Real Women Open Up About The Pressure To Wear Their Hair A Certain Way To Feel Accepted

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I had long, very thick black hair, inherited from my Punjabi grandmother and tended to with care every Sunday. It swung down to my waist at parties and it was tied back into a loose plait at work or at the gym. It set me apart, I thought, from all the girls who had the same shoulder length cuts with gold streaked into it. 

This year I cut it all off, to feel brand new again. 

It worked. I felt refreshed. Lighter. Like I could be whoever I wanted to be. 

And I also realised what a fool I’d been. To keep my hair defiantly long, unhealthily so till my split ends had split ends just because a romantic partner had said he preferred girls with short hair. 

It was only after I cut him off completely could I cut my hair too and feel appropriately relieved by both releases. Ironically, in trying my best to not let him dictate my appearance, I had been chained to the same look for two very long years. 

I found myself wondering – if there ever comes a time when we stop shaping ourselves in reaction to the men in our lives; or even in the world in general. 

Sometimes Girls Can’t Have All The Fun

Sara, (22) a med student with thick black curls that bounce on her shoulders confesses that her hair used to be ‘even more fun’ in high school. It was blue. And purple. And a little pink. But in her first year of college when everyone else started expressing their personality, she started to go out with a boy who liked girls with black, straight hair. 

In the second month of their dating, Sara got the popular Cysteine hair-straightening treatment done. ‘I said I was just de-frizzing it to deal with the humidity but really I wanted to look like Bella Hadid. I knew he was into that.’ 

The blue, purple and pink vanished too to match the model’s slick black hair. ‘But I never looked like Bella,’ Sara laughs. ‘And I didn’t feel like me.’ 

Sara is still dating her boyfriend from her first year of college but he’s ‘learned to love’ her curls now. When I ask if she would consider turning her hair into a rainbow of colours again, she shrugs and says, ‘Too much drama TBH.’  

Jaanvi, a millennial design professional in Dubai, declares that she would ‘never’ change her hair to appeal to a guy. She found her signature hairstyle four years ago in London by chance. ‘I sat down in the chair of this salon in Covent Garden and told this random trucker type hairstylist to make me pretty. He gave me bangs. And I’ve kept them since.’ 

Funnily enough, the fringe she got from this stranger on a whim ended up being the haircut that has suited the shape of her face the most. It was also, she realised later from baby photos her mother sent her later, the hairstyle she had as a child. 

But now Jaanvi is considering getting rid of her signature style to appear more credible in the professional world in Dubai. ‘People take you more seriously if you don’t appear as young.’  

In her position, I’d do the same. I’d adjust my appearance to increase my credibility with men at work too. 

It is unfortunate that it always seems to be young women changing their appearance to make it easier for the world to accept them. 

I hope Sara colours her hair again. I hope Jaanvi keeps her fringe. Personally, I’m massaging almond oil into my scalp tonight, and hoping my hair grows back, right down to my waist, so I can tie it in a plait and swing a parandi at whoever the hell I want. 

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