There is home video footage of me, aged three or four, turning my head to show off my new shorter haircut to a group of adoring adults. After spending most of the first few years of my life in the UK, we had moved to Australia and it was hot. I also had a lot of hair. My mum talks about how I was much happier when I was cooler because my hair was short.
I have another memory from this time, at my kindergarden in Adelaide. I am stood between a bush and a fence, surrounded by other children who are taunting me for looking like a boy.
This refrain, that “only boys have short hair” haunted me through most of my childhood. On a skiiing holiday, the ski instructor turned to me and said “and who is this young gentleman?” Even now, as I time, I can feel the shame rise in my belly.
As a teenager I was largley ignored by any boy I fancied, and I interpretted this to mean that I wasn’t pretty or cool enough. I had yet to work out that the strange intense feelings I was having about certain girls was anything other than wanting to be like them, so I continued to strive to be what I thought was most attractive to straight cisgender men.
Hair wise, this meant I continuously went through a cycle of growing my hair long until I could stand it no longer. Then I had it cut off, and felt momentarily liberated before this was eclipsed by the feeling that I was a horrible androgenous mess who would never get laid again. “Men prefer women with long hair” said every women’s magazine ever, a view that is backed up by Hollywood. (Although, even then, the romantic heriones I identified with were the ones played by Meg Ryan with her pixie cut).
The main feeling I have about having long hair is one of self-discipline. I look at photos of long haired versions of myself and admire how long I was able to resist the screaming desire to cut it short. Since the great chop of 2013, I have only been able to reach chin length before giving in to what I actually want.
In May, I started to consider cutting it off again. I’ve been growing out my pixie cut for the last eighteen months and it’s now about chin length. I don’t like the feel of it on the sides of my face or the weight of it on my head. I’m also conscious of every compliment I receive.
A couple of years ago, when my hair was at it’s shortest, my colleague and I were looking through some photos to find one for a report. We found one which had me in it, sporting a chin length wavy bob.
“Oh, is that you?” She said. “Your hair looks really nice.” I interpret this is meaning much nicer than it does now. In fact, I think I’ve remembered everyone who has ever said “I prefer you with long hair” – family, friends, partners – for far longer than I’m sure even they remember saying them.
For 29 years I’ve listened to these voices more than I’ve listened to my own.
I remember having a conversation with a fellow short haired woman, where we both agreed that although long hair made us more conventially attractive, we felt much more ourselves with short hair.
In other words, I’m not disagreeing with the notion that I look better with long hair – actually, I agree that I probably do. I’m disagreeing with the notion that I have an obligation to be the best looking version of myself.