I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern throughout my life with how people react to me. People often assume that body image just relates to size and shape, but my experience has to do with my hair.
Being the child of a hairdresser it seemed natural I would at some point do some experimenting. My first radical change came at university and my brother did a similar experiment. I got dreadlocks and my bro shaved all his hair off. Both of us noticed the immediate effect on how people reacted to us. I had the better deal I think. I had complete random strangers – with dreadlocks, smile, say hi, want to talk about music and life and just generally I seemed to gain entry into groups without needing to do much. My brother however found female shop owners avoiding eye contact, refusing to serve him and generally perceived as a threat. Needless to say, going out for coffee together was interesting.
I then grew my hair long for many years and just blended into the generic background. That was until the start of this year when I got over it and went for the full chop. People were surprised but positive. So then I decided why not go really short and messy, to the edge of respectable margins of femininity.
That was my cucumber moment. People just freaked out like in Cats vrs Cucumbers on youtube. People who weeks before would say hi, talk to me stepped aside and looked at me suspiciously, they stopped short of hissing but I might have detected the odd growl. I could tell I had crossed the line and fallen out of the respectable image others held of my gender – people, like those cats saw me differently and I was a little perplexed for a while. But now I’m ok with my new cucumber status. Because I actually tried the cucumber thing with my own cat, I was all primed with a camera to catch out but he didn’t freak. In fact he was rather disinterested and looked at me like what is this thing doing here that looks like it could be food but isn’t. I suspect my cat has never encountered a snake unlike some of the other cats in the USA. So being a cucumber itself isn’t the problem, it’s the association with threat and fear.
So I’m embracing my cucumberness, I might even become as cool as one.
Today I was at my local supermarket. It’s a small local one and it reminds me of home. I love how food shopping is an opportunity to see diversity at work in the community.
On my way in I stopped at the dairy section and I pondered cheese with a woman, who was equally baffled by the price of 1kg block. While a man walked through crying and talking to himself, I looked up and he had found what he needed, happy again. Onto the checkout and I nearly run into the same guy, but he’s talking to one of the assistants who is trying to figure out what he needs. Children look up at me perplexed by this loud grown up, I just smile like its no big deal. As I pay for my chocolate and broccoli (not planning on cooking them together), I overhear the checkout person behind me say ‘you are short $1.20. I turn and ask ‘you a bit short man, can I help? The look of gratitude transcended words, as I handed over the money I notice the complete lack of acknowledgement of my gesture of kindness…which is exactly what I hoped for.
No flash mob cheering me, no hashtag, just a nod to the checkout operator, a smile back at the same kids who smile up at the loud guy with a beard who cried. In the end it wasn’t about me and my offering of small change to make up the deficit, it was the small changes I saw in people that makes a difference, that erases any deficit.
Hair. It has to be one of the most defining features of human beings. We are virtually hairless as a species. But the hair on our heads definitely seems to be one of the most significant ways we identify each other. Schools seem to have incorporated hair into the realm of uniform. I’m not sure about all schools, but most that have a school uniform probably have some rules about hair styles and colours. Two examples have come to the media in New Zealand over the last week both involving young men.
Hair length definitely seems to be a bit of a gender definer. I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that boys generally have short hair and girls have long hair or at least that is the most common expression of difference related to hair, especially before facial hair appears thanks to testosterone. But that is pretty limiting right? Hair is a wonderful medium to express your individuality, cultural or religious identity or your affinity to music.
Being ‘clean cut with a neat, short, hair’ probably fits best with a military style of discipline. Discipline is something schools take seriously. However I am wondering, if in the year 2014 we could shift our understanding of what it means to show respect and reflect school pride beyond requiring students look the same. It does seem to contradict the idea of valuing diversity a little bit. Read More…