Click here for a Spanish version of this article.
By Elizabeth Guillen
I took a deep breath. I could feel my heartbeat on my chest as if it was telling me not to do it. I looked at my long hair and nodded at the hairdresser. She lifted her eyebrow and asked me once more if I was sure.
“Just cut it,” I said.
I heard the scissors cutting through my hair and I panicked, but there was no way that I could glue it back on. It was done. I was 24 and, for the first time in my life, my hair was short.
Some people may think “Wow, that’s just ridiculous. Getting so worked up over a haircut.” Well, if you’re Latina like I am, it is a huge deal.
My Mexican parents said I was no longer attractive and looked like a boy.
“Am I at least handsome?”
My whole life I’ve had long hair. I never had the option of cutting it. Sure, I could have literally cut it off, but I would never disrespect my parents like that. Just like most of you wouldn’t talk back to your parents.
When you Google beautiful Latinas what pops up are pictures of women with long black or brown hair. Why does long hair make Latinas irresistible or even likable?
Paola Lopez, a Chicana painter, talks about this when discussing her paintings about hair.
“Chicana/Chicano and Latina/Latino hair are symbols of so much history, identity issues, gender, sexuality, and queer discussions,” said Lopez.
Lopez uses her paintings to show Latinas it is OK to have different hairstyles. She tackles what we all think, and fear, about having our hair short or dying it a different color.
“It better not be muy [too] short. No way (unless you’re butch, queer, etc.). If you don’t fit this description, pues [well], how can you say you are Mexicana/Chicana/Latina?” said Lopez, on her post at labloga.blogpost.com.
Once again, it is just hair. But for my parents, and for many latinx, it’s so much more. To them, it is who we are. Part of our past and our culture.
This is not a singular case. I am not the only Latina that has to think about what will happen if I dye my hair anything other than black or brown. The fear of my family’s reaction from cutting my hair stopped me from doing it for five years!
Hair is part of my identity, but I shouldn’t feel trapped by it.
When I finally cut it, I felt liberated. Now, if I let my hair grow it is because I want to, not because I have no other choice.
I explained this to my dad and he was not happy.
“Quieres verme sufrir [you want to see me suffer],” he said.
I tried to find research to support my argument about hair and culture but was unable to find any. There is a stereotype that we must look like Salma Hayek or Jennifer Lopez. Have that long flowing hair that shows our beauty. But, why? Why does media enforce this image?
I see this every day. Latinas all looking alike, never straying from that image.
Strands of hair should not dictate who you are. Use them to express yourself.