I have been wondering on what my next post would be. Life has been offering me so many experiences and food for thought that is actually difficult to choose what are the most important or interesting reflections to share. Then I realised that there is a red thread that is actually common to all the situations I had in mind: Love.
Seems a bit of a cliché subject or perhaps even démodé. Who cares about love nowadays, when the main values uplifted by patriarchal-capitalist culture are linked to power abuse (exploitation of the ‘weakest’), money, violence and competition? There is no place for love indeed… Anyway I decided to run a risk, hopeful in finding likeminded readers, or not so much, but that will, who knows, at least give a thought to Love.
Let’s start from within, from self-love. I have recently cut my hair very short but before doing so I doubted a lot… Mainly because I was concerned about what ‘others’ would think of me: “maybe I will look too boyish”, “maybe I will look less pretty and feminine”. On the other hand I was feeling that short hair is really cool and practical, and it is a relief from all the (to me) uncomfortable hair that restricts my sense of freedom.
While taking my decision I recalled this article I read few months ago in ‘Everyday Feminism’ website that was talking about short hair and self-love. Yet it may seem surprising for some of us, a woman with short hair is still considered in many cultural contexts a sort of a masculine type or at least she is considered as being less feminine. Unconsciously many people consider a characteristic of women ‘to have long hair’. On the other hand the internalised gender roles and attributes play their part by reminding women that their hair should be long in order for them to be considered feminine and beautiful. Social likability and acceptance, as well as sexual likability, are at stake here.
This is where self-love comes in: the realisation that our assumptions about beauty and femininity are directly linked to the ‘other’s gaze’ and therefore it cause limits on self-expression and personal freedom. We need to be liked and accepted by others and in order to achieve it we act and behave in ways that will permit us to fulfil this very human need. On the other hand this may have an impact in the need for expressing ourselves differently, and still being accepted and loved by others.
Therefore having a short hair (if the person really wants it of course) is a demonstration of self-love, love that is the concretisation of the need and the desire to be as we want, without caring about what the others may say. Fortunately the issue of hair length is not an obstacle to being loved and accepted in most cases, yet it remains a symbol of the subject matter we are discussing here: externally defined gender roles and attributes, and the clash that can happen between social acceptance (concerning gender identity) and belonging, and self-love and self-expression.
Another aspect I would like to point out is the issue of beauty and attractiveness. Women are expected to be beautiful, men are expected to be strong. You may think that this is not anymore true. Have a look inside yourself and on people around you and you may see that these traditional stereotypes and expectations are more common than we may think and desire (media are a very good mirror of it).
But what is beauty? And why does it matter so much? The TED talk of Meaghan Ramsey “Why thinking you’re ugly is bad for you” gives some answers on it, providing results that correlate self-perception about the own body to various spheres of life.
Why do I think this subject is relevant to the feminist debate? In my opinion the issue of self-love, that in this case is linked to appearance, but could well be linked to other issues where social acceptance comes into play, is crucial to empowerment, personal freedom and sense of worth. And ultimately is connected to the subject of authenticity: in order to create spaces where authenticity may flourish society needs to accept diversity. I am convinced that awareness about these dynamics can help people from all genders to be free from rules and roles they dislike and that are limiting their well being and self-expression.
Due to the length of the text I have decided to split it in more than one post, therefore the next parts will follow in the next days.