The first time I heard the words, "Fat girls can't have short hair," I was sitting at a salon in Medellin, Colombia. I was 15, and recovering from an eating disorder. I was starting to gain back the weight I'd lost, and because I felt like a "new me" was starting to creep out of the baggy layers, I wanted a new haircut as a personification of the journey — one that felt both literal and metaphorical in equal measure. But the stylist wasn't having it. "Necesitas cabello largo para ocultar esos cachetes," he said. Or, "You need long hair in order to hide those cheeks."
At the time, that was enough to discourage me. It was enough to set me back half a dozen steps in all the progress I'd made (or tried to make) towards positive body image. I grew petrified of cutting my hair, and when I asked relatives and friends for second opinions, almost everyone seemed to be on the stylist-from-hell's side. "Bobs definitely make you look fatter," "You don't want short hair; it's unflattering on rounder faces," "Long hair is so slimming; why would you ever cut yours?" These were not uncommon "tips" or commentary. And for a long time, I figured they must have truth to them.
And so, I kept my hair long throughout most of high school (sans one accidental over-cut that left me feeling battered and resulted in one too many "sick" days to be believable. I dyed it bright red in the hopes that no one would notice how much chubbier I looked). I grew to think of my locks as my armor: Like the baggy t-shirts before it, my hair helped me hide. Beneath it, I could obscure "those cheeks." I could conceal the upper arm bumps and wobbly bits that I thought were exclusive to me. But come college, I needed to do something: I felt this ridiculously strong urge to purge myself of all the things that had defined my style — of all the things that had defined the insecure, fragile adolescent. Once again, my brain told me this should mean a change in my hair.
The only thing that seemed more radical to then 18-year-old me than cutting my hair was dyeing my hair. More specifically, dyeing my hair blonde. So I did both. And it was great — for a day. More specifically, for Halloween, when my Alice in Wonderland costume greatly benefitted from the change in my look. But otherwise, I felt lost. I didn't understand the angles of my face, without having the length of my hair to work with. I didn't know what to do with my shoulders — they felt awkward when so barren; when left to their own devices. Although brushing my curls became a ton easier, I craved the days of 40-minute combing sessions. I missed the knots that my mom had always considered "wild."
In retrospect, I simply wasn't ready to part ways with my hair. I was still struggling with my body — convinced that every decision I made style-wise should be with the aim of minimizing myself; of minimizing my fat. My relationship with my body was a roller coaster, but instead of taking me through various emotional stages (from love to hate to apathy), it only led me to varying degrees of detestation.
In an article called "You Are Not Too Fat For Short Hair," xoVain writer Katie Frost tackles the myth that "fat girls can't have short hair" in personal and vivid detail:
"As little girls, we’re conditioned to believe that long hair is the beauty ideal. Our first 'role models' —Barbie and Disney princesses — wear their cascading hair as badges of female sexuality and beauty. On the playground, androgynous hairstyles, boys with long hair or girls with short hair, are met with confused stares, or from the braver children, questions like, 'Are you a boy or a girl?'
Conformity is key. Boys will only like you if you have long hair, but girls feel the most pressure from other girls. While individuality is supposed to be the ideal, in front of the mirror, sameness rules supreme."
Like a slender silhouette, long hair goes hand in hand with the contemporary beauty ideal most prevalent in the mainstream. A woman is "most beautiful" when she is thin, but also when she possesses fair skin, "cascading" locks, dainty features and an almost childlike-innocence. When you are fat, you are conditioned to believe that you are far, far away from the "beauty ideal" when it comes to weight, and so you must do everything in your power to fit the prescribed box in other departments: long hair, traditionally feminine fashion, and soft demureness in presence.
Though I'm naturally femme in my sense of dress, it took me a while to realize that I generally do love the look and feel of a skater dress or polka dotted pink number. But with the wisdom of accepting yourself and growing to love your body comes reflection on all the times you didn't. I know I was afraid to cut my hair for decades because I feared that it would somehow make me look "fatter," and slimming yourself down when you're fat should "obviously" be Priority No. 1.
The problem with all this "fat girls can't have short hair business" is that it operates under the assumption that a fuller-figured woman's goal must always be to slim herself down. Thus, when we take it on board, we are (either consciously or subconsciously) perpetuating the stigma. I'm not saying that "all fat girls should want short hair," but I am saying that the fat girls who do want short hair should go ahead and chop. I've encountered so many plus-size women who say they'd love to have a pixie cut or a bob or even shave their entire head — but the fear of "looking fatter" gets in the way, every time.
And it's an unnecessary fear — it's one that does nothing but make us even more image-obsessed than we already are. If we're constantly worrying about our cheeks looking chubby, our butts looking big, or our VBOs (visible belly outlines) making an appearance, we're limiting ourselves to potentially soul-destroying degrees. Sartorially speaking, there's nothing worse than feeling like you "can't pull something off," but that construct, in and of itself, implies that there's only one way of looking good — that there's only one way of being beautiful.
Last fall, I needed a trim — my first one in two years. I went in with the intention of getting some new layers in, but a bad cut left me with two very distinctive layers, unevenly cut and really not "me" at all. In what I then attributed to "losing my mind," I cut that longer layer to match the first. I watched chunks of uneven strands (my hair cutting expertise being minimal) fall to the bathroom floor, feeling an adrenaline rush that hadn't come across me since discovering just how much better Oreos taste when dunked in milk (I was 19 when that glorious occurrence came to be — and no, I have no idea why it took me so long).
I will admit that I felt incredibly conflicted by the cut. Not just because I'd done it myself (the unevenness very evident), but because I was confronted, for the first time in several years, with the feeling of losing a part of my aesthetic identity. Whilst I was in a blissful state of self-love and body positivity, I'd also grown accustomed to the hair complements. I was "the plus-size blogger with the long, beautiful curls." It was a descriptor that many had thrown my way — and one that my vanity certainly approved of. And it was strange: Not unlike when I cut my hair for the first time in college, my upper body felt exposed. I wasn't worried about looking fatter, per se. But I was worried about looking unlike myself (or whatever version of myself I'd solidified in my own psyche at the time).
But there's a reason I was filled with adrenaline as I took kitchen scissors to my curls. It wasn't just that what I was doing was crazy (because I know nothing about cutting hair, after all). It was that what I was doing felt so rebellious. Not like the rebellion my 18-year-old self had tried to man-make, though. It felt like an even bolder F-you to the world. To the fat shamers; to the trolls; the the Stylist From Hell; to the relatives who discouraged me from cutting my hair when I so wanted to as a teenager; to all the people who preach that "fat girls simply can't have short hair," and who dare to make rules for individuals who deserve to let their individualities shine.
In something of an unexpected perk, I ended up actually loving my makeshift lob. I appreciated how easy it was to wash. I appreciated that it kept my shoulders and neck cooler in the heat. Sometimes I miss having long hair, just because it allowed me to experiment so much more with styles and 'dos. But I now know that should I grow it back, it won't be because I'm scared of looking bigger. In fact, should that day come, I'll probably miss how chubby and cute the short hair made my cheeks look. I'll miss how it opened up my face and silhouetted my double chin.
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Images: Courtesy Author