As A Woman With Short Hair, I Understand Why Katy Perry Is Now Wearing Wigs All The Time

'You should totally grow your hair out' is something Bonnie McLaren hears at least once a fortnight - but why are we so down on women having short hair?

Katy Perry

by Bonnie McLaren |
Published on

Releasing her comeback single Never Really Over today, Katy Perry is back. And like most popstars about to embark on an album campaign, she’s had a rebrand. That rebrand, courtesy of Kim Kardashian and Ariana Grande’s hairdresser Chris Appleton, has involved wearing a gorgeous wavy wig on the cover artwork - and various longer styles as she dances her way through the bright, bohemian music video. While this is Katy’s biggest sign yet that she’s going to ditch her platinum pixie, the singer has been rocking multiple long-haired looks - including pink waves and a ice-blonde low ponytail - during her stint as a judge on American Idol. And while the chandelier she was wearing might have grabbed more attention than her hair, she even wore a bob tothe Met Gala.

In fact, she hasn’t posted a selfie with her usual crop since April 19, when she posted a mirror pic while she was having the shoulder-length wavy look styled by Appleton. The papers went wild, with headlines dubbing the photo as a ‘complete transformation’ which left people doing ‘a double take’. (Much to the dismay of her record label, it probably caused more news than her last album Witness.)

The Instagram comments weren’t as complimentary. ‘Thank fuck she fixed her hair,’ was one of the many digs which expressed sheer relief that she decided to hide her normal pixie cut under a wavy wig. It became her most liked post in under 24 hours,getting even more likes than the photo which revealed she was marrying Orlando Bloom.

It’s hardly a surprise that Katy has opted to change her hair for her next ‘era’. Because as a woman with short hair - who sometimes wears wigs - I've seen first hand (albeit on a far smaller scale) how differently people react when you suddenly rock up with a long head of hair over your usual crop. And I've got used to people constantly telling me 'you should totally grow your hair out' - even though I love my peroxide pixie cut, which has become such a big part of my identity that I can't ever imagine changing it (plus, I really can't be arsed growing it.)

Five years ago, aged 16, I took photos of Miley Cyrus and Agyness Deyn into the hairdressers. I’d always, always wanted my hair blonde, and once I was old enough to be exposed to peroxide, my mum finally caved the day before my high school prom. In the chair, I had my hair shaved to an inch of its life, and then, as if that wasn’t enough for one sitting, I had the remainder of my brunette locks brutally bleached. Though my scalp and tear ducts stung walking out the salon, I absolutely loved it. My friends loved it too - and the next day I walked into my high school prom feeling pretty, probably for the first time in my life. Of course I knew not everyone would like it - whatever! - but with my new hair and shiny gold Dr Martens, I didn’t really care.

Admittedly, a year later, I had to deal with unimaginable heartbreak when the boy I fancied most in the world telling his mates he ‘would go there’ if I had longer hair. But apart from that, it didn’t really cross my mind that I could be looked at differently because of my hair length. Not at least until a few months ago, when I first wore a wig on a night out - because I fancied a change (aka wrongly hoped I would look a bit like Halsey), and thought a pink bob would look cute with my matching co-ord outfit.

Because I am a basic millennial, when it arrived in the post from eBay, I uploaded a photo to Instagram, and like Katy, it became the most quickly-liked picture I’d ever put up, which was a little surprising. But I was far more surprised by how I was treated later in the evening. Drinking around central London with one of my best friends, I was groped, followed and received some utterly disgusting comments - all of which made me so uncomfortable I had to go home after three vodka lemonades.

And this sort of gross behaviour - the catcalling and the street harassment - is the extreme end of the spectrum, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't get more male attention in general when I'm wearing a wig, whether that's online or irl. Guys who I just presumed weren't interested have appeared, as if by magic, in my DMs asking me for a drink, only because I put up a mirror selfie in a wig. When someone from across the bar has bought me a Jagerbomb, and I've later told them my hair is fake, they've been a bit shocked, looking a bit confused when I've showed them a photo of what I usually look like.

Even as someone obsessed with fashion and beauty, the generally more positive response to my short hair still feels, somehow, intensely superficial. And a bit disorientating - considering my personality, fashion sense and face are still the same - because apart from putting on a wig cap, I haven't changed. The extra attention doesn't make me want to grow my hair any more. But it does bewilder me how putting on a wig can completely change your identity.

I was speaking to one of my friends about this a few weeks ago, after she asked me how my night out on Saturday had been. Exasperated, I sighed and told her my theory that my long hair (synthetic as it was) seemed to give random men a free reign to approach me - even if those approaches range from mild flirting to catcalling to full on sexual harassment. ‘Oh my God,’ she exclaimed, flipping her long hair. ‘I know exactly what you mean. I had short hair when I was your age. In fact, I only cut my hair short when I was 20 because I wanted men to leave me alone... and it worked.’

It should go without saying that no woman should have to adjust her hair style - or cut all her hair off - to avoid unwanted attention or even sexual harassment. But what I still don't understand is how it's so ingrained in society that longer hair is more attractive. So, writing this today, I rang one of my (lovely) male friends Tyreek - who for years has incessantly hinted I should grow my hair with subtle comments like 'Bonnie, when the fuck are you going to grow your hair?' - and asked him why he's got such a strong opinion about the length of my hair.

He very tactfully - after I promised ten times that I would not be offended - told me, ‘It’s more to do with the fact that you have the potential to grow your hair, like you could have lovely hair.’ Then I asked him why other men might hate it. He winced a little bit. ‘Men don’t want women to look like them, I guess it’s more masculine to have short hair.’ Later, he messaged me, ‘I would also blame it on the media. The majority of women shown in adverts, which are models - or viewed to be attractive - have longer styled hair, which manipulates the population into believing that females with longer hair are more desirable.’ Later, I had a little perusal online myself, finding answers from men on forums that ranged from ‘because men like to hold on to women’s hair during sex’ and, if you'll believe a Return Of Kings article from 2014, lamenting a growing trend for short hair cuts in women, 'Short hair is a near-guarantee that a girl will be more abrasive, more masculine, and more deranged' (we've not linked to the article here because it will make you roll your eyes so hard they'll fall out their sockets.)

Of course, I know there’s greater fights to fight in the name of feminism than the length of my hair. And - apart from the sexual harassment, which no woman should ever have to face - I'm not complaining about how I'm perceived with short hair, because I love it. I'm also very aware, that, as a white woman, I am lucky enough to chose and switch my hairstyles without stigma or little implications on my day-to-day life.

And by no means am I saying all men find longer hair more attractive, because I know that's not true. (Or, at least I hope some of my exes weren’t lying to me when they told me they genuinely liked my hair.) But, from looking at how many people are relieved that Katy has gone back to her roots, I do know having short hair is still seen, by some, as quite a risky style for women to pull off. Whatever. It might be selfish, but personally, I just hope Katy’s new style is part of a re-brand strategy - and that she continues to rock those wigs, without growing her hair. Because the beauty of having short hair is that, if you wish, you can have the best of both.

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