauty. Yes, my femininity quotient used to get challenged, every time I went for a haircut,. My mom would exclaim, expressing her displeasure – ‘Gosh, you have cut it so short! You are looking like a BOY!’ In her days ( 1960’s), the short hair symbolized a wamp- a manipulative woman with loose morals, as against the idealized ‘Sati Savitri’ persona of the Indian wife, with long hair.

After all, I am born to the land called India, where ‘kale ghane lambe baal‘ (long, black, thick hair) is the celebrated symbol of Indian beauty and sensuality. We, Indians, are very possessive about the length of our hair. It’s always a tug of war with the hairdresser on each inch of hair cut. A senior hairstylist remarked – ‘ In India, the husbands and the mother-in-laws sit with an inch tape, measuring the length of the girl’s hair.

aiyanagunjan.short haircut by filipino stylist

Finding a hairstylist for my short hair can get equally challenging in India

I had a hard time when my regular hairstylist left the city.  Every month it would be a ‘new’ cut. Either cut it in a jiffy, or cropped too short in the name of a ‘creative cut’ or be done with the ‘squarish’ boy-cut.  Eventually, I discovered a East European hairstylist, who specialises in short hair style!  Something unheard of in India. Interestingly, I have always loved to experiment with a hair cut on my travels.

I observed a pattern in my journey with hair stylists across cultures. It made me dwell deeper… The international hair stylist always handled my short hair with love, care and style. They were conscious of the length, the line and the shape to make the cut feminine, not masculine. Indian hair stylists are at par with the international standards and trends. Then why is it that when it comes to short haircut for women, they seem to be failing?  By and large, they have a cut-n–dry approach cut, as if they just want the job-done quick. They cut-chop-crop the hair, thinking it’s a man sitting on the chair. Definitely, short hairstyle is neither their focus nor interest. It requires far more technical expertise, with a risk attached.  To top it all, there is limited scope of practice in the Indian market! Long hair is what the client wants, and long hair style is what the Indian hair dresser happily gives. The client is happy, and the hairstylist is happy.  I guess, it’s a case of demand and supply. Viewing from a deeper cultural perspective, the attitude and expertise of the Indian hairdresser is simply conforming to the inherent Indian code of beauty and grooming.

I simply love my hair short and sleek. It has nothing to do with hair-problems, compelling me to cut short my tresses.  Nor did my short hair make me feel tomboyish, or any less feminine.

Keeping my hair short has been an individual choice of expressing personal style and femininity. Nothing more. Nothing less. True, not everyone can carry off a short hair cut. But little did I realize by sporting a short hairstyle, all my life, I was unconsciously defying and challenging  the ingrained Indian cultural code of beauty. My style was not born out of an act of rebellion. And yet, it gets perceived as a non-conformist <p style=”padding-left: This semiotic decoding highlights the GAP between self-expression and the cultural perception of short hair, within the Indian context. It raises  pertinent questions and boundaries around choices we make, as people and as brands, within the cultural context-

Conformity Vs. Individuality. ©aiyanagunjan2013

Published by Aiyana Gunjan

Aiyana Gunjan Visual Artist, Calligrapher, Cultural Decoder-Semiotician

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