“When men attempt bold gestures it’s generally considered romantic… when women do it it’s often desperate or psycho. I was hoping to prove I was neither.”
These words uttered in a voice-over from an episode of a once iconic television show that is literally too mainstream for me to reveal. So here we go, quote uncredited.
America’s Next Top Model Behavior
In addition to the unending joys of the Christmas season, I stumbled upon a new discovery: Hulu has every season of America’s Next Top Model available for viewing. What followed was I started watching the third season. When I finished that, 24 hours later, Hulu automatically brought me to season 4. Logic ensued. “Hm… I could go to bed, but I do like season 4. Haven’t watched it in a while. Okay I won’t get up! I will watch this!”
The winner of that cycle was Naima, a multi-racial and poised model who won due to how fiercely talented and focused she was. I hadn’t watched the episodes in years but I spent a decent amount of my insecurity feuled adolescence consumed by re-runs of most of the seasons. I couldn’t forget Naima. It’s revealed in the first episode during the auditions (they give you a taste of every girl’s ‘story’) that soft-spoken Naima was a Detroit girl from a rough family life and had her hair cut down to a mohawk to center herself. It set her apart from the get-go.
In the middle of binge re-watching an episdoe, something caught my attention, a blasé comment when the judges were critiquing Naima’s photo for 1800-Flowers, a very prissy and retro-girly shoot. Like the other models, she was dressed in the most Carol Brady purple outfit I could imagine for a floral ad. During panel one of the renowned judges commended Naima on her shot. Janice Dickson disagreed, “Nah, I think the mohawk went out in the late 80’s.” The world’s first supermodel quickly knew Naima’s picture wasn’t more impressive than some of the others.
Something there didn’t seem right.
The Psychology of Hair
During my freshmen year at the University of South Florida I took perhaps the most eccentric yet incredibly educational course. Sex and Today’s World instructed by professor Dr. Cassill who I could only describe as whimsical. Dr. Cassill, brilliant, related the science credit course which merged the perspective of basic biological principles to treat social problems of reproductive behavior. Easily, both a biology, anthropology, and sociology course. For the final Dr. Cassill gave us the prompt to present on the extensive research and findings from literally anything that has been discussed in the class. I recalled our lesson on body language, where we examined the subconscious movements and positions different men and women make in social environments and the unintentional messages they communicate. Based on research I found that when a woman twirls or plays with her hair is a subconscious reaction to her surroundings. This varies based on the situation around her and her mood. In almost every situation when a woman touches her hair it’s a non-verbal form to accentuate her unique femininity, whether to provide comfort or cue flirtation.
When it comes to a women with short or no hair, does this mean she is unfeminine?
When watching a later episode, the other ladies had to pose in a more sultry photoshoot when I noticed that she was given hair extensions. Extensions?
Naima Mora, a gorgeous woman and incredibly exquisite model, was always regarded as such a promising competitor with her striking features and fashionable edge… photogenic for every other photoshoot but not quite with the ‘girly’ one. So silly that it simply must be called into question.
There are plenty of times where the ladies on the show have to step outside of themselves for the sake of a special scene and challenging photoshoot. Such as wearing lavish make-up, couture outfits, or endure insane conditions such as being suspended in the air on a harness or even posing with a live snake.
What is the fashion world saying when an edgy but versatile short-haired girl who is strikingly unique because of her hair needs extension in order to portray fashionable sexuality?
Is femininity and uniqueness mutually exclusive? To make these arguments I choose to examine both sides of the spectrum.
“A Women Can Find Strength in Being a Blank Canvas”
There is an undeniable strength in a woman, what she can behold as a physical and spiritual being. Women are different from men, point blank. The ways that a woman physical and emotional labors for another, whether it be a child, sister, or someone in need… there is a vigorous strength and endurance present in her.
We live in a culture that has come far, very far from the days where only men could portray both genders in Shakespearean plays in the 17th century. We’ve seen a liberation of women achieving in a variety of advancements, creating ripples for social change. We have seen women challenge stereotypes and own up to being limitless in her pursuit for opportunities. There is no need to be easy on a women, she can take it. She is strong. So when a women choosing to enter an industry where she can be a blank canvas so creative directors and designers can mold her in order to strengthen her craft, is that truly a weakness? I believe that to be a strength, for a woman to be transformable in her art.
“Feminine Identity Is Wounded By Stereotypical Conformity”
This is what I am baffled by.
As beautifully critisuzed by Kat Lazo, “A woman who cuts her hair is cutting herself off of her own femininity and from being seen as sexual. And what good is a woman, in the eyes of society, if she isn’t feminine and sexual – if she isn’t built for the gratification of the male gaze?”
Personally, I have never been the type to take pride in my hair… I never disliked my hair. To me, hair was just hair, I couldn’t pay attention to it long enough. I never understood girls who found it so hard to cut their long hair.
My feminine identity became more prominent, healthy, and strong when I truly became in tuned with everything I am as a person (and yes, that includes my hair). I am a firm believer in holiness, in the blossom of the entire human person. As I become at peace with my own struggles and strengths I was able to grow more into my femininity. When I allowed myself to embrace the natural gift to feel on behalf of another, seek virtue in my actions, learn to love my body, struggle through the healing of emotional wounds, become unashamed in my sensitivity, grow in compassion for others, become confident in the way I am made, wear modest clothing that honors my dignity and beauty, strengthen my talents, embrace the beauty of my sexuality and advocate for a sex-positive culture, and practice spiritual motherhood in my daily life.
A women’s femininity becomes whole and organic when she is rooted in her feminine genius, the gifts that she has inherited by birth in being a woman.
Simply put, I hope these questions can direct every single one of us into the truth of how we were made. Our femininity is not limited to our appearance.