Long Hair in the South, What is the Big Deal?

Southern culture prides itself on raising boys as “real men” with short “high and tight” haircuts. I wonder? How did we Southerners evolve from the Mel Gibson look of long hair as in the movie The Patriot which took place during the Revolutionary War (1775–1783) to the military look as in Jack Nicholson in the movie, A Few Good Men as the acceptable norm?

I love men with long hair. On some men, it just looks right. Do you know what I mean? For that matter, who decided that women to be acceptable in South should have long hair? Why was/is it so shocking for a women to cut her hair short? Even now, some traditionalists shame women for cutting their hair into a cute pixie cut. Some religious groups in the South would have us believe that gender non-conformity is a sin. “Girls should be girls and boys should be boys,” they say.

I say, it’s your hair. Wear it the way you feel good, the way you feel handsome, the way you feel pretty.

“Tell me what is it that you want to do with your one wild and precious life?”
—Mary Oliver.

As Izzy made his way through middle school, his hair kept growing longer and longer. He was at odds with his father who wanted his hair high and tight—think military. It was okay when he was little, but now things seemed to be changing and I worried for him that he would be teased. Middle school is tough, especially when you are a boy in the lower percentiles for height and weight. Add to that, beyond shoulder length hair and you’re asking for trouble at school in the South—unfortunately.

It has always amazed me the different levels of development between kids of the same age. One afternoon while easing up the pickup line to whisk Izzy away from school, I noticed that some of the boys towered over Izzy, some of the girls too! On Fridays, I noticed built athletic boys, twice the size of Izzy, with school colored game shirts, the kind with their name on the back. Izzy stuck close by his girlfriends I noticed as one athletic boy paced back and forth close behind him. He came very close to Izzy. Did he say something? I wondered, but I couldn’t tell, and Izzy was already making his was to hop in the back of our van. I pushed the button above my head and the automatic door began to slide closed as we pulled off.

As I cooked super that evening, I reflected that at one point a few years ago, Izzy agreed to cut his hair. Afterwards, I thought he didn’t look right in short hair although he said he liked it. Since then, we had let it grow out and it was way past his shoulders.

My husband constantly remarked, “he needs a haircut.”

Long hair on boys didn’t bother me, and I thought it was beautiful, but my husband didn’t agree as well as most other parents and teachers who expect if not buzz cuts, at least very short hair on boys in the South.

I replayed his first haircut in my mind. His hair had grown out to his shoulders turning the ends of his natural brown to pretty sun kissed blonde curls. I took him to Great Clips.

I was so proud of the way he hopped right up on the booster seat put in the chair for him by the stylist. As she adorned him with a blue cape with bright colored specs of color snapping it closed in the back, she asked me,

“A number three gauge?”

In my limited to zero experience with boy’s hair, I said, “okay.”

She went to work expertly guiding the clippers with the hair gauge. The floor quickly filled up with his little blonde curls. She trimmed his side burns and neck. As she took off the cape and dusted his neck with the brush, I thought he looked handsome. She held up the mirror to show him his new look. He didn’t say anything.

I said, “great.”

The stylist offered him a lollipop. As he picked his favorite, I paid for his cut, said thank you and we made our way to the warm car. As I looked at him in the rear-view mirror, the tears flowed down his cheeks.

“Oh honey, you look so handsome,” I bragged. But he cried and cried that whole week. Shortly after, he started wearing scarves around his head with one long part hanging down to wave in the wind as he ran around and around.

The kitchen timer chimed and as I was brought back to the present, I said to myself,

“There has to be a compromise.”

I was not going to make him cut his hair short. If his father wanted his hair to be a buzz cut, then let him take Izzy to the barber.

I knew I couldn’t let that happen either. I had to rally behind my baby. I called our local day spa to make him an appointment. I was bound and determined to find a style he would like that would also look polished and nice at school. Plus, I knew he would like the atmosphere of the hair salon I often visited fronted in an old Southern style home with white siding and a wide, long wrap around porch.

As we entered through the rear door, polished oak wood floors met us. We heard the familiar, “Hi ya’ll. How can I help ya?” from the counter girl. I gave her our names as we paused near a white fireplace adorned with an old-fashioned mirror atop a pretty mantle dotted with burning candles filling the air with sandalwood and vanilla. Shelves of beauty products hung beside it to the left.

“Okay, ya’ll can go on in.” I turned around and Izzy followed me through the swinging door into the salon portion. The rest of the old house was filled with a large makeup room and back rooms for manicures, pedicures, massages and body wraps.

We sat down in the empty white chairs along the right wall and waited for his stylist. A girl sitting in the salon chair on the far wall was in the midst of a blow out, her bright blue ends looking trendy. I thought to myself, he is going to love this experience.

Interrupting my thoughts, his stylist introduced herself. They hit it off right away as she spent time discussing with him how he wanted his hair to look. She shampooed, cut and styled his hair.

She cut his hair in layers with a long “sweep to the side” bang. This time as he looked in the mirror, he smiled. He loved it and I did too. It was just right for him. He looked great and stylish.

As we walked in the door at home, his father took one look and shook his head as if to say, “That is not a haircut. Damn.”

But,  I bragged on Izzy and how great he looked. I wished that his father could praise him, could tell him he was proud of him. I wished that with all my heart!


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