Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Sexuality of Hair: A Guest Post from Aimee

I cut my hair. It's all gone. 

I donated it to Locks of Love, in honor of a friend's battle with cancer. I have always wanted to do this - it wasn't a whim. But for many years I was scared of the awful 2nd-grade-bob my mom gave me, or I was in a theater production where I was locked into a hairstyle. In the recent past, I haven’t cut my hair because I was married.  My then husband openly forbade me to cut my hair in a pixie because he had long hair and was horrified by the idea that his wife's hair might be shorter than his. Eager to please him, and wanting to be the sexy fantasy woman he so desired, I complied.

But then I got a divorce. So all bets were off, and I decided to take the plunge!

Everyone has always told me that my face shape is well-suited for a pixie: big eyes, small nose, defined cheeks. In theory it is a good choice for me. And after the cut I felt more attractive and sophisticated and sexy than I ever had. I walked around a few stores by the salon and heads seemed to turn as I passed. A girl asked me to participate in a charity fashion show. I was thrilled by this new-found confidence.

I posted a picture on Facebook; my female friends raved. So I happily sent a picture to a boy that I am currently dating.

While he did not intend to be unkind, he bluntly informed me that my new hair-do was a complete turn-off for him. I have to admit that I was completely crushed. A TURN-OFF?! He suddenly found me far less sexually attractive?  I know we all have our preferences, but I just can't see how he can say, "I still think you are beautiful and I love you, but your hair cut is absolutely hideous." When he saw me that night over skype, he could barely look at me.

So where does this long hair preference come from? Deep rooted ideas of femininity and fertility? Why do men so vehemently oppose the pixie while women adore it?

I searched and searched online trying to find the answer. And I found this from male "experts" that the Daily News found to weigh in on how un-sexy short hair is:
“If you cut your hair you might be making a statement that says, ‘I don’t want to be seen as a sex object,’ ” says sex therapist Dr. Aline Zoldbrod, who agrees that men are usually more sexually attracted to women with longer hair.

“Men love long hair; the touch and the smell stimulates our senses,” says Matt Titus, Manhattan dating guru and author of “Why Hasn’t He Called?” 

“The three physical things that attract a man are a great body, beautiful long hair or great lips. So cutting off one third of your beacons of attraction doesn’t increase your chances of having Mr. Right approach you. It’s like sending a nonverbal message that you’re not interested in sex,” [Titus] declares.

Great. Thank you for answering my burning questions, Mr. Titus.  I just got out of a relationship where my spouse barely looked at me only to completely jeopardize my chances of turning on a man...ever again.

I was talking with my mother, who does like my haircut, and she simply asked, “Well, sweetie, what did you expect? You just did something very counter-culture. I think you look lovely, but you’re going to grow it out now, right?”

I was a little taken aback. Counter-culture? Really? Maybe in the 20s…but now? Is cutting your hair above your chin an indication of your edginess or a statement against social norms? For me, I just wanted to honor a friend’s battle with cancer—I wasn’t aware that my radical behavior now made me a card-carrying-bra-burning-unattractive-feminazi.

I understand that we all have preferences about what we find attractive...and that is okay. What I take issue with are the deeper issues at play here: why do I, as a modern woman, still so desperately need and seek the approval of the men around me to the point where I forbid myself from cutting my hair for years and then hating myself when I finally have the guts?

I know that true beauty comes from finding and feeling beautiful within oneself; however, I was hoping to be sexually attractive to some man, someday. And it’s difficult to feel pretty and accepted by others (males in particular) when it is so obvious that the short hair stigma exists.

Aimee is a second-year English Master's student at BYU. She likes to bake, and her Bichon Frise puppy has enough hair for both of them.


  1. Great post! I cut my hair off quite short (not pixie, but short a-line). I met my husband, we fell in love, and got married while I still had that haircut. I adored that haircut. Over the last year I've grown it out and is now considered long. I still long for that haircut but my husband told me the same thing: that he prefers long hair. He can't tell me why, he just does. I even look better with short hair! Makes no sense to me. I think people should just prefer what looks best, not some weird norm. But, whatever. I'll cut it when I want to, but I'm going to keep it long for now.

  2. 1. Thanks for the post. I have always been baffled by the correlation of sex-appeal/beauty and long hair. I don't know what it is about men and longer feminine hair that creates such a divide and I enjoyed your story.
    2. For most of my life, I thought the same way. But in recent college years I have noticed that the 3 most attractive women in my life have hair that is very very short. Maybe it's because I am bald? And I am still against women having facial hair...but since I can grow it...maybe I shouldn't be?
    3. You tell a great narrative but don't really get into the details of why. Why is it that men like long hair? Is it about control? Is it about women as a social status for men in marriage? What are your thoughts on the why?
    4. Is there a sexuality for hair with men? What are your thoughts on that?

    Thanks again for a thought provoking post.

  3. That is really interesting. Most of the guys I know prefer long hair too. Maybe it's a gender roles thing, they feel less masculine when a woman has short hair too. I don't know.

  4. What a wonderful post! I too was once in a relationship with a man who forbade me to cut my hair... and when we finally broke it off I went pixie too!

    Since then I have grown out my hair because of personal preference (I freely admit that it wasn't my best look) but I will never forget the sense of liberation I felt as each lock of my hair fell to the floor.

    I think it's very interesting that our hair can be so tied to our sexuality, and that in some circumstances it can be used to control and coerce. Good food for thought, and thanks for your honesty!

  5. I've only ever seen two girls that I thought looked better with short hair: Alanis Morissette, and Laura Pacini, a friend of mine.

    I have no idea why I have this preference, though. I just think, in general, girls look better with long hair. Does anybody have any research or know how these preferences get locked into our minds? A friend of mine reported that in Egypt other women in her study abroad group were groped and harassed because their hair was uncovered. She covered her hair with a pirate-style bandana and was never subject to such treatment. She attributed the attacks to the fact that, in that culture, hair is highly sexualized.

    It's not to me. At least not to the point where it's offensive if I see hair. I even prefer long hair.

    So . . . where do the Egyptians get their highly sexualized opinion of hair, and how is it inculcated in them, and where do I get my preference of longer hair, and how is it inculcated in me? These are questions I'd like to know. But I prefer long hair most of the time. No idea why.

  6. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if there is a correlation between the guys who really don't like short hair on women and guys who are concerned about being percieved as masculine.

    And based on anecdotal experience, I think these guys struggle with homophobia and are terrified of latent homosexuality. They fear anything that could come anything close to appearing "masculine" in their sexual partners (or even potential sexual partners), so they dislike short hair without even contemplating why.

    Here's an experiment someone could conduct: When hearing a man express categorical distaste for short hair on women, find a way to slip into the conversation in inference that people might naturally think he were gay and watch the reaction. Saying something like "So what do you say to women who think your gay?" or "I'm sure it happens to you all the time, so I wanna know, what do you say to men who hit on you?" or even "So are you dating anyone? Any special man or woman in your life?" You get the point. My hypothesis is that those guys who make categorical statements of how short hair is less sexy on women will also respond with percievable agitation and discomfort at any inference of homosexuallity thus demonstrating their homophobia.

    And Aimee, you're right that a pixie cut would look fantastic on you. I would encourage you to trust those initial reactions that were so empowering and recognize the later reactions as stemming from the cultural homophobia of insecure men. Of course it would seem counter to a culture that is stuck in thinking that men have to perform their masculinity by constantly re-affirming their heterosexuality and openly challenging any action that could ever be interpreted as a sign of homesexuality.

    What do people reading this comment think?

  7. Jeremy, I love your suggestion. I too wouldn't feel surprised if there were a correlation between homophobia and men who are adamantly against short hair on women. Granted, I suspect most straight men would respond negatively to the questions you're suggesting. Still, their reactions would be hilarious.

    I think the really ironic thing about this article is that, as we can all see from the photo at the top of the post, Aimee looks fantastic with this haircut!

  8. I got my hair short (shorter even then a pixie) and I've had it both ways, some men have said that they would never date me now because of my short hair, but others have stopped me on campus to compliment me on....

    I think that the issue might also be part of how men view was usually very trendy men who complimented me.

    I wonder if those men saw me as counter culture and felt that they were counter culture as well, so we should then recognize each other?

    Either way though, I do agree that hair is still highly sexualized.

  9. Ok I thinks Aimee's article is great and it brings up an interesting point. I love thinking about all the things that make us tick and this is one of those funny quirks that seems to pop up everywhere.
    My husband likes my hair long, but all he gets to have is an opinion. He always tells me I look beautiful with whatever haircut I have and he means it!
    I have, however met men who LOVE short hair!. A friend of mine chopped her hair all off and came into work with stories of how sexy her husband said it was and he has since asked her to chop it off again!
    It it really fair though, to make group judgments about people just because they have a certain taste? Do all people who like the color yellow suddenly have intimacy issues? You can see how ridiculous a claim that would be and I find it ignorant and somewhat offensive to suggest that because Some men do like long hair they are homophobic.

  10. You bring up a good point Tiffany. Extrapolating specific experiences to general statements is fraught with difficulties and as you point out assuming causal relationships is often dangerous. I would, however, want to make a distinction between the arguments asserted by Jeremy and Emily. Although correlation has often been linked in odd ways, even more odd than your proposed color yellow and intimacy issues, the human body has a deep historical and cultural connection with sexuality and gender and while I am sure Jeremy is only suggesting a possible idea, I think the idea is worth some thought.

    I have often felt awkward when my masculinity is challenged by women and even men. I have talked with a lot of athletes who don't think that Tennis players like the Williams sisters are attractive because they are too muscular and "built!" To masculine! But honestly, take a look at their pictures!! They are attractive! But men, like me (I hope I am not the only one), don't always separate physical attributes and gender roles. I am the man and should therefore be the strong one, the in control one, the visionary one, the leader, the spokesman, the provider, the distant wise father figure slash best basketball coach ever. It is ridiculous because it is a plausible thought process for a lot of men/husbands/fathers.

    I am sure that it goes both ways. I wonder if sometimes if women look at stouter heavier men and say that they could never be good providers because they can't control their weight! And I don't mean large men over 6 ft. I mean the short pudgy guys. Heck!! I am 6.2 with a very masculine build and I still struggle with issues of inferiority to women because according to the BMI and more importantly in my own head I am way to overweight and not worthy of a companion and even though it sounds ridiculous in the context of a web conversation there are a lot of guys and girls that make gender based judgments based on physical needs. It happens all the time.

    Sorry if it seemed I ranted in your direction. So if there is any assumption that could be made from Aimee's experience I think that Jeremy has given us a good candidate.

    PS Aimee does look amazing in her pixie hair cut. Very happily at peace.

  11. Tiffany, I think you're right to say that we shouldn't make snap judgments about groups of people based on any trait, least of all one preference. But there's a difference between preferring yellow, and preferring it to the point that you insist your romantic partner never, EVER wear it.

    And that's essentially what those men who try to forbid their girlfriends and wives from cutting their hair are doing. They're not saying, "I happen to prefer your hair long, but I love you and find you attractive no matter what." They're saying, "No, short hair is never attractive on women. Never cut your hair short."

  12. I love the post and all the comments! Definitely an interesting topic.

    Just to add another element to the conversation, what about men with shoulder length hair? I always thought men were ridiculous for hating short hair on women, but I find myself disliking long hair on men. I'd love to know if it is societal influences or merely on reflection on my own experiences with ponytailed men.

    Either way, I'd still support my husband if he wanted long hair and any woman who wanted hers short, especially if it looked as great as Aimee's cut.

  13. "I understand that we all have preferences about what we find attractive...and that is okay. What I take issue with are the deeper issues at play here: why do I, as a modern woman, still so desperately need and seek the approval of the men around me..."

    I agree. I know that evolution and genetics plays a big role in what we find attractive. But when people seize that as an excuse to say, "That's just the way things are, and you're going to have to live with it," I think they're shutting the door on a really, really important conversation about what we define as beautiful/valuable. That definition has changed over time, so it's obviously got an ENORMOUS social component that would be ridiculous to ignore.

    I'm pretty apprehensive to say what I'm about to say, but I so deeply resonate with your experience that I really want the opportunity to express myself on this issue: I had been dying to get a pixie for a long, long time. I just was SO SICK of the time it took to do my hair, and I was usually very dissatisfied with it anyway, and I wanted to spend that time and energy in better ways (side note: women are often criticized for how long it takes them to get ready, but they get called "frumpy" if they don't do it). Plus, Emma Watson's haircut looked really cute. So I chopped mine a few months ago. And I LOVED IT. Best thing that ever, ever happened to my hair.

    My husband, to a T, had the same reaction as your boyfriend. In public I was complimented by both men and women, but at home my husband was, shall we say, diplomatic about the subject. I understood that long hair was his preference and that it might take time for him to get used to my new haircut/get turned on by me with the new haircut. I understand that sometimes you’re on, and sometimes you’re not, and that yes, a lot of times you just can’t choose what flips the switch. But I think that culture tells us what is “sexy,” and that they define it narrowly and that we BELIEVE them so easily—it’s hard not to. That’s a huge part of why some women hate their bodies and get eating disorders and have surgeries and spend so much time money and energy trying to make themselves match a very narrow beauty ideal. But this isn’t news to anyone. What’s news is that we can train ourselves to identify and reject these false messages about beauty, and then our perception of beauty can and will shift (I've done it; I have a dramatically healthier self-image now than I did six months ago, and all I did was read a few very educational blogs). And when your perception of beauty shifts, you’re making chances a whole lot better that you’ll be sexually attracted to your wife/husband even if she/he doesn’t look like a magazine ad. And of course—there’s also that really big important part where sex drive in intimate relationships will ideally spring from emotional connections as well. But yeah—the biggest frustration for me was not his initial reaction, but his seeming unwillingness to consider that his concept of “sexually attractive” might be too rigid (I know, I see it).

    Don’t worry, my husband and I have talked about this. A lot. I hope you can all be gracious enough to trust that we’re both 1. individuals with lots to learn about the world and 2. imperfect but earnest partners in a growing relationship.

  14. I really appreciate everyone's thoughtful comments. I have been thinking quite a bit about this, and I am grateful for all of the new perspectives. I think Maddie really understood my intentions. She wrote:"we can train ourselves to identify and reject these false messages about beauty." I think that my point was really to show that there is a stigma that exists about short hair and femininity and that we should reflect on why it exists and what we should do about it (how we react to it). I never meant to over-generalize, offend, or suggest that a person is not entitled to his or her own opinions or preferences.

  15. Aimee! I didn't hear about your divorce until now, that must have been very stressful. Your haircut is adorable!

    The funny thing about short hair is that it seems like most women over 50 have really short hair. Like, it's the standard for them. I wonder why it's so different for a younger woman to have short hair (a statement or rebellion rather than a practical measure).