As the days begin to get warmer and we begin to anticipate spring, I get to anticipate something else, just as lively, just as youthful: bobbing my hair.
After work, I shall happily walk to my downtown salon where my stylist will greet me with a hug and a smile. It will be under her loving and creative eye that my thick, wavy locks will become straight and precisely angular. Transformed, I’ll step out into the New Haven night, my gait now adjusted to a new-found, joyous swagger.
I used to have long hair as a teenager. Like really, really, long hair. All the way down to my waist. It took forever to wash and dry every morning because it was so thick—I’d spend at least an hour on its upkeep everyday. And, in order to tame its long, wild waviness, I spent a lot of my allowance and summer job money on hair products and blow dryers.
But, when I bobbed my hair in my early twenties, something wonderful happened: My hair regiment became both luxurious and speedy.
Now, I could justify buying expensive hair products. A twenty dollar bottle of shampoo would last me months rather than weeks. And, if I’d let my bob air-dry with a little bit of leave-in conditioner, I could fill up my mornings with new activities. That hour I used to spend washing and drying my hair I currently spend on doing household chores and writing. Both activities are much more sanity-inducing and soul-nurturing than standing in front of a mirror, blasting my head with hot air, ever was.
Transformed, I’ll step out into the New Haven night, my gait now adjusted to a new-found, joyous swagger.
I must confess that wearing my hair in a bob makes me feel like a rebel. Though, given this haircut’s legacy, I think that I have every right to feel a bit daring when there is more of my hair on the salon floor than on my head. Did you know that in the 1920s bobbed hair was met with raised eyebrows and shock? Young women who undertook the cut were considered unladylike upstarts by America’s then older generations. Simply by shedding those extra layers of tresses, young women began to give themselves permission to take new, individual risks in their daily lives. Risks that worried the conformist, virtuous group-think of those who came of age in the mid to late Nineteenth Century.
My favorite contemporary example of this courageous personal daring occurs in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” Bernice, a pretty, but timid and dull Midwestern girl, visits her lively East Coast cousin, Marjorie. To help her overcome her dullness (and give herself something to do), Marjorie teaches Bernice how to flirt with rich, Ivy League boys, an action that costs Marjorie her own popularity. To regain her status as alpha female, Marjorie then emotionally blackmails Bernice into getting her hair bobbed—right before the young women attend a ball at the home of a staunch anti-bob society family! So, what does timid, dull Bernice do in return? Not what you’d expect. Her short hair gives her the freedom and the courage to enact revenge on her catty cousin in a rather fitting way: Marjorie also gets her hair bobbed before the ball…but, the cut happens with a pair of household shears and while she is asleep.
I think about Bernice a lot as as I rush around my house in the morning, barely keeping to schedule, but always deeply grateful for those few extra moments of writing time, or chore time, the a.m. hours continue to grant me. I think the older generations of the early Twentieth Century were right to fear the bob. It did (and does) give a rather particular freedom to women. The freedom to pursue personal development rather than a generic, societal beauty role. Though Amanda Palmer said it (or something very similar to it) about the maintenance of female body hair (or perhaps it was one of her fans who said it and she took up its mantle), I think it also applies to the bob: “The less time I spend on hair care, the more time I have for the Revolution.”
I couldn’t agree more. Even if my “Revolution” is an open space for morning writing and chores, my bobbed hair and I definitely have more time for it.