I have a confession to make. I once “unfriended” someone on Facebook who posted the gratuitous comment “Bad hair day?” in reference to my profile picture.
Now, I am not the thinnest-skinned person I know, but this comment struck me as mean-spirited and uncalled for. I wasn’t polling my FB friends on my new hairdo, for instance.
So I could really relate to an article from Sunday’s Chicago Tribune by family matters columnist Heidi Stevens. Like most columnists, Ms. Stevens has a small photo of herself that appears with her weekly column. In the article, she detailed all the nasty comments she receives from readers about her hair, which is thick and wavy.
I was appalled not only by the thoughtlessness and spite evident in the comments. I also agreed with the main point of her article, which is that as a professional woman, she should be judged by her ideas and writing, not her appearance.
Apparently, Heidi Stevens is in good company. She cited such high profile women as Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg as being plagued by regular criticism of their hair. Yet there are no snide comments made about men in the political or professional sphere. Can you imagine if people had said to Albert Einstein, “Interesting theories, but I just can’t take you seriously with that hair”?
Why do people get in such a tizzy over women’s hair? I think it has to do with the prominence of hair as a sign of health, vitality, and sexual attractiveness. Think of all the commercials and full-page, glossy magazine ads that tout hair products for women. In fact, women of certain cultures and religions cover their hair as a way to discourage men from viewing them as sexually attractive.
Yet, as Stevens points out in her article, she is not a model or actress whose looks are even tangentially a part of her profession. She is a journalist, and she would like people to focus on her words, not her looks.
Interestingly, Stevens focused on hair yet again in yesterday’s Tribune column. She wrote about a young mother whose two-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. The brave mother is collecting donations toward childhood cancer research by offering to have people see her either cut off her long ponytail or shave her head.
Since our society finds a woman’s hair so important to her identity, this act shows true courage and is sure to attract donations from many people who can’t resist the audacious idea of seeing a woman shorn.
I realize men care about their hair too, their main concern being the loss of it. But it just doesn’t impact their work life, and no one judges a man because he is bald. A woman goes gray, and she is an old crone. A man goes gray, and he is distinguished.
I have lived with hair issues my entire life. It is thick, curly, and often out of control. I would just like people to judge me for what I say and do, not how my hair looks. When it comes to a woman’s looks, I subscribe to that age old expression of many a mother, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”