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I won't forget when I was a junior in high school and my anatomy teacher started to rant about how hair is dead and it's absurd we assign such significance to a part of our body that is literally dead.
His stance was really just a way of indirectly criticizing women for caring about their appearances—because he was actually really sexist. But that's not the point here.
His argument isn't an uncommon one; there's this idea that people care too much about their appearance and there's a lot of criticism over hair. There's criticism over haircuts, hair color, amount of hair, length of hair, type of hair, and that's just if you're applying this to hair on the head and ignoring the multitude of conversations surrounding body hair.
The point is people have hair and people have opinions about hair. This isn't new, but I find a lot of the conversations to be as absurd as my teacher found dying hair to be.
For a lot of people, hair is much more than hair. In general, how we present ourselves is a huge part of self-expression. Considering the whole point of uniforms is to be identity stripping, that all should be fairly obvious. Whether we are fully aware of it or not, how we look is a large indicator of our personalities.
Hair plays a significant role in this claim to identity. Hair is as much a part of us as anything; you take away clothing and makeup and all the things we physically add to ourselves, but hair is still there. Only very few and extreme circumstances can change that we have hair and it will continue to grow no matter what.
We consider a baby's first haircut a milestone.
We still consider it unconventional when a girl has short hair or a boy has long hair.
People of color still face ridicule and discrimination for their hair.
The thing is hair matters. Personally and socially, hair is significant to both individuals and communities.
I remember countless times as a kid when I "discreetly" cut my own hair all the way up until I was a teenager, and then I got it all chopped off. I got 19 inches chopped off and that still left it shoulder length. And from there, I just went shorter and shorter until I shaved it all off.
It was the most freeing thing I've ever done. My whole life I'd wanted short hair. I remember being four or five and seeing a man with a shaved head at a park and wanting my hair to be like that. Granted, the bit of hair he had was also vibrant pink, so how could I not want that.
But the thing is none of it matters! Hair does a lot to show a person's personality and when someone thinks you don't like your own hair, the age old "it's just hair" gets used. When I was near-bald because I buzzed everything off, people would treat it like a mistake and remind me it would grow out. Yes, I know it's going to grow out. That is generally what hair does, and just because it's really short now won't change how hair has always functioned. But it was like people wanted to reassure me that it could grow out in a way that implied shaving it wasn't my decision in the first place.
It was though, and I even had people telling me I shouldn't do it, but I knew quite well that it's what I wanted. I didn't care how it would look. Honestly, I figured it would look horrible. However, I knew that if I never did it, I would always wish I had, and I much preferred to just find out. Besides, what did I have to lose? My hair is my own to figure out and do what I want with.
In my experience, there's this idea of bravery associated with making drastic changes to hair. It was supposedly bold that I shaved my head and it was supposedly daring and risky that I started cutting my own hair.
The thing is it isn't any of those things. It's my hair, so why shouldn't I personally be able to figure out what I want to do with it?
As I am white, there's nothing I can say personally about the experiences of people of color with their own hair. I do not say this to put words in the mouths of other people or claim anyone else's narrative, but I know the struggle of accepting your own natural hair can be much harder for other people.
I know a lot of people don't have the same freedom I do to experiment and I know some people can't explore personal expression in this way because of how society perceives it. I know that certain hairstyles have been unfairly considered inappropriate for workplaces. I know that, while dreads on a black person has been considered "unprofessional," they're sometimes considered individualistic and expressive on a white person.
There's a double standard in the way we perceive and judge anything people of color do, but there is especially a lot of discrimination as it comes to the self-expression of anyone who isn't white.
So while I say hair is reflective of personality, I do not mean this to say it is genuinely reflective of someone's ethic. There is no difference in my behavior or my personality when I had long hair, and when I had no hair, there was, however, a difference in my comfort and confidence with myself.
And that's why allowing freedom of hair matters. That's why people take the time to care for this dead part of their body. We have it, we have hair, so why not make the most of it?
And beyond that, what does anyone get out of ridiculing people for their styles and for things they've elected to do? Maybe they have a mullet, or something "old fashioned," or something that just seems unmanageable. But why should anyone else care? It's their responsibility. It's something for them to deal with and to own.
Hair is hair, but more importantly, it is our own. It can look bad or good, blue or brown, or long or short, and none of it matters. Expression is what is important, and maybe we should stop assigning value to it and just take it for what it is.