The Vagenda

Keeping It Short

I am a girl. And I have short hair. Short, permed hair to be precise. What are your initial thoughts? Am I a staunch feminist, hacking off my tresses in protest against the patriarchy? A man-hater? Gay? Am I so lazy that I can’t handle the responsibility of keeping long hair washed and kempt? Or am I a confident young woman, making a practical choice which will save me time, money and effort every single day? Failing that, I may simply be a lass who enjoys having and happens to aesthetically suit a mop over a mane. In fact, I like to think I’m just that.  

The stereotype of women with short hair is one which is surely now exhausted following relentless dissection in the world’s media. It seems to be a personal choice that the likes of OK! and Heat just can’t seem to get their heads around. Surely, if a famous actress/singer/nation’s sweetheart has gone at her locks with the shears there must be some underlying motive: she’s either heartbroken or she’s on the rebound. Casting her “good girl” status to the wind in favour of the rebel’s cause or making a silent cry for help. Or, like, maybe she’s just sick of having had long hair ever since she can remember. Long hair which almost the entire female population between the ages of 18 and 30 has. Long hair which requires industrial amounts of shampoo and conditioner, a good forty minutes under the dryer and another forty being straightened or curled to socially acceptable perfection. But ladies, listen – short hair is fabulous, sometimes even more so than the mane sported by K-Middy as the only real highlight of her ‘photoreality’ portrait, or the luscious locks flicked nonchalantly back by Cheryl as she implores you to buy L’Oreal because you’re worth it. You’ll save yourself heaps of time and money and you’re easier to spot in a crowd! What couldn’t be more covetable?

Body hair has its own private feminine competition, of course (the longer you spend removing it, or restyling it into some innovative shape, the more womanly you are.) And the same can be said of the connection between long hair and femininity. Long hair requires more effort, and this must therefore make the long-haired masses more feminine in their ways. This is probably the most irritating assumption that follows you round with your pixie crop when you take the plunge. The irony is that short hair, though undoubtedly easier in terms of upkeep, actually needs cutting far more regularly than long otherwise comparisons between Scooby Doo’s Shaggy can be made. 

I went through a phase – when I first bit the bullet and had my mid-length hair sheared to cropped perfection – of feeling the need to make myself overtly feminine in another ways, as if to compensate for my lack of Rapunzelite locks. This meant large earrings, more obvious make-up, and hairbands and ribbons to signal my gender, rather like a newborn straight out of the hospital. Thankfully, I soon came to realise that the people who knew me didn’t think that I’d suddenly decided not to be a girl anymore and I stopped worrying. That doesn’t mean I haven’t suffered my fair share of awkward moments, though, such as when a woman muttered loudly, in earshot of my mother, ‘Why is that boy wearing a hairband?’ And the incident when, from a distance, the school photographer boomed through his megaphone the question of whether ‘that gentleman could take one step down on the stand’. Special memories.

One reason for society holding a collectively distorted view on this subject is because the short-haired chicas are all too few and far between in terms of their presentation in the media. Bar Carey Mulligan, Emma Watson, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, and most recently Lena Dunham, not much is going on in Crop Central, gal side. Going back even further you’ve got Audrey Hepburn and Jean Seberg flying the (very tiny) flag. Just as wearing trousers is no longer a statement of equality or girl power, short hair on any female shouldn’t be viewed as a statement of sexuality or social belief. I didn’t cut my hair this way to let you know that I’m an angry anarchist lesbian, dude – if I want to communicate that to you, there are far more direct means at my disposal.

I suppose the crux of it is that if I see girl with cropped hair, I admire her confidence. A cropped mop currently stands for courage in expressing one’s individuality, so good on her for joining the ranks. 

But it shouldn’t have to – it should just be a haircut.     


24 thoughts on “Keeping It Short

  1. I have had very short hair twice in my life and loved it! The second time I had it cut, the hairdresser was completely horrified as my hair at the time was halfway down my back..!
    Audrey Hepburn was the inspiration behind my haircut, and I love all the other ladies you mentioned (and Anne Hathaway). I think short hair on girls is really cool and may well get mine cut again, so rock on :)

  2. Of course it’s just a haircut! And media speculation on the meaning of hair length simply tells me that there’s probably not enough serious news going on in the world that day. (Obviously there is, but having the courage to tackle more in depth subjects appears to be beyond some journos!) I have long hair, I don’t see that as a statement of my femininity, and I don’t blow dry it, straighten it, curl it or anything else apart from wash it, condition it and brush it (sometimes). My lack of “hairstyle” is for practical reasons: working at sea means I can’t pop to the hairdresser every 6 weeks, I’ve had short hair before and ended up getting spiked in the eye by the bits that were too short to tie up or escaped the confines of a hair clip or bobble in the first gust of wind. So I keep it long and when I’m working I can tie it up and keep it all out of my face and eyes. Does my lack of haircare routine make me less of a woman?

  3. I am so lazy I have 1 haircut a year. So I grow my hair to Rapunzel and then chop it off like a boy. And its fine by me. Everyone mourns my long hair once its off but then they end up liking the short style. A couple of months ago I cut it all off to my chin and donated the plait to The Little Princess Trust. Nobody needs to call me unfeminine for that

  4. YES. I’m a large lady and I’ve always had very short hair, but I recently went a step further and had it cut to a tiny pixie, about an inch long. This are basically all of my feelings I just laid out on one of my friends today. Fantastic post. Thank you.

  5. As the writer of the piece I just wanted to say thank you so much for all of your comments – I’ve enjoyed reading them all. I agree with all of your sentiments; I think the one which over arches entirely is that hair is simply hair, and a haircut is only a haircut. Frenchie in Cardiff – I say go for it! Sizefour Riggerboots – your perspective as someone with long hair for practical reasons is really interesting and your lack of haircare routine absolutely does NOT make you less of a woman in the same way that it doesn’t make me less of one because I have short hair. It’s a lifestyle choice, simple as, like getting your ears pierced (which coincidentally I finally did today after years of meaning to!) Selina – your story is brilliant and admirable. Your goodwill in donating your hair to a good cause leaves me feeling inadequate – thank you for sharing. Sierra – I’m so pleased that my thoughts chimed with your own. It’s definitely a topic which doesn’t get discussed enough from this side of the table. I’ve discussed short hair not in any depth and only briefly on my blog ( so to collate my thoughts and experiences here is a privilege and what feels like a very big relief!

  6. Great post Alexandra! When I first cut my long hair into a short bob, I loved it and to be honest, it felt very liberating. I got mixed reactions from other women. Some questioned my sanity, how DARE I cut my long generic hair.. and other women loved it, but said they’d never have the courage to get a short haircut. I wouldn’t mind but, I only got a bob (About chin length) and people made such a huge deal about it. Still, it’s (one of) the best decision I’ve ever made.

  7. If I could pull off short hair I’d totally get a short hairstyle! I’m very low maintenance when it comes to my hair and having to brush my long hair to get rid of all those tangles is so annoying…

  8. A few years ago I had my mid-back length hair cut into a beautiful graduated bob (chin length at front, seriously short at back) I absolutely loved it…. however, this actually took MUCH more maintenance than my scratty tresses (Rapunzel I was not) – no longer could I scrape it back into a ponytail and just wash the fringe (we’ve all done it, right??). Daily straightening was required to keep me looking like I had an animal on my head. When my hair was long, the weight of it pulled it down enough to be passable in public.

    I’m growing it again now so I’m not chained to the ghds, but I will miss it…..

  9. Having generally gone for a benign neglect approach to my hair in the past I had a short pixie cut about 9 months ago. Given that I pretty much always wore my hair tied back I couldn’t really fathom what the difference would be. Reactions have been generally positive. I do wear earrings now – not just to feel more feminine, but also because they no longer get taffled up in my hair and you can actually see them. Yes, at times I look like a 10 year old boy. Oddly enough the amount of unsolicited attention I get on the street (generally of the “Awright love”, “what’s the matter” “Smile” “don’t you like me” has drastically reduced since I got my hair cut. Go figure!

  10. love my short hair i’ve had a crop on and off for 4 years now!! but yes i also find that after a cut i suddenly start wearing a lot more pink and florals. I have always had great reactions from other women but boys not so much. (many lesbian/little boy references) Despite it really suiting me my boyfriend still says he misses my feminine curls! but i would never go back, mainly because i have reduced the time i spend pulling gunk out of the shower plug by 25%

  11. Agreed, Astro Liz. I had a similar cut about eighteen months ago and now my hair is creeping past my shoulder-blades again, thank goodness. Certainly not for beauty reasons – it is SO much easier for me to just stick it in a ponytail and be done. I cannot be doing with having to style my hair every morning; just a world of no. /fistbump

  12. I have been growing my hair now for two years – after a couple of years alternating between super short pixie crops (Jean Seberg photo taken to hairdressers) and slightly longer shaggy crops (Edie Sedgewick photo)

    I’ve been growing it because I enjoy changing my hair – I get bored of long, short, bobs whatever quite easily. Fickle I know…

    But I did love my short hair, and will go back that way some day – the overwhelming memory of short hair for me is what was highlighted here – about the impulse to have to assert femininity through clothes or make-up. I distinctly remember feeling hesitant about wearing the baggy adrogynous trousers and shirts I’d worn when I had long hair. Oh, and far more expensive to keep getting it trimmed!

    All in all – great piece!

  13. I speak from the opposite end of the spectrum with my near-waist length hair, but I thought that this was a crafted & insightful piece Alexandra. At times I do envy the freedom and ease of a crop!
    Wanted to type more, but my brain cells are feeling a little scant this evening. Thrilled to see this published here though, and to read through the comments that it has provoked. xx

  14. Often has it many times I have been assumed to be having a rebellious phase or because, duh, short hair = raging lesbian obvs (just like how every man with long hair is a hippy in my mums book) – just because of my short hair or been told by guys they prefer long hair. The worst for me was always, since the age of 15, having to hang out with friends who did each others hair or put it in plaits etc.
    Sounds a bit pathetic, but as a girl who has pretty much had thinning/near baldness (due to stupid medical reasons) since that young age I can tell you that while I rock my short hair, and would probably suit it short anyway, I have missed the fact that I can choose. Luckily I have great friends who understand when I cry because they have their hair in a ponytail! Over ten years later, it doesn’t get easier.
    So while I agree that yes, it is only just a blimmin’ haircut and glad others agree – I guess as always in these kind of things there are people who would love to say ‘yeah, I’m cutting my hair off – Coz I’m so rebellious!’ rather than ‘Damn, I’m going bald.’

  15. When I was 9 I had very long blonde hair. I decided I wanted to cut it all off. The hairdresser actually refused to do it.

    During my teen years I cut all my hair off. I spent many fun years of high school being called a lesbian, a dyke and other such names. In the meantime I was enjoying my edgy low-maintenance hairstyle. People suck.

  16. I have longish thick brown hair which I adore; and happent to believe what a woman does with any of her hair is her own business.

    That being said I have encountered countless men (including my own partners) who express dismay, concern and borderline outrage at the idea of a woman cutting their hair. The suggestion is that they won’t find them attractive anymore if it’s cut.

    I also know a number of men who – when their partner cut their hair, or styled it differently – would contantly remark how they wished they would grow their hair.

    Don’t know if this is something that truly works both ways; and whether or not it really is just a matter of personal preference. For example, I don’t really like men with long hair…and believe if you are starting to loose it you should probably just shave it off rather than pretending it’s not happening…and over-compensate with a Ming the Merciless style moustache.

  17. I find it weird that the length of womens hair is still in discussion. I haven’t noticed the same kind of stereotypes and I’ve had short hair multiple times in my life (I usually go back and forth between short hair and long(er) hair, since I like variation and the grass is always greener…). When I was a teenager some people mistook me for a boy but nowadays that isn’t a problem since I’m more — voluptuous than I was back then. The last time I cut my hair short I only got compliments (from men and women) like “you are rockin’ that style”, “you look so sexy” and even “you look very beautiful and feminine”. And when I see a woman whose hairdo I admire it’s usually the short kind.

  18. I love this post! I have been sporting a shaved head for the past 5 years and can’t imagine having it any other way. I (or my boyfriend) shave it with clippers down to 12mm, and it makes me feel like a ninja! :) Practical, cheap, easy…NO BAD HAIR DAYS! And I feel more feminine and individual than ever! I like it because I think it looks good and I don’t ever have to think about it, and then I can get important stuff done! I’m not doing it to cause a scene or a scandal though, and although compliments are nice, sometimes they are a bit gushy, as if I’m some sort of brave-woman-statement-maker that needs to be told ‘it suits my face’ as if *gasp* I almost didn’t get away with it. I do get bored of hearing ‘YO ANNIE LENNOX’ being shouted out, as if she is the only comprehendable reference of women having short hair. And also boring is when another short-haired chica is in the same vicinity of me, someone will come over and point out that my ‘sister’ is over there….as if the likelihood of two sisters having the same haircut is very high!

    It’s only a haircut! :) X

  19. I adore pixie cuts and really wish they suited me. I have quite frizzy, wavy hair so I worry that my hair would look more ‘mad-professor with tufs of hair sticking out’ at odd angles than ‘elegant gamine’. I disagree that short hair is necessarily less high maintenance though. I used to wear my hair at chin length or shorter but grew it out in the hope of ending my daily battle against The Frizz. Being able able to tie my hair back in a ponytail/bun was heaven! That being said I do miss having short hair and I’m considering cutting it again. Maybe if I find a hair-dresser more sympathetic to frizz/waves (why do so many assume you’ll want to singe your hair to submission every morning?) it will be more manageable?

  20. I relate to this. I used to have short hair and was always taken for a boy, and I was really fine with that. The last ten years I have gone from waist to about shoulder length, simply because it allows me to cut it myself. I find the salon one of the most depressing and repressive places to be. Hairdressers are the most opinionated people I have ever met, always eager to give unsolicited advice. I like wearing my hair in a bun or a tail most days, that way I don´t have to wash it every day either, which has done wonders for my scalp. I am very happy about my hair and how it looks, and I think the big discussion about women´s hair is to a large extent fueled by the fact that a lot of people make money from hair.

  21. I recently cut my hair into a short pixie. I immediately loved it but I can’t say that the first few days didn’t make me a little self conscious. I wondered what people were thinking. Would they react to me differently, relate to my differently? Would people think I was less of a female? But now I realize that I just don’t care. I love my hair and I’ve settled on the conclusion that nothing aside from that really matters. Oh that guy over there says he’s not attracted to women with short hair? Well then he’s clearly not the guy for me. Oh that girl over there thinks I must be a lesbian? Who gives a crap. Oh that old lady who needs glasses thought I was a boy? Oh well, it’s no skin off my back. I’m left feeling utterly free and confident. I LOVE THIS HAIR!!

  22. Also with people who say they prefer long hair usually don’t have to deal with it themselves. Most men don’t know that it can be a hassle taking care and maintaining such long hair into something glorious that they see everywhere in the media

  23. Excluding a short-lived bob in elementary school, I’ve always had long hair, ranging between armpit and hip length. I’ve always wanted to try super short hair, but was afraid it wouldn’t look good, having been told many times by my mother that only women with delicate features can pull it off. I finally got to a point in my life where I was confident enough to accept that even if it didn’t look absolutely stellar, I was okay with that. I took in a few dozen pictures to my stylist and emerged with a short pixie cut I absolutely LOVED! My only regret is that I didn’t do it years ago! I love the look, I love the easy maintenance, I love that it stands out. Women often compliment me, then lament that they wouldn’t look good with a pixie cut and wish they were “as brave” as me. I always tell them that I thought the exact same way and that they should go for it!

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