A Cut Above The Norm

Why does a haircut have to stand for something drastic? Can’t a cut just be a cut?

11.13.13
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Earlier this week, America’s sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence got a haircut. In its aftermath, the Internet stopped just short of spontaneous combustion.

Last Wednesday, she took to Facebook to debut newly shorn locks. In a characteristically candid photo, the Hunger Games actress revealed what Us Weekly has dissected as a “kind of punk pixie cut that has a few longer pieces on one side but is shorter everywhere else” and I would prefer to summarize as “Michelle Williams, circa yesterday.” But no matter its inspiration or origin or etymology, this much is certain: she looks gorgeous.

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Days after the socially mediated reveal, Lawrence expounded on the surprising crop in an interview with Yahoo. “I don’t know, I cut it earlier,” she said. “And it grew to that awkward gross length . . . so I just cut it off.” Apparently, the fact that her previous cut “couldn’t get any uglier” further strengthened her resolve.

Less compelling than the 23-year-old star’s account of her formerly fried strands, however, is the fact that she immediately followed it with a lengthy rant about body image in Hollywood. Commenting on the industry’s badly distorted ideal, she said:

[S]hows like the Fashion Police . . . put values in all the things that are wrong and [say] that it’s okay to point at people and call them ugly and call them fat and they call it “fun” and “welcome to the real world.” And it’s like, that shouldn’t be the real world. That’s going to keep being the real world if you keep it that way. It’s not until we stop treating each other like that and just stop calling each other fat . . . with these unrealistic expectations for women. It’s disappointing that the media keeps it alive and fuels that fire.

Given the forcefulness of her frustration, it’s easy to read Lawrence’s dramatic hairdo as a kind of rebellion against conventional standards of beauty. At least, I certainly did. After all, Emma Watson and Miley Cyrus and too many fictional females to name have all consciously wielded scissors as instruments of passionate, personal protest.

And yet an article published in the Atlantic this summer makes a compelling case against such logic. Citing The Newsroom, Girls, and Mad Men among other examples, writer Casey Quinlan claims that linking trauma to radical transformation “seems to confirm that a woman’s value lies in how she looks, and that only psychological instability would cause her to make a drastic change in her physical appearance.” Aside from a few notable exceptions, says Quinlan, primetime gives us “the impression that happy women don’t get pixie cuts,” and if my assumption of Lawrence’s motives is any indication, I’m guilty of the same bias.

I have always believed that the clothing we choose says something real about the people we are or perhaps the ones we want to be. Considering that our hair is the only outfit we wear every day, it seems only right to give it the same attention. But is it fair to assume that Lawrence is trying to make some grand statement with hers? While we’re on the subject, have you ever attempted to express one with your own? Finally, why is that we so often insist that major haircuts “stand for” something at all?

I blame Samson, but I’d rather hear what you have to say.

Let’s talk about it.

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