So I bobbed my hair Saturday night. I could say I “cut” my hair, but because I just hacked off twelve inches without any further shaping or layering, it really was a bobbing. I had many bobbed hair ideals swirling in my head: David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth, Gong Li in To Live (the female Maoist phase), Natalie Portman in Closer, Julia Fordham in the “Porcelain” video, the dancer Slam from Madonna: Truth or Dare, Louise Brooks, Renée Zellweger. So as the hacked braid sat on the table pulsating with its last breaths, I felt no sympathy for it and no remorse.
However, Sunday morning was a different story. I had a major crisis of regret because my hair suddenly felt too old lady: it felt less “bobbed” (as in flappers: Zelda Fitzgerald and Joan Crawford circa 1929), and more like “a bob.” Specifically, it was the hairstyle of my mother. When I want to look like my mother, I want to look like her when she was my age (in her 30s), not necessarily the age she is now (some years over her 30s). As it is with most girls, hair follicles are attached some major emotional circuits that are as yet unchartered by medical science. So near tears, I called my sister to wail: “I HATE MY HAIR! I HAVE MA’S HAIR!!”
But as soon as I started to tell her how depressed I was about this new hairstyle, I started cracking up and laughing. My sister joined in on my laughter, and after snorts and giggle tears, I hung up the phone no longer sad that I have my mother’s hair. Now I think: Jeez, there are worse things than having your mother’s haircut. After all, when Lenny Kravitz first cut off his dreads and looked in the mirror at his (chic) mini afro, did he think: “Do I have my middle-aged mother’s hairdo?” Which he does, by the way: in the years before she passed in 1995, his mother, the actress Roxie Roker (incidentally, I have the same birthday as her) also wore the mini-afro.
But even if he saw his mother’s middle-aged hairstyle in the mirror, I’m sure Kravitz was OK with it, because he’s an avowed Mother’s Child, which I am too. Is this not the ultimate achievement of an androgyne, when your mother possesses your head so that you may present a sleek, unexpectedly male physicality to the world? And while my mother may not be Roxie Roker, Jeung H. Kang is still a pretty chic lady. So why is it that Lenny Kravitz’s wearing the hairdo of his middle-aged mother looks automatically chic to me and my wearing the hairdo of my middle-aged mother makes me feel...like a middle-aged lady?
It has something to do with the inherent chic of blackness. The afro itself is an androgynous style, but it wasn’t always chicly androgynous. On the scalps of women, it was the mark of a certain working class of people too busy for lye and hot irons. It wasn’t until the 1970s, with the Black Power movement’s infection (some would say “dilution”) into mainstream African-American style, that the short afro became chic. The androgyny of the mini afro went chic because first, militant women adopted the hairstyle of their male comrades, and the resultant androgyny allowed “Black is Beautiful” to become “Black is Chic.” Thus, it took a bodily detour—men, Black Panthers, Black Panther women—for the middle-aged black women to rock the short afro as a carapace of femininity rather than the byproduct of work-weary bones. The men gave back to their mothers.
So maybe my bob, my bobby, is a similar opportunity to give back to my mother. As a fetus, I vampirically sucked energy from my mother from within, demanding strawberries in winter and raw white rice chewed through and through. Now, I have a chance to bare my neck so that she may construct a fun femininity for herself through the blood of mine.
The reason for cutting off my hair was, as Miranda Richardson’s IRA soldier declares of her own bobbed hair in the film The Crying Game: “I needed a tougher look.” Of course I miss my twelve inches, and the soft and intimidating aura I put out with hippy-dippy locks. But now I want to be something else. The long hair I had, a result of three years’ growth, had begun to feel slack and crumply. I wanted to be reconnected to my neck and shoulders, and the bobby does that: I’m stretching out my neck more, putting my chin up more, and my general slumpy posture feels slightly more balletic now. Monday morning, when I greased and my hair back and slung on my trusty biker jacket with my APC Petit Standard jeans, I felt feminine in a way I never did when I wore the same outfit with my long hair. I was somewhere between David Bowie and Wanda Jackson: I felt tough...and sweet.
In “How to Conceive (of) a Girl,” Luce Irigray writes: “mother-matter affords man the means to realize his form.” I want to do the reverse! Of course, not that my mother needs my help in realizing her form, but wearing the same hairstyle, I think of as gifting her with the aura of the Thin White Duke-meets-the Queen of Rockabilly. Maybe she can feel like she is turning into a slice of her androgynous son, and maybe it will make her feel unexpectedly tough, sweet, and ageless.