It normally goes like this:
“I’ve really been thinking I’m going to do it. I’m going to cut my hair. Like, maybe Britney-in-2007-style, but more likely Emma-in-2010.”
“I know, can you imagine! Man. I think I’m going to do it.”
“I’d love to do that. There’s just no way I could.”
“Sure you could, let’s do it together!”
(and then, here it comes)
“No way, not till after I’m married.”
You have to understand, in these conversations, the marriage you might notice making an appearance there at the end refers to a theoretical, yet-to-appear-on-the-calendar date that, in my mind, feels a little bit presumptuous. Marriage happens when two people find each other and decide theirs lives are compatible enough to share; marriage doesn’t happen when you reach a certain age or a certain milestone, or when you’ve grown your hair to a certain length. Understand: I aspire to marry someday just like the next YSA does. I like to hope that I’ll find a person with whom my life is worth sharing and I like to hope that date will someday be a landmark I can reference in conversation, concretely. But I also like to hope that the length of my hair will not affect either of those things.
I am well aware that science has shown us that hormonally speaking, men are more attracted to women with longer hair than those with shorter hair. In ye olde cavemen times, long hair demonstrated evolutionary fitness and therefore reflected some measure of favorable breeding, because the length of one’s hair didn’t occur by choice but rather by the strength of the proteins in a woman’s genes.
Acknowledging that, however–and perhaps some of us just never quite noticed–it’s 2014. The length of our hair is no longer necessarily a reflection of genetic compatibility, but rather a choice we make ourselves to feel beautiful, or cool, or easy to get out the door in the morning. And the idea that I should somehow remain beholden to what men find attractive in order to lure them into putting a ring onto my finger, no less while I’m yet in my teens, seems to me a little bit pathetic.
If I want to cut my hair or–as I’ve been saying more recently–shave my head (eep!), I should do that. I should dye it crazy colors and I should braid it in creative ways and I should use good conditioner–not because I want to someday impress my engagement photographer, but because I want to feel good about myself today. In fact, none of my decisions regarding my appearance should reflect what men find attractive now, or what that special someone may find attractive someday. The only laws of aesthetics that matter are those that make me feel more beautiful or more confident to go about my life. For example, I choose not to wear makeup on the daily because I don’t like the way it feels on my skin, much to the chagrin of friends and family who insist that I ought to be considering my allure as a single-and-ready-to-mingle type. That’s not to say I have anything against makeup, but I do hope that my peers who are in a similar position as I, but who choose to prepare themselves differently in the morning, are making those decisions because of how their appearance makes them feel, and not out of some sense of duty toward their prospective nuptials.
On a larger scale, I don’t want to make any decisions today motivated by a desire to please some future fiance. I don’t want to save a trip to Bali for my honeymoon; I don’t want to turn down a job in New Zealand in order to remain in Provo during my “prime.” Although I do want to become an mind-bogglingly fabulous bread-maker, I don’t want to do that to convince the droves of hungry men who come to my doorstep that I am clearly domestic enough to take to the temple.
I should live wholly and autonomously before and after I marry, actually. I am not a half waiting for a man who approves of my ravishing good looks and impressive abilities to make me whole. I need no consent from the male human populace, en masse or individually, to adventure around, or dress goofy, or cut my hair. I am a whole. I am my own woman. Until that day arrives that I choose to share my life with another person, I will make choices that reflect my happiness and my growth and my temple worthiness and no one else’s–particularly if that person is merely theoretical and hasn’t waltzed into my orbit yet.
I’ve loved the recent shift in media away from traditional beauty standards and towards individual empowerment. But I fear that even as we shun our allegiance to the standards that Photoshop and Hollywood have sold us, in many ways, we continue to abdicate our agency to some higher marriage standard. Perhaps out of social habit, or perhaps out of misguided religious principle, we have forgotten, I believe, that marriage between two people should be a partnership founded on personal compatibility and not each partner’s loyalty to some checklist of domesticity and good looks. Marriage doesn’t look a certain way; marriage doesn’t even act a certain way. Marriage comes along when the right person does and really shouldn’t happen any other way.
So, okay, I should come clean and say I’m not actually going to cut my hair any time soon, because I need long hair for my job. But in a couple years, you can bet that when I finally get myself together, I’m going to get down in some sunny southern weather and totally let my freak flag fly. Even though that song is actually about keeping your hair long, I’m pretty sure the sentiment is the same. In this case, like David Crosby, I do feel like I owe it somebody…and that somebody is me.