Hair And The Female Identity

A few years ago, Beyonce Knowles, arguably one of the biggest if not THE biggest pop stars in the world cut off her long goddess like hair to a short pixie cut. The performer released three images herself on Instagram to her 6,073,054 followers. None of the images came with captions; the first showed the cut from the back and received 342,000 ‘likes’ with approximately 16,200 comments, the second was a ‘selfie’ which garnered 423,000 ‘likes’ and roughly 23,300 comments and the third, a more stylised shot captured 351, 000 ‘likes’ and about 9,300 comments, numbers which I’m sure would have grown since.

I was first informed of Beyonce’s new haircut by a friend who text me asking me if I had seen it yet. Multiple ?’s and !’s ensued so I quickly googled ‘Beyonce hair cut’ which provided plenty of results and the images mentioned above. After replying, a series of questions entered my mind regarding the exchange and discovery which had just occurred, the first one being ‘Could I too cut my hair that short?’ which prompted me to think that in one hair cut Beyonce had redefined my boundaries of what femininity is. Then the rationale process started, I had never ever thought short hair was unfeminine but had always avoided the cut from fear of looking like my mother, who that hairstyle belongs to in my family. However knowing this, it dawned on me that I had always held Beyonce, this person I did not know, as some definition of a powerful and successful woman.

Beyonce to me is seen as the ultimate ideal of womanhood mainly for the assumption that she ‘has it all’. Succesful in her career, she is able to retain her privacy and have (supposedly) strong relationships with her husband and family. Also, I think she is strong and gentle at the same time. Traits I constantly try to remind myself to embody, which probably raise a whole other area for discussion. As a woman, I hope that I too can create a successful career and have a family without compromise of either. Whilst Beyonce is not the only person to do this I still place her on a pedestal because I have never seen her scream at Jay-Z for forgetting to turn on the dishwasher. In a society of blogs and reality TV the woman who can do it all and has it all without cracks showing is somewhat of a myth which we still seem to strive for.

Following on from this Beyonce’s haircut and the comments which followed made me aware of the language which we used to describe hair and as a result women. On one site, Lifestyled (now known as The Joye), in response to a post entitled ‘Ode to Bey’s Hair’, women themselves were describing the new cut as a ‘mum cut’, others stating that the new cut did not represent the image she had created for herself and that we knew of her. The Age created a slideshow on their website with the title ‘Beyonce cuts off all her hair, like a boss’, creating masculine connotations and in my opinion, raising questions of power. In my view, and by no means is this ground breaking, we use certain adjectives to describe woman with long hair as ‘beautiful, sexy and glamorous’ whilst those with short hair are ‘edgy or cute’. Whether Beyonce has reconfirmed these ideals or broken them I am not sure. To add to the confusion, since the debut of the pixie cut every photo I have seen since has been of Beyonce with a longer bob haircut. By choosing to grow her hair or put extensions in Beyonce has either interrupted the messages she was initially trying to send with the new cut or perhaps she too felt that her new cut did not fit in with her image.

Whilst a lot of the articles read mourned the loss of the weave some took a deeper approach, like one article from Pacific Standard called ‘The Sociology of Beyonce’s Hair’, that focused on the idea that as woman we are raised to have an emotional and psychological attachment to our hair, investing connotations and ideas which are not present otherwise. Another discussed how Beyonce could do this now because at her age and position she did not have to worry about impressing people anymore, she was at the top of her game. Besides raising another group of issues my keen interest in the representation of Beyonce has made me question how I define my own idea of what constitutes a strong woman and by whose terms. How did I see my image of success and how was this represented to society? Did Beyonce’s new haircut alter her position as a strong powerful woman or was it simply a renegotiation of this position; which in turn allowed me to redefine my own?

Since then Beyonce has had many different hairstyles, yet none of them seem to have garnered that much attention. It seems that short hair still manages to subvert what it means to be feminine and our perceptions of femininity, as does, it seems, the ‘man bun’, however, that is a whole other conversation.

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