So, We Have to Talk About Long Hair

I, umm, kind of don’t want to, because we’ve been talking a LOT about the body image side of things in the past week (especially Fat Talk, Fat Talk Haters, and how I feel about being a little fat now). And I’m ready to get back to Beauty U and some of the other Beauty Things that make up the whole varied mix here at Beauty Schooled.

But first.

Dominique Browning is asking New York Times readers “Why Can’t Middle Aged Women Have Long Hair?

Well, my long hair is indeed a declaration of independence. I am rebelling, variously, against Procter & Gamble, my mother, Condé Nast and, undoubtedly, corporate America in general. Whereas it used to be short hair that was a hallmark of being a liberated woman — remember the feminist chop? I do; I did it — these days, long hair is a mark of liberation.

A good portion of the blogosphere is too distracted by 55-year-old Browning describing herself as middle-aged to do anything about the main thrust of the piece. I suggest we press on from that and talk about where she drops the ball. It sort of sneaks up on you, what with all the talk of liberation and sticking it to corporate America and toxic styling products.

But then, at the very end, she says:

Men like to play with women’s long hair. They like to run their fingers through heavy tresses. They like to loosen tight braids. They like it when long hair tents over their faces during soulful kisses. The long of it is that long hair is sexy. (So is short hair, of course, but in a different way, and we’re not making that case — yet.) The short of it is that long hair means there is always, at least, hope. [Emphasis mine.]

She gives short hair that throwaway “of course,” but I’m still not loving how she implies that short hair on an older woman (or perhaps any woman?) communicates an unattractive, unsexy, towel-thrown-in utter lack of hope.

It’s great that Browning is challenging the age bias by wearing long hair past when it’s socially acceptable. It’s pretty stupid that we have a rule about when women have to cut their hair off and even more inane that they have to dye their gray hair in order to stay employed.

But you’re not a beauty standard rebel if your reason for rebellion is rooted in yet another beauty standard. You’re just holding on to all the same old beauty baggage as always.

What do you think? Is Browning breaking the mold with her gray tresses? Or does the Great Hair Length Debate just reinforce our friend, the beauty ideal?


Filed under Beauty Standards, Hair, Happenings

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16 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Emily
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I’m not exactly middle-aged (late 20s), but I have long hair. Not, as it is put in the article above “brushing the tops of my shoulders” long, but past my natural waist, sometimes tucked into skirts long.

    When I first read the article above, I have to admit, I smiled a bit and thought “finally.” There is pressure for women of a certain age, and even under a certain age to cut their hair. Long hair is often the first thing to go on makeover shows. Everyone bemoans how difficult it must be to maintain (personally, not true – long, my hair is wash and wear, but when it is short, it requires styling and product). Outside of long-haired focused comms online, most of the consumable media seems to be pushing short hair.

    I think I glossed over the last bit you highlighted. And, well, it upsets me, too. Not only because it dismisses that short hair can be sexy, but because it brings sexiness into the equation at all!

    I don’t let my hair grow or wear it long becuase the outside world or men will find it sexy. I’d wager to say that most women don’t wear their long because it is considered sexy. It is a personal decision, one made because it is easier to care for, requires less maintenance, is more versatile, and any number of other reasons.

    I’m sure I could go on.

    Thank you for highlighting that last bit, and bringing it to our attention. I look forward to reading the other comments on this post.

  2. Posted October 26, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t think this article has much to do with beauty standards. I think it has everything to do with Dominique Browning taking the opportunity to argue with her mother in the pages of a major American newspaper. Basically, the “argument” here is: my mom says I’m a big girl now so I should cut my hair. I don’t wanna because I’m a sexy magic mermaid cowgirl princess folk singer. Mom says shampoo’s too expensive. But I say, “Nuh-uh.”

    I mean, seriously? This was in the New York Times? Even the title, “Why Can’t Middle-Aged Women Have Long Hair?” is arbitrary and misleading: the question isn’t, “Why can’t they?” but, “Why don’t they?” or more accurately, “Why don’t they *usually*?” And Browning doesn’t answer any of these convincingly, instead preferring to wax nostalgic about her pioneer grandmas’ imagined sex lives. Good lord. It’s only 10:30 and already I need a drink.

  3. Alix
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Why does every effin’ thing for women have to be about whether it’s sexy or not and whether or not men like it?

    I’m 55; I sometimes wear my hair short, but right now it’s long; it makes me mad that my stylist always wants to cut it off because it “makes me look older”. I don’t care. I earned every one of these years and if I want to look my age, who really should care except myself?

  4. Posted October 26, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Damnit, Virginia! I’m doing this post tomorrow! :)

    • Posted October 26, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Hee hee. But I can’t wait to see yours — I know you’re going to have a way more evolved take on this!

      • Posted October 26, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        I definitely don’t. This is much more thorough.

  5. Kelly
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I have lost count of how many times a friend has tried to justify her beauty decisions on whether or not a man/men in general will like them. Growing hair out, cutting it short, losing weight, maintaining or gaining weight, wearing makeup, not wearing makeup, wearing their hair curly, wearing it straight, the debate over what kinds of perfumes are attractive and what’s not… what I don’t understand is why we need men to justify what we do with our appearances at all.

  6. Posted October 26, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    OK, never mind. I got inspired and did it today. You can take full credit.

  7. Jemma
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Why is the desire to be appealing to your preferred sex (dudes in this particular case) considered so un-empowering? I agree the author of that article just seems like she wants to talk about how awesome and supposedly free-spirited she herself is, but so what if one of her inspirations for her appearance is that she thinks it will be more appealing to men? Why does any woman have to be “anti-beauty” in order to be considered admirable?

    • Alix
      Posted October 26, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Jemma, why is it men are considered to be the beauty arbiters?

      If the woman likes her hair long because she thinks it’s beautiful, what does it matter whether it is appealing to “men” or not? Men rarely, if ever, base their clothing choices or hairstyles on what “women” want.

      And since when were “men” a monolith? There are men who like short hair, long hair, gray hair, blonde hair, red hair, striped hair, mohawks, and bald or balding, just as there are women who like all those things as well. If she is trying to be appealing to all men, all the time, then she is in for a sad awakening, because NO WOMAN EVER has been appealing to all men, all the time (just like NO MAN EVER has been appealing to all women, all the time). That’s not how life works.

      My personal take is that if my partner prefers a certain look, I will sometimes wear it to be extra pleasing…as long as I sometimes get the same in return; but my partner is pretty much happy when he is around me, regardless of how I wear my hair or my clothing choices. He finds me attractive, period, and it has little to do with the way I LOOK and everything to do with the way I AM.

      Choosing to look my age has its own particular beauty, and I find the prospect of growing older exciting; aged faces are lovely to me, albeit in a different way from youthful ones. If you find that unattractive, that’s your problem, not mine.

  8. danceswithfat
    Posted October 27, 2010 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I’m 34 with naturally curly hair that goes to the small of my back. One of my happiest days was when I got my first gray hairs. I got the shiny silver gray hair which means that I’m in for being 70 years old with awesome long curly gray hair. Woot! I live pretty far outside the current standard of beauty so while I knew that it wasn’t common, I wasn’t aware that it was so taboo. Now I’m even more excited.

  9. Debra
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    This subject is very much on my mind lately, see I became a Grandmother for the first time about a year ago.I am 46,so I’m having an internal struggle with how much “letting go”to do in the way of aging.I get told often that I look like there is no way I have children in their 20′s, but I do,3 of them in fact, plus a 13 and 18 year old.Here’s my thing…I decided that I would never cut my hair short again, mainly because I see women my age or a little older that have the ‘standard’ old lady hair cuts and I cringe.
    My problem really is with ‘to gray or not to gray’.I am probably 20% gray,but who really knows when you slap on the dye as soon as you see the shimmer of gray appearing.The timing is what I struggle with…is now too soon to abandon the dye bottle or should I wait until, say 50?I somehow hope that the time will magically just set off bells, then I would know without a doubt…but somehow I don’t think this will happen…on goes the struggle.
    Do I keep the “I can’t believe you are a grandma”compliments coming or do I surrender to just letting those grays all hang out?
    You must know that there are a few other considerations here as well…I have Fibromyalgia and it is becoming difficult to do the dyeing myself, as well as I am too cheap to go to a salon to have it done.
    I guess the good news is that I could always just try letting my hair color go to seed,then if it is to much to handle too soon,then no harm done and I can get back on the bottle.

4 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Like Virginia, I’m not sure that the argument “but men love it!” is really the most empowering or interesting one. There are a lot of men. They like a lot of things. In fact, as far as I can tell, they pretty much will like whatever it is that women are doing. [...]

  2. [...] wonder about Emma rebelling by… being a really hot girl. Points for the daring short haircut (long hair being one of our culture’s default beauty standards) but otherwise, she’s hardly [...]

  3. By On the Subject of Selling Hair | Beauty Schooled on December 3, 2010 at 8:50 am

    [...] actually made the gray lady’s front page, which surprised me — except for how this piece got top billing there too, so clearly, somebody at the ole NYT has a hair fetish, methinks — [...]

  4. [...] don’t think so — but the media (like Dominique Browning who always has so much to say about this stuff) sure [...]

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