What does your haircut say about you?

The Sidebar


When I was in the ninth grade, I decided to cut my hair really short. It was probably one of the best decisions I made in high school, but it came with its own set of problems.

I cut my hair because it was easier to take care of, and I think I look better with short hair. But what felt like a pretty benign style choice became a big deal. Turns out that hair is one of the biggest ways that I express my gender to other people — whether I actually wanted to or not.

I’ve always had an antagonistic relationship with my hair. My childhood memories are filled with my parents pinning me down while I struggled in vain to escape my mortal enemy — the hairbrush.

As a little kid, my parents would threaten to cut my hair really short if I didn’t let them brush my hair. It was only then that I’d begrudgingly submit to their demands.

It wasn’t because I liked having long hair, but because my parents thought of it as a punishment. They’d say it in the same way they’d threaten to take away my Nintendo DS or TV privileges. And I loved video games and TV, so obviously I should love my hair too, right?

I mean, everybody else seemed to. Older relatives would always praise my “long pretty hair” when they’d come over, and my mom would be so happy when I finally let her do my hair all nice.

So when I decided that I wanted to cut my hair short, I faced a lot of pushback I didn’t really understand, especially from family members. No one ever explicitly said what the root of their opposition was. Most of the time, people would say things like, “Are you sure you want to make such a big change?” or, “Are you sure it would look good with your face shape?” or, “Pixies are going out of fashion now.”

Even the hairdresser who was being paid to cut my hair off, kept asking me if I was really sure. He was so hesitant that he ended up keeping it a few inches longer than I wanted. I looked a lot less “pixie cut” and a lot more “‘60s housewife.”

It was so weird, because up until this point I’d been making plenty of terrible fashion choices through middle school, and no one seemed to care about that at all.

Eventually, it was my mom who voiced what everyone else was thinking. When I was trying to convince her to let me cut my hair, she said, “Well, if you get your hair cut, will you at least wear more dresses and skirts?”

So there it was — no one really gave a shit about my face shape. They were scared about me — gasp — looking like a boy.

My mom was eventually fine with the hair cut, as long as I wore a cute top or cut my hair in a  feminine short style. And the people at the hair salons were always happy to oblige, reassuring me that I would still look cute despite the shortness of the style.

Because that’s what the whole thing was — a negotiation. I could have boy hair, as long as I traded it for girl clothes or makeup. I needed to be able to show people in some way that I was 100 percent a female.

It’s not like any of these people were trying to be the gender police or anything. But regardless of whether they realized it or not, my androgyny, or even my potential androgyny, made them uncomfortable. And so they tried to fit my messy, tangled hair into what they thought gender should look like.

When I stopped fitting into that easy box, when people stopped being able to instantly tag me as “boy” or “girl,” people saw that as a problem.

I can’t tell you how many times a waiter would call me “sir” at a restaurant, my mom would instantly correct them, and then the waiter would get all flustered and apologize. When they’d leave, she’d turn to me and say that she couldn’t believe that the waiter just did that to me, before making a comment about how my clothes or hairstyle didn’t really help the situation.

What was the situation? Because even if everyone else got all embarrassed and upset, none of that ever really bothered me. It seemed like everyone was so invested in the gender my hair communicated to others — except me.

I really like my hair the way it is. I didn’t cut it because I was trying to rebel or make some kind of political statement. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a haircut is just a fucking haircut.

KD Mireles writes the Friday column on the ambiguity of categories. Contact them at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @kdillonm.