Monday, January 30, 2006


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"Gertrude had always looked like the dear aunt, and now with her topknot shorn away she did not look like anyone but herself." --Bravig Imbs

So I cut my hair off, again. It's shockingly short, about an inch and a half at its longest point, which is on top. And it's red, again. The friends I have now are surprised--they didn't see this coming. I explain that the blond, swingy bob cut isn't how I usually look, that I've actually had short hair most of my life and only grown it out a few times, and even then, never past my shoulders. I'm really a short-haired person. This is the real me. I say it, but I don't believe it now anymore than I did all the other times I cut my hair off and had to explain to my current group of friends about "the real me."

I cut it because my building has very weak circuits and my blowdryer kept knocking the power off. I cut it because I teach an early class this quarter and this requires no fixing at all. I cut it because I lost about twenty pounds last year and I promised myself that when I got my cheekbones back (sharper, stronger, bolder now, because I'm older) I could pull it off. I cut it because I didn't want to look preppy, or upwardly-mobile. I cut it because I wanted more queer visibility, because it seemed important that I not acquiesce to the tyranny of socially-normative standards of white female beauty (watch for women with short hair on tv tonight. You will not see one, unless she is an old woman in a posture-pedic bed commercial, or a crying contestant on a rerun of last season's America's Next Top Model.)

I cut it because this is the "real me," because it is my fate and my destiny to not be a pretty girl with a swingy blond bob. And if I didn't have to prep for class now, I would give in to the huge, nauseating, introspective confessional narrative welling up in my chest right now. I would settle into my desk chair and let this post really happen. I would unpack that super-melodramatic statement and think through why, having cut my hair off of my own volition, (and actually looking pretty smokin' in this cut) I feel so sorry for myself. Not regretful that I did it, but put upon that I had to.

I would tell you about how much I loved Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, and how I refused to see The Sound of Music because she had short hair; how I begged and begged my mother to grow her hair out (she didn't); how she cut my hair off when I was about five because I used to knot it while I sucked my thumb (in my head I was making beautiful trees with the strands of hair, like the ones in the Lego playset I got to play with when I visited my grandma's house); how I cried because now I looked like one of the Blockheads in Gumby and Pokey; how I cut my hair off in early high school because I thought it reflected my perkiness and how not one single boy ever asked me out, a trend which contined until the end of my first year of college when, my perkiness broken, my hair almost chin length, I finally got a boyfriend; how I grew it and grew it and grew it until the beginning of my junior year, when I got married; how I cut it off again almost immediately after the wedding and wore it short until just before we got divorced.

But I won't. Class is in a couple of hours and though I've read, I haven't got a lesson plan ready and I've got a steady stream of students starting to drop by with various excuses as to why they don't have their papers for class tonight.

So, I cut my hair. It's short. It's red, (because unless you have enough hairs to highlight some of them, you can't really be blond, only all-over treacly yellow which I won't do.) I've already had one colleague call me butch, and another one call me Sinead O'Connor. I'm not sore about that; they were just being fond and doing the office banter thing. What really gets to me is my own irrational despair, indicative of something really deep and internalized--is it misogyny? is it homophobia? is it me-ophobia?--a belief that if you can't swing your hair while you walk down the hall, or toss it with your hands while you talk, or tie it effortlessly into a ponytail using the scrunchy you keep around the gear shift knob of your rabbit convertible, you're not really a woman.


Blogger La Lecturess said...

I'm sure it looks FABULOUS--both the shortness and the redness. But I relate to parts of this post; my hair isn't nearly as short as what you're describing, but it hasn't been even close to scrunchy-able for some six or seven years. And I happen to think it looks great. But every now and then I look out at my female students and note how few of them have short hair--or I overhear my brother and father agreeing that all men like long hair--and I think: huh.

But I say, if you can rock it both long & short, blond & red, go for it! Switch off regularly and keep 'em on their toes. A friend of mine used to shave her head every once in a while and then don a long 60s flip wig when she wanted to feel all femme.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous What Now? said...

What a fabulous post. I've had short hair most of my life -- not a hip, ultra-short, red haircut, just a sensible, boring haircut -- and I've had mixed feelings about that short hair for most of that time.

As I was reading your post, I kept thinking about Jo in Little Women, spunkily cutting her hair and then crying over it. Ah, Jo, you tomboy rascal!

7:28 PM  
Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway said...

Hair is so strange. And yes, I loved this post. I've only had really short hair once; and one of the reasons why was that although I know, rationally, there's no way anyone's going to mix me up with a boy, walking around with short hair, I felt like a boy. And I love short hair on other people; I envy women who can wear it; I think really short hair is just awesomely cool. Yours sounds really really great. But I'm way too chicken to wear it - something about having long(er) hair is necessary for me to feel like a woman. (Whenever I get bored, and cut off a bunch of hair, I instantly turn around and grow it out again.)

Oh, but the other thing is this: at least where I live now (a kind of high-maintenance part of the country, at least if you're middle class or above), the only women with short hair are nice, sensible, middle-aged matrons. They look like nice church ladies. (no offense to anyone who fits this description!!) And I have this fear that if I cut my hair off, I would NOT look all cool and hip and counter-culture; I'd just look incredibly boring. I wouldn't be challenging stereotypes of what makes women attractive; I'd just be sinking into the asexual older woman stereotype.

(Plus, I need to get my cheekbones back.)

8:13 PM  
Blogger Sfrajett said...

What a beautiful post. It's interesting that you feel like short hair is too daring--I feel as if I could never grow mine out again unless I moved away somewhere where nobody knew me, and I kept myself from making any friends for at least a year, maybe two, which would give my hair time to be different. Then there wouldn't be expectations.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous vogue said...

Gorgeous hair piece. My hair is currently too long to be butch and too short to be femme meaning: middle-aged (provided that I live longer than I have any reason to expect I will).

I have to give a job talk to an audience that my sources tell me will be hostile on Friday. The hostility may be misogynistic. I am having an insane urge to wear a dress (which I almost never do anyway) and big, high boots. I will almost certainly wear a suit because why give them anything like an obvious non-reason to think I'm stupid in advance of my saying anything at all...

Meanwhile, I am reading hundreds of application files, many of which want some way of thinking about gender. And it's as if every step anyone made in the direction of having a conceptual vocabulary for this from the late 1970s through the early '90s has been completely disappeared. There's so much good work to be done and I find myself stuck on what to wear....

5:57 AM  
Blogger Writermama said...

I'm sure you look great--wish I could see! I, too, had very short hair for most of my stint at BYU. AND I never found a husband there. Was there a connection?

(Have you seen the Gertrude Stein statue in Bryant Park? She's sitting in the lotus position.)

8:21 AM  
Blogger Adriana Velez said...

Fantastic -- hair to match the boots! I loved this post. Hair is just such a rich subject.

I'm an unabashed fan of having long hair myself, especially as I have no cheekbones to speak of.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Margo, darling said...

What Now, I LOVE remembering that about Joe. That gives me comfort, really.

No way is it a coincidence that no one dated us at BYU when we had short hair, Julie. The biggest heartbreak, really, was realizing that my h.s. excuse for not being asked out (it's because I'm a Mormon, and they don't know what to do with me) and my hope that all that would change when I lived among all Mormons, didn't pan out. It was me. Me and the hair. And maybe my personality. Turned off the h.s. boys, scared off the college ones who probably saw, rightly, that I wouldn't make the best obey-your-husband-inasmuch-as-he-obeys-God type.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It looks fabulous, and you are about as far from either butch or Sinead O'Conner as I can imagine (although personally I found her hot sans hair). Your post, and the fact that I watched Elektra last night, makes me want to develop a lesbian action heroine. We need a look that's practical but still hot. I mean, come on! Can you really win a knife fight in a leather bustier and long, untied hair?


10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Sinead O'Connor reference is kind of dated, generic and uncreative. It's also completely not accurate to the particular type of short hair you're currently sporting. You'd think the faculty in this department would have a better sense of the complexity and gradations of short haircuts.

The WMS faculty dork factor is really grating on me right now. I think it's my anger over the fact that no matter how much gratitute is expressed, certain faculty with whom I am currently collaborating will never understand the hours upon hours of hair-pulling, anxiety-producing work that goes into making a few lines of text fly onto pretty green backgrounds to create what basically amounts to a dispensible self-celebratory fluff project (although a very pretty and informative one).

Wow. I didn't mean to spill all of that. I'm sure the hair is fabulous and hope to see it soon. I'm a big red person.

apologies for the vent,
I think you can guess.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a Dorothy Hamill cut in fifth grade (Irina Slutskaya had one the other night!) and someone thought I was a boy EVENTHOUGH I was wearing gold stud earrings. I cried and cried. My mom loved short permed hair, and I mostly had that during h.s. I didn't figure out that boys didn't like it until college. It wasn't me, it was just my hair! All those years! I have long hair now, but someone recently told me that a mama my age (38) might want to lose a few inches (of hair). I'm terrified to cut my hair now for fear that I will look a) older and frumpier 2) fatter 3) butch. I love the Gertrude Stein quote. It's opened a small existential tear in my soul. I thought I'd gotten over the hair thing, but I see now that it still holds me hostage. What's a fat Mormon housewife to do? Sorry to go off. This topic really gets me.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Margo, darling said...

Dear Anonymous,
You never get over the hair thing. My hair was totally permed all through h.s., in addition to being short, and also because my mom liked it that way. Of course my wild sister has NEVER had short hair, and she always had dates. Of course, my life has been maybe a little easier than hers, perhaps because I never had any temptations. At all.

My question is, first of all, do you like your hair? Because if you do, that's all that matters. The prettiest hair, I think, is the hair you like the best. And what's up with the busybody who felt compelled to tell you to lose a few inches? I feel like I'm always getting really invasive comments like that, and I'd like to know *why* people feel entitled to tell me what to do! As a compromise, though, how about taking a few inches off and having a swingy bob? They're always in style.

Since I wrote this post, though, I've actually taken my hair shorter, to where it's mostly shaved, with a really nice fade into a little bit longer on the top, but like, a centimeter. For some reason this made me feel like I had pushed past boyish and into daring and elegant. I like it so much, am saving tons of money on shampoo, and I really like rubbing my head!

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fade Like Grace Jones had? Annie Lennox? I actually do like my hair alright at the moment, and was taken aback to hear this pretty young thing refer to me as an "older mama" (to be fair, she was cuttiing my hair at the time, but still. . . .) At the moment, all I need to do is go re-read "Tender Buttons" and "Miss Furr and Miss Skein."

8:56 AM  
Blogger Margo, darling said...

Just like Annie Lennox. Like Grace Jones, too, only not square on top.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:17 AM  
Blogger DarkMirror said...

I have a Monday appointment to cut off the hair. My nice dishwater, straight, shiny, just past the shoulder, gently flipped under hair. Before I married the spouse I had five years of ultra short, rad white hair. Spiked and shinned up with slick stuff in a bottle. Oh how I loved it. With 50's black plastic sunglasses and jeans I looked soooo butch. In a black dress with a tan and red lipstick I looked like a girl looking for a dick. It was good. I felt so fine, even though I was in my 30's, had a soft jawline, was frankly fat and had a short thick neck. I had dates, lots of dates. Met the spouse when I looked that way. He thought I was hot. After we married he begged, he groveled, he implored me to grow it out, cut and color. I have, I did. Oh My. He loves it. I admit I look more mainstream. Lovingly he tells me I'm like a plump Doris Day, so sweet he says, so adorable. YUCK! Stella had to go away to get her groove back. All I have to do is go to the barber.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i shaved my head in may and now (january) its a few inches long.
i shaved because i was so sick of all the typical long, blonde, wanna be porn stars, wanna be barbie dolls around my upper-class materialistic society. I'm 27, a single mom, and was a babysitter going to university full time. Soon after i shaved, the plastic surgeon i babysat for didn't call back LOL
Then I moved to New Zealand for 4 months and the people there loved it.
Now i'm ready for an ultra cool short hair cut.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yuck to short hair.

5:30 PM  

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