Monday, September 30, 2013

Feeling Beautiful with Short Hair & Boosting Your Self-Esteem with Photography

A couple months ago, I stayed up 'till 3am with my friend Sophie, talking about why I photograph women and how being photographed affects the way women feel about themselves. Sophie had recently shaved her head and I was so fascinated by the emotional roller coaster she was riding all because of a hair style. I totally get it though - girls and their hair. It's a big thing. A couple days after this late-night conversation I photographed Sophie and asked her to share her hair story here on my blog. Take it away, Soph... 

"About a month ago I shaved my head. I wasn’t trying to conduct a social experiment, 
challenge the media’s portrayal of female beauty, or send any new signals about my 
sexual orientation. I was just bored of dealing with long hair and thought it would be 
fun to chop it all off. 

It turns out I was about the only person who didn’t think my new ‘do was a big deal. 
Strangers crossed the street to tell me their opinion of my shaved head. Several 
women I encountered seemed to think I must be a fearless badass, and confided 
that they wished they had my courage (as if I had done something much more 
heroic than getting a haircut). Men wanted to know WHY (Did I have cancer? Was I 
demonstrating solidarity with someone ELSE who had cancer? 
Was I gay? No? Then WHY?) 
Apparently a shaved head has to MEAN something. 

When my little girl cousins saw me for the first time they didn’t run and jump on me 
in excitement as usual, but approached with caution and asked what happened to 
my hair. Out of everyone, they were the most adamant that I needed to grow my hair 
back immediately. “You’re a girl. Girls have long hair. You look like a boy.”

"As usual, the kids got to the truth of the matter. I realized that people’s discomfort 
arose from the fact that I no longer fit into the heteronormative standard of female 
beauty. Long hair is feminine, short hair is masculine. By that logic, a woman with a 
shaved head represents something gone “wrong” (sickness, non-standard sexuality/
gender, etc).

Part of me celebrated- I’m all for challenging gender and racial stereotypes! And 
I would love to say that I continued to rock the look with pride. But another part 
of me became increasingly self-conscious. Before shaving my head I was never 
asked personal questions about my health or sexuality. My behavior was accepted 
without hesitation and people in general treated me with respect and kindness. I 
had never realized it, but just by looking the way society expects a woman to look 
(long hair, makeup, shaved legs and underarms, feminine clothing…) I enjoyed a 
lot of privileges that I was completely oblivious to. Shaving my head was like being 
kicked out of a club that I didn’t even know I belonged to. 

When I confided in Chamonix that I didn’t feel feminine with my short hair (and 
that, in turn, I felt less accepted, approved of, attractive and confident) she offered to 
photograph me. I don’t know if it was the photographing process itself, the gorgeous 
images that resulted, or the fascinating discussion we had about self-esteem,
femininity, and the unattainable standard of beauty portrayed by the media, but 
somewhere along the way, I regained my confidence. And instead of willing my hair 
to grow faster, I think I might just keep it short for a while. 

Footnote: I know I’m not breaking any new ground by observing that it is 
unpleasant to have assumptions made about you based on a superficial physical 
characteristic (I’m also aware that as a heterosexual, white, able-bodied woman, 
lamenting society’s prejudice against short hair is not particularly compelling.) But 
hey, in the words of Mr. Hall from Clueless, “Tolerance is always a good lesson”."

And of course, I can't resist creating a Before & After! It was a hard to decide which photos to use as the 'afters'. I love this woman so much (we've known each other since high school Spanish class) and just looking at her radiant and genuine smile makes me feel happy. Although the smiley photos really capture her joyful spirit, I chose to use these two final images in the Before & After because she's staring straight at me with a simple expression that really gives you the chance to see the softness and strength in her beauty. Sophie my love, you are an inspiration, my space space where I can share anything and everything, I love your honesty and how you always support me with so much enthusiasm. Thank you for letting me photograph you again and being vulnerable in front of me. These images are my gift to you and I hope they remind you to focus on what makes you feel beautiful and confident. I hope they remind you that you do have that "supermodel beauty" inside you, like all women do. So much love to you from Hawaii to Portland.

Have you ever drastically changed your hair style?
Did people treat you differently?
Did you feel differently about yourself?