When I got my hair cut short for the first time last year, I was afraid I wouldn’t look feminine anymore. More specifically, I was afraid I would look like a 12-year-old boy.
That fear wasn’t entirely irrational.
At a Chick-fil-A in Wisconsin, I was christened into the club of women mistaken for men. I don’t blame the employee who approached my boyfriend and I from behind and asked if us “gentlemen” would like a free sample. I know what the work daze does to your mind and your mouth. It was an honest mistake. (I do, however, blame the B&B hostess who self-righteously proclaimed she served women and elders first as she distributed plates of food to my mom, my sister, my dad, and my brother—ignoring me. I blame her, not for mistaking me for a man, but for taking pride in her benevolent sexism rooted in gender essentialism and disguised as respect. I digress…)
I don’t care if I get mistaken for a man; my identity does not rest solely in being and looking like a woman. Now that my hair is short, I am continually exploring my definitions and understanding of femininity and beauty. If long hair is the only connection I have to the feminine, do I really want to hold on to something so fragile?
No, not really.
So I am learning to embrace androgyny. Last year, I wrote about how I was “expanding into my fullness” by embracing my love of all things girly: glitter and poetry and flowers and *gasp* the color pink. Those sentiments still hold true, but there is another fullness that I am in the process of expanding into. I have found that I don’t need or want to exude femininity every waking moment of the day. I have found a “creative force,” as Courtney E Martin puts it, in choosing against gender essentialism and traditional standards of femininity.
A little over a week ago, I began teaching a college course. As I picked out clothes to wear for the first day of class, dozens of thoughts were going through my mind. I wanted to look confident and authoritative to inspire respect from the students. But I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard. I wanted to be comfortable. The last thing on my mind was looking feminine.
The freedom to choose outfits and styles based on my personal tastes and comfort instead of a gender binary is truly liberating and generative. Maybe I’ll get mistaken for a man many more times in the future. That’s a risk that comes with short hair and forgetting to care about beauty standards. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Next stop: shaving my head.