The new year is quickly approaching and, in our last blog, we talked about how we are more open to change around this time, but it can also be a scary thing. We may convince ourselves that we’re ready to make that big change to our look – maybe go short and hop on the resurgence of the classic bob that has become so popular with celebrities and in industry circles over the last few years – but when our stylist goes to make the first cut, we can very often find ourselves overcome with stress and paralyzed with doubt. So, why is it that women have such difficulty cutting off their locks and why is the length of a woman’s hair directly correlated to her sense of self-worth? The answer is more complex than you may think.
Psychology Today reports that we’ve steadily closed the self-esteem gap between women and their male counterparts. Citing a 2011 study by the University of Basel, based on a survey of 7,100 young adults, the study found that women had just as much self-esteem as men reported. But, despite higher global self-esteem, women still report not feeling good about their appearance. The reason specified: because women’s appearance is central to how they are evaluated by others.
Image courtesy Maybelline New York
The societal issue of women being undervalued for their accomplishments and being raised to see themselves as a companion to a male, rather than a valuable member of society, is still a core conflict for all women. As Psychology Today reports, the evolution of the human species has contributed to the socialization of women in our cultures, as the evolution of female appearance is directly related to finding a mate. We still place men and their opinions on a pedestal, raising our girls that they must compete for the affection and validation of men to have value (something deeply rooted in the primal, evolutionary competition to pass on our genes). This is evidenced in the common extreme where women shed aspects of their “traditional” femininity to be viewed as more competent and successful in their careers. A 2002 report by Barber claims that the “thin standard” gets more extreme as women become more successful in business, with their weight dropping below what is considered “attractive” by men – presumably so they appear more “masculine” and, therefore, less desirable and more equal to their male counterparts.
The real life Rosie the Riveter, Rose Monroe in 1940. She was a classic beauty with great hair!
The fictional Rosie the Riveter, her image doctored to conform to beauty standards of the era, while adding touches of masculinity to “equalize” her image with male workers.
Perhaps more detrimental than the issue of lowering our self-worth in our own eyes by putting more value on the male perception of beauty is the fact that other women, again, raised to compete with their peers, champion the same unrealistic expectations by using them as weapons against each other. Our society glorifies and thrives on this kind of woman against woman hostility in the media with shows like Bad Girls Club and dating “competitions” like Rock of Love, the Bachelor, Who Wants to Marry Harry? and others. We force women to compete against each other for the affection of one man, further enforcing the mentality that they have no worth beyond being a girlfriend/wife, and watch them tear apart each other’s appearance. What’s worse is that we eat it up, often, guiltily, aligning with and cheering on some of these girls in their mutual degradation.
We laud women competing against and defaming each other in the media, effectively condoning the stereotype that they should conform to the preferences of men for attention.
With all these conflicting issues – wanting to be seen as competent, so we can be successful in our careers, but wanting to be seen as feminine and beautiful, so we attract the attention of men and the envy of other women – how does it relate to changing our appearance and the length of our hair? It all comes down to fear.
Fear of change is a natural human reaction. Our brains are hard-wired for survival and the term is used very broadly – preservation of our life and survival in social situations are just two ways our brain computes as “survival” – so it tends to push us towards things that are tried-and-true. After all, if you’ve done it before, there’s less chance of danger and a greater chance of survival. So, naturally, a change in the routine, whether good or bad, instinctively causes stress and, with it, triggers the fight or flight mechanism. So, when you go to make a change, whether it’s in life, relationships or your appearance, your brain’s first reaction is to say, “Stop! Think about this first! It’s new, it’s not safe! Stick to what we know!”
The fear is as real as ever
Pile on the fact that we’ve been raised to believe that men only like long hair, that their opinions about our appearance are paramount, and if we don’t find a man we’ll end up an old maid – miserable, alone and utterly unsuccessful at the only thing we could possibly have done with our lives – plus the ever looming threat of ridicule from other women, and all that stress will grind you right to a halt. Then, the flight mechanism kicks in and you’ll want to run right out of the salon.
Obviously we can’t change global society in a day, but we can change our own approach to it. Instead of letting that little, engrained voice in the back of our heads tell us how we should look for other people (be that, men or the opinions of other women, or even our mothers), take a breath, let the stress of change pass, and really focus on how you want to view yourself and what is going to make you feel good about your appearance. Maybe you love having long hair or, maybe, you want a pixie cut. The important thing is that your hair reflects your personality and complements your natural beauty. After all, if you focus all your energy on looking the way other people want you to, or the way you assume they want you to, it begs the question, “Are they really seeing you or just the version of yourself you’ve built for their approval?”
So, remember, change is scary, and it’s natural to be scared, but you don’t have to give into fear. Resolve to be brave with your look in the new year. Whether it’s a trim, a dramatic cut or just a new color, let your personality and natural beauty shine through. There’s no better way to show confidence than to be who you are and look the way you feel, even when the world seems like it’s against you.