Why Is The New York Times Hair-Shaming Moms?

Photo: Courtesy of Caroline Stanley.
There were a lot of things about becoming a mom that stressed me out: Would I be able to balance a demanding job with my new responsibilities at home? How would I cope with no sleep when I was used to getting a solid eight hours every night? And, perhaps most importantly, what would I do when I felt the sudden, irresistible urge to chop off all of my hair, just like every other mom I know?

I’m half-kidding, but according to a very silly trend piece about mom hair in The New York Times, I’m not entirely alone in my vanity. The article quotes Juan Carlos Maciques, a stylist at Rita Hazan, who explains, "The first thing new moms want to do is cut their hair off. They’re feeling lousy about their bodies, and they just want to get some sense of self again.”

No offense to Maciques, but this was not my experience at all. I have always been someone who really cares about my hair and changes it often. Different styles and color choices have defined various points in my life, beginning with the perm my mom inexplicably allowed me to get in the second grade and followed by a Greatest Hits list that includes The Rachel in high school, a Shirley Manson-inspired dye job in college, and multiple variations on Williamsburg-girl bangs in my 20s. But in the months following my daughter's birth last year, I was so terrified that anything I did would be misconstrued as "mom hair" that I simply refused to change it at all.

My body rebelled, of course. As the Times story points out, hair loss after pregnancy is a real issue. It's also kind of a cruel joke that Mother Nature plays on you. After months of enjoying the thickest, shiniest hair of my life, I suddenly found myself shedding so much that it felt like hair was taking over my one-bedroom apartment. There was hair on my pillow, hair on the floor, hair in the bathroom drain, hair on my baby's onesie. Over the course of my three-month maternity leave, my hair went from good witch to bad witch to scary, kind-of-balding witch.

In my previous life, I would have freaked out over this kind of thing. (Seriously, we are talking about so much hair.) But as a new mom, I didn't really care about the hair loss; it was just another kind of sad and funny fact of my postpartum life, like peezing (peeing when sneezing) or leaking boobs. What I was worried about was getting the same wavy lob that many of the thirtysomething moms in my Brooklyn circle had. My long hair felt like a tiny act of rebellion, a refusal to admit that every single thing in my life had changed in an instant. Once I chopped it off, would I ever grow it back out? The media tells us that moms aren't allowed to have long hair, unless they’re celebrities. Long hair is for the young and sexy. Motherhood puts you in squarely in above-the-shoulder territory.

It took me over a year to realize that my fear of making a change wasn't just silly; it was also holding me back. The truth is, I am a mom now — the mom of a crazy, always on-the-go toddler with whom I don’t get to spend nearly as much time as I'd like. Taking 45 minutes to blow out and style my hair each morning simply doesn’t work for me right now. Plus, the long hair wasn't keeping me connected to my former life; it was just making me look more tired and disheveled. While I would never judge women who refuse to give up their former routines (seriously, I tip my hat to you), motherhood made me more low-maintenance. That doesn’t make me a sad stereotype. It makes me a human.
Photographed by Collins Nai.
So, armed with some Instagram photos of Mandy Moore, I decided it was time to cut it all off. I asked for a razor-cut, shoulder-length bob with some piecey fringe. My stylist, who had always loved my "adventurous" approach to my hair, was thrilled to finally be doing more than a trim. (She also delicately hinted that I might want to do something about the new patches of white hair slowly taking over my brunette head.) The end result was everything you could want from a new haircut: I felt younger and fresher. I in no way resembled one of the women in that recent SNL skit. My partner liked it. My daughter didn’t seem traumatized. My coworkers showered me with compliments. And I suddenly felt more like me — pre-pregnancy me — than I had in a long time.

Here's the thing about "mom hair." The New York Times was trolling us. It doesn't really exist. Becoming a mom does not reprogram your brain into only wanting an “unflattering” bob. The reason some of us forgo longer 'dos is not because we've become sexless frumps. It's because long hair can be a pain in the ass to maintain, and when you're in charge of a tiny human, you might struggle to find the time. But there are as many hairstyles as there are moms. To pretend otherwise is woefully narrow-minded.

I'm sure there will come a day when I will return to long hair (hopefully something in the vein of Julianne Moore). Possibly it will coincide with the day that my daughter no longer seems to be constantly on the verge of seriously injuring herself. Or the day that I get as much sleep as I could possibly want. But for now, I refuse to worry about it, or to be hair-shamed for my choices. There are much more interesting things about my life as a new mom than my hair.

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