Hair Shaming

Sitting across from my Chef one day, finishing a scrapped together lunch, chatting, catching up, he turned to me and uttered words with such sincerity, no guile or malice, and yet I was lost on how to respond. He said, “So when do you think you will let your hair grow out?”  My head tilted, I paused, asked him to repeat the question, all warnings that he was on dangerous territory and maybe he might want to back up, rethink, even abandon his line of questioning all together. Subtleties are lost with him though and he continued on. To be fair to him, when we dated, when we married, I had long blond hair, I was thinner. I presented an image of femininity that garnered second glances. So what he wants maybe hasn’t changed in the 20 plus years of our togetherness, I am the one who has altered the contract. I cut my hair, shorter, a bit shorter until I planned my trip to South East Asia and really cut it. Travel freed me of the long hot hair and the need to please anyone other than myself with my appearance. I didn’t realize he was still waiting for me to go back.

An older gentleman I barely know, I am sure he doesn’t even know my name, walked out of the sanctuary doors as the service ended two weeks ago and stopped in his tracks. He took one long look at me and remarked to the other female usher, “Do you think she needs  a haircut?” His sarcastic remark as one foot was in the commons and one still within the room of God’s Holy Place, stunned me. I didn’t remark on his clothing, his choice to have more coffee and less toothbrushing, his.. whatever… I actually didn’t notice his physical appearance. I was so shocked that he felt completely comfortable discussing my person, a stranger to him, and present it as a negative. Had he offered a compliment on the fact that my shoes matched or my scarf was lovely, we would have smiled and moved on. Why is my hair a thing? I know a man who married a woman he fell for when he was just out of high school, she was barely 16. They have been married for over 30 years.  He has insisted she maintain the hairstyle of her 16 year old self. She does it. I have always thought this was creepy and unnerving and an oddity but am now questioning if he isn’t just more honest.

For as many moments that men feel the need to discuss my very short hair, women secretly, in whispered tones, tell me they wish they were so brave. Store clerks, the person next to me waiting for a table, the lady cheering the kids on at any event. Time and again, I hear women tell me that they love my short hair and wish their husbands would accept them with such a cut. They look longingly at my head and want to hear stories, as if I were showing travel pictures while they have to stay home. I tell these women to do it. Listen to themselves. Own their bodies. What am I missing?

But maybe they know what I didn’t all along, the image of beauty is so ingrained that even after 4 years, my husband is still waiting, as if this was some wacky experiment. As if he has been uber patient and understanding, now can we just get back to his needs? When was the last time a woman asked her man to do his hair in a way that is pleasing to her? Women, have you accepted your husband’s hair loss as part of aging or have you asked him to get implants, asked him to remain the thing of beauty you first fell for, not budging on acceptance of the inner glory? Is this a thing I just don’t know about?

Today is the day women are striking. I have friends who are posting that they have no idea why, they think it is dumb. This breaks my heart for many reasons but then I remember that they can’t cut their hair. Their husbands would get mad. They don’t trust their worth in their marriage outside of their appearance. That we as women are made to believe we are that insignificant, that what we bring is measured in tress length, this is more than heart breaking. Do these women not understand this is the equivalent of being forced to wear a covering to hide your beauty? Your person is controlled by the will of the men who decide what you can show, what is deemed acceptable. This is why women march, this is why feminism. This is why a day away from all the jobs that women fulfill is critical for men to see us not as objects for their pleasure but as people.

Every Wednesday I cook a meal for roughly 100 people at our church before they break up into several small groups for study. My pastor’s wife and I had joked that I might strike on this day, that I might not do this thing I so love, that I have volunteered to do, in solidarity with those who are leaving their jobs for the day. She told me she warned her husband. He had no worries that I would be there. I assumed it was because he knows this opportunity feeds my soul. Still, I planned to cook red foods, I created a booklet for each table highlighting important women of the bible. As I shared with the pastor what I had planned, I told him that I was doing other things to mark the day since I wasn’t striking. His response, “Well, it is for employed women.”  Boom. That just happened. With one sentence he unknowingly diminished the “work”  that I do for 3 days each week to serve God and this pastor’s vision. His intent was not malicious, his impact was not affirming. Because I don’t receive a paycheck for what I do, is my worth less?

Men, are you unknowingly treating the women you love as objects rather than as equals? Women, are you afraid to grow fully into the child of God you are meant to be because you are instead striving to please a man? I am convinced that feminism is biblical, that we are called on by Jesus Himself to love each other as we would want to be loved. We are asked to love no one above God. Shaming is not the work of Jesus followers. Wear something red today and tell a women what you appreciate about her character. Leave her hair alone. She won’t say anything about yours. Let’s get back to talking about things that really matter. Like where you leave your dirty clothes.

(Amendment: words are powerful, labels are weighty. By using the identifier of “pastor’s wife” to describe the relationship in the story, I was in no means saying that is all this women is, merely the role that she was playing in the story. In describing the interaction with the pastor and highlighting the discussion that had already come before with his significant other, my intent was to show how easy it is to shame women with an off-hand remark, unintended as the shaming may be. Public apologies to any who were hurt by this post, who felt they were slighted or called less then their more. Apologies to any who were concerned that this couple not feel the respect they deserve.)

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