Why are women with short hair rejected in India?

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HairI have always had a very complicated relationship with mine. Throughout school, my mom and I combed my frizzy hair and pulled it up into sections to be neatly braided. I would sit at school, afflicted with migraines almost every two weeks, none of which were related to my hair.

I remember thinking about having my hair cut, but looking around, each of my classmates had long hair. It wasn’t until I started college that I had the freedom to let my hair flow openly.

I would brush and oil it everyday, only to make it look like a lion’s mane. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that I had curly hair. I tried to repair the damage and get some nice long curlsa struggle that lasted a year.

The writer with her long curls in 2017.

My first haircut in a long time

It was when my closest friend et aleague, someone I admired for their short hair, suggested that I get my hair cut. I was nervous: what would people say? What if they hated it?

I had already been ashamed to color my hair. No matter how brave I had a face, it hurt to look ashamed of my parents at family gatherings. And, I knew this new movement wouldn’t be well received either.

But, curiosity won and I got a little square. It was as if a weight had lifted off my shoulders. I stood straighter and felt lighter… As if all those years of pain and shame I had felt about not having the straight hair I had seen around me were gone.

I returned home that day, only my mother burst into tears when she saw me.

Gayathri faces the camera in a selfie.  Her curly hair comes just below her chin.  She smiles widely.
The writer after his first haircut in 2018.

Women with short hair = / = Good women?

My heart sank in my chest and I wanted to put my hair back together. Two days later, when my mom walked past me at the dining table, she ran her hands through my hair and brooded out loud that she wanted them to grow back.

I felt so much guilt and shame at that point that it took all of my willpower not to cry.

It took me months for those around me to reassure me that I had done nothing wrong, that having short hair was not a crime. As I became more confident with my hair, I started experimenting with styles and learned to love myself whether I have long hair or not.

It was the start of my fight against long hair. I swore I would never let him grow up, that people should just get used to something different.

Even now, when I asked my mom if she had anything to say for the readers of this article, her response was, “Tell them a good Indian woman would never do that.”

I’m not the only one

I’m not the only one who paid the price for my hair cut. In a recent conversation with Simran Pavcha, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Youth Ki Awaaz, said:

“After a while it got really hard to distinguish between humor and insult. Even my close friends in college continued to perpetuate the stereotype that I have ladke jaise baal (male hairstyle).

Women in India have always been expected to grow their hair. Within the different religions, the appearance of our hair has certain connotations. Widows having to shave their heads cutting a woman’s hair as punishment, it’s sort of considered a shame to have short hair.

Long hair has always been an indicator of beauty and health. Growing up in an Orthodox Hindu family, my act was seen as a transgression and a sign that I needed to be tamed.

My classmates joked that I was turning into a boy. All the rage in me showed in the ultimate haircut. I shaved my sides. At home, I was shunned at family gatherings.

My classmates were convinced that I had become a lesbian and this rumor made other classmates as well as juniors turn away when they passed me in the hallways. My own teachers laughed at me, declaring that I was a rebel.

Sex, sexuality and how my hair served as an indicator

I was no longer considered feminine. I was someone who was trying to be a man. My love life got complicated, with men laughing at me because my hair was considered cute, but not feminine.

Gayathri seated behind a desk with a very short haircut.  Her sides are shaved and she looks so happy.
The writer in 2019.

Anonymous social media posts started, from fake accounts asking if I was a lesbian, to uncles at family gatherings telling me to push her away soon. All of this only served to fuel my rage. Why did my hair define me before I even said a single word?

My hair is as political as it gets

My hair was never a political statement when I first cut it, but it is now. I had to show people that short hair or shaved sides did not indicate my sexuality, nor did it dictate my identity.

I started to wear more feminine clothes next to my short hair, much to the shock of people even to this day.

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the stares and whispers every time I walk into a room, however. Sometimes I’m afraid it will affect my work as an educator, because I’ve seen parents wonder if I’m able to train their children, just based on how I look.

I have my fair share of days staring in the mirror wondering if longer hair might be better.

Gayathri sits on a chair.  She wears a dark sari and is hunched over, holding a book and looking into the distance.
The writer in 2020.

But I have also seen other women see me and choose to cut their hair. It has become a statement that I refuse to adhere to anyone else’s beauty standards. It’s a reminder that I am beautiful no matter what my hair looks like.

My hair is no longer a crutch to hide behind, or a weakness that would make me cry myself to fall asleep, or an indicator of my sexuality. I would be queer even if I had hair like Rapunzel …

It’s just hair, and it’s free and wild. It also served as an effective social filter – I’m usually approached by other open-minded people who would like to know more or those who don’t care. My hair, or rather the lack of it, started some enlightening conversations with the kids.

To be asked if it was for ” keeps a cool head “ so I could tell them that being a woman has nothing to do with how our hair looks or what our body looks like, I had a lot of fun showing the kids that self-expression is just that. It’s personal, and no one can make you feel bad about it.

Every day that I define my own femininity, I show the world that this too can be feminine… that this too can be beautiful.

Featured image is for representation purposes only.

To note: The author is part of the current batch of Writer training program.


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