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When I wanted to cut my hair, everyone, starting from my hairdresser to my dad, asked whether I'd taken my husband and in-laws' permission.
Since I was a child, my mother never let me grow my hair beyond my shoulder level. It was hard for her to plait my hair, get my other two siblings ready for school, and finish other household chores.
Also, add a school teacher’s job to the list of things she had to do. She was doing all at once to contribute “equally” to the family.
While my classmates had well plaited hair, mine was more on the shabbier side, where I didn’t have to comb my hair at all.
This was the case until I graduated from high school. At the end of my schooling, to be precise, during the last three months, I had to beg my mother to let my hair grow so I could adorn a saree on the school graduation day, with my locks flying in the air as described and absorbed through Bollywood movies!
She did allow me, but there was one condition, I would plait my hair myself for the rest of the school year.
If you are a girl and you’ve studied in an Indian school, you’ll know that girls with long hair aren’t allowed to let their hair loose or style it elaborately within the school premises.
Now I had already asked my mother for permission, and surprisingly she had agreed as well. The real challenge was yet to be faced, since I hadn’t had long hair, I didn’t know how to plait it.
But as time went on, through a lot of practice, patience, and side-eyes that tended to say I hadn’t combed my hair well enough, I finally learnt how to plait my hair. Within the blink of an eye, I had graduated my high school with flying colours and hair. LOL!
Soon after, I finally felt like a bird who had been set free (just how a teenager feels after high school). I could grow my hair as long as I wanted. I wasn’t dependent on my mother to comb my hair, I had finally started my pre-university college.
That’s when I realized, maintaining long hair wasn’t so easy, the lice, dandruff, and imagine learning at least 3-4 hairstyles for long hair. Hence I decided, what mother says is best, I’ll go to a salon and make my hair shorter, the way it was.
When I went to my mom with all these issues, she said, “You’re a growing woman now, we don’t want to chop your beautiful hair, do we? Let it grow, you’ll know how to manage it soon enough.”
My dad agreed, too. To be honest, deep down, I think they loved my hair a little too much and didn’t want to see me chopping it. And also, society might have played a very important role as girls with short hair are looked down upon, at least in India.
While life went on, I let my luscious hair take its course, with a trim here and there. Occasionally, I could try a different haircut, while maintaining the length.
I graduated from my university, got a job, soon met an amazing man, and married him. I don’t mean to boast, but my husband was not like any man I had ever met before. He was unique. He wasn’t a feminist, but he didn’t appreciate patriarchy as well. He followed a simple rule, “Live and let live”.
I didn’t want to be the same me while I faced new challenges everyday. And voila! I opted for a short bob cut.
When I mentioned this to my hairdresser, at first she was a little surprised, because my hair was waist length. She tried to suggest different hairstyles, which I could try while maintaining the same length, but I refused and advised her to go ahead with a short bob.
My younger sister and my husband had accompanied me to the salon and as they were waiting for me to finish my haircut, the hairdresser quietly spoke, “Is your mother okay for you to have this haircut?”
I understood she had met other clients, where the mothers would advise her on the haircut for their children and she would do it with no questions asked. Because why not? They wouldn’t allow any other hairstyles anyway.
But honestly, if my mother hadn’t passed on to her heavenly abode, I wouldn’t have had the courage to opt for this haircut as well. “My mother has passed away, but my father would be furious!” I said cheekily, to make her feel more comfortable about my answer.
She was at a loss of words, but laughed at dad’s mention. “Is that your husband there?” she asked, trying to keep the conversation going as we had a long way to go to complete this haircut. I said, “Yes!” She quickly asked, “Is your mother-in-law okay with the haircut? Is your husband okay as well? Because they always prefer their daughter-in-law / wife to have long hair.”
“No, they don’t have any problem. In fact, my mother-in-law and my husband encouraged me to go ahead with any haircut of my choice.” I said, beaming.
She was happy to hear that, and she proceeded to tell, how she had clients who wanted shorter hair, but their relatives (mom, dad, in-laws, husband, etc.) never agreed for them to have short hair, I just smiled and gave a nod, as I had no idea how to respond to that.
As soon as I was done with my haircut, I went to my maternal home. I wanted to see dad’s reaction first hand and didn’t want to meet him virtually at any cost.
As he entered home after a long day at work, he saw something and was literally speechless. He saw me! He did steal a glance at my husband, indicating as to why he didn’t stop me from taking this haircut.
But, he was bound by my marriage, he was now his son-in-law, whom he couldn’t question (according to the age old tradition). After a few questions of how and why I went ahead with this haircut, he asked a question which left me with a lot of thoughts.
He asked, “Is your mother-in-law okay with this new haircut of yours?” I said, “Yes, why not?” He spoke again. “Should I call up and ask her? Did she really allow you to go for this haircut?” I was taken aback. How is my haircut dependent on so many people?
No one ever asks a man why he cuts his hair so often. No one ever asks a man why he has a certain hairstyle. No man ever takes permission for a haircut from in-laws, mother, father or even wife for that matter.
I don’t think my husband would ever go and ask permission from my father if he can grow his hair long or if he can go bald. That would be considered abnormal, right? So, why am I obliged to take permission for styling the hair on MY head, from my mother, father, in-laws, and husband?
Just because I am a woman? And because society thinks short-haired girls are unattractive? Well, guess what?
My head feels lighter than ever, I don’t have a headache if I don’t dry my hair after bath, I don’t have to ponder on hairstyles for any occasion, and most of all, my husband still thinks I am the most beautiful woman on this earth, just more hot!
Oh, by the way, when I came and told my mother-in-law, the encounter with my father and the hairdresser, she asked me only one question: “Whose hair is it anyway?”
Image credit: Sayani Gupta on Instagram/Four More Shots Please
I am Madiha, a young woman who just turned 25. Senior software engineer by profession, a baker by heart. Oh, I almost forgot I am an athlete, teacher, cook, designer almost all in one. I read more...
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