So I got a haircut. And heads turned. In the office cafeteria, people looked at me and couldn’t look away. Some jaws dropped open at the staircase while passing by me while others tried to look nonchalant but failed miserably.
If you are thinking that this was because I looked fabulous, that my haircut is uniquely beautiful, you can’t be more wrong. I just went from having shoulder length hair to a pixie. No woman who wishes to look beautiful cuts their hair as short as I did. And everyone knows that the length of one’s hair is directly proportional to the strength of one’s character. And therefore I must be a woman with the lowest morality and principles.
I could almost read their minds. Their disbelief palpable in their eyes. Men and women alike. A long rippling sheet or a nice pony tail or even perhaps a well-oiled ropey braid is how a good woman should wear her hair. I was standing out like a sore spot. A “well-wisher” even went the length of advising me that being an Indian it was my responsibility to uphold Indian culture and not fall for the westernization. She even made me aware of the virtues of an Indian woman as opposed to an American that made her more attractive – her demureness, her soft speech and her girly looks including her long hair and kohl lined eyes. Well, I possess none, except perhaps the bit about kohl lined eyes.
Oh, to be a girl! The list of do’s and don’ts we all are brought up listening to, if written down, will cover the earth ten times over. Of that I am sure. From my mother-in-law’s silent disapproval to my father’s open dislike of my hair, the proof of how deep this check list of good and bad, black and white is imbibed in our minds is present everywhere.
Conform, be the same as everyone. You are a social creature, you cannot let your own self take you over. Oh my god, that is so selfish. You must ace all the exams, doesn’t matter whether you really learn anything by heart or by rote. Because that is the norm, that is the right thing. You may excel academically, but you are a girl, excelling in domestic chores is more important than that. You are free to have a job but don’t make it a career, how can you even harbor that ambition? You must get married, must become a mother, NOW! Because that is the norm! Conform! Otherwise society will look down upon you and everyone else connected to you! They’ll gossip about you and that is the worst thing that can happen. Don’t be a rebel, conform.
So many stickers of what will make one socially acceptable and boring and un-gossip worthy are pasted on all of our grey cells that mostly we behave in autopilot. Doing routine stuff just as our neighbors do. We dare not be different, we need never be different. We must always be inhibited and never try anything new. That is the norm after all for social creatures. To conform to a set list of whites and blacks.
Yet all it takes to not conform is an outlandish haircut.
The ridiculousness of it is so freeing. The realization of how hard you really have to work in order to make yourself presentable to the society without worrying about a backlash, without the fear of being judged, is enough to make lazy people like me run the other way.
Yes, I don’t look good according to a certain mold of “good girl”. But I am not hell bent on proving that I am different from everybody, that I am a rebel, either! I am not. I am just me. Not just whites and blacks but lots of other colors too, including grays.