It is no secret that women are more objectified in our society compared to men. We are consistently judged on all components of our physical appearance, and nearly all of us have experienced some form of discrimination at some point because of it. Is it fair? No. Is it a reality? Yes.
It has been interesting to observe various components of perception, reputation, and personal branding over the past couple of years, and how it differs between men and women. Personal branding is essentially the concept of being intentional about how you present yourself to others in order to help influence their perception of you and your reputation. I’ve listened to numerous opinions on the topic and decided to do some investigation to see if there were any research studies that defined components of our physical appearance and the effects on our personal brand. I found one of the most interesting areas was regarding how female hairstyles are perceived in the professional environment. This is what research on female hairstyles indicates:
Darker hair is statistically better for women in the workplace. 90% of the female population has brunette or dark hair, whereas only 2% of the population is naturally blonde and less than 1% has naturally red hair. The perception of brunette females is more favorable in a work environment. Brunette females are considered “intelligent”, “mature”, “worldly”, “intimidating”, and “arrogant”; opposed to blondes that are perceived as “needy”, “incompetent”, “likable”, “vain”, “dumb”, “overly sexual” and red heads being perceived as “temperamental”, “sexually aggressive”, “competent”. Women are also cited to be more receptive and comfortable with other women when they have dark hair. This is linked to research that heterosexual males statistically prefer women with blonde hair, which often leads to preferential treatment.
Straight hair is superior to curly or natural hair in the workplace. Women with straight hair are taken more seriously and are noted as “intelligent”, “clean”, and “professional”; whereas women with curly or natural hair are attributed as “unruly”, “unprofessional”, “carefree”, “approachable”, and “risk-takers”. These stereotypes greatly affect African-American women and the right to maintain their natural hair. Note: I highly suggest the article, “Black Women Worry That Their Natural Hair Could Affect Job Employment or Retention“
Left parts are better for the workplace, regardless of gender. Research indicates that an individual’s part helps emphasize the cranial hemisphere functioning. The left hemisphere is associated with language, memories of words, math, logic, linear operations, and masculine activities defined in our culture. This leads to people with a left part being identified as “masculine”, “serious”, and “intelligent”; therefore a left part can create difficulties with those fulfilling traditional female roles and makes it ideal for women in business and politics. A right hemisphere is associated with visual processing, memories of pictures, musical perceptions, and nonlinear tasks attributed to femininity in our culture. Those with a right part are seen as “feminine”, “empathetic”, “gentle”, “caring” and are typically not taken as seriously in a professional setting. Research also indicates that it is more difficult for a man to be socially accepted with a right part than a female to pull off a left part.
Those with a center part or no part are perceived as “balanced”, “trustworthy”, and “wise”.
Short hair is preferred for women in the workplace. Despite research indicating that long hair is preferred by males, our culture associates women with long hair as “young”, “unprofessional”, and “insecure” – which negatively impacts credibility in the workplace. It is noted that long hair has a greater impact on a woman’s body language, because she is more likely to touch it and create a distraction during communication. Long hair is also cited to be more socially acceptable for women under 40, and negative stereotypes for aging women with long hair include, “messy”, “hippie”, and “silly”. On the other hand, women with short hair are seen as “intelligent”, “knowledgeable”, “confident”, and “mature”. Research indicates that female coworkers are typically more comfortable and supportive of women with short hair. Additionally, males are more likely to make assumptions that short hair is associated with female homosexuality.
I don’t agree with all of these conclusions. I know plenty of exceptional women that defy these findings and they’re intelligent, professional, and beautiful. I don’t like the idea that so much of our credibility is attached to something as trivial as our hair. As long as our hair is neat and clean in the workplace, shouldn’t we be granted the same level of respect? I wanted to test this for myself.
I have struggled with the feeling that my knowledge, skills, talent, and intelligence are overshadowed by my physical appearance, despite my business formal attire and intentional actions that reflect my male colleagues. I have experienced others treating me a certain way based on many of the perceptions of these stereotypes supported through research and I was curious to see if some simple changes would change the way they acted towards me. My hair was long, naturally blonde, straight, and parted down the middle or the right. Therefore I fit into a stereotype that included associations of being “needy”, “incompetent”, “vain”, “dumb”, “young”, “unprofessional”, and “insecure”.
I’m not particularly attached to maintaining a specific hair style, and I was ready for a change – so I decided to cut 18 inches off my hair. The timing was right, and I wanted to see what would really happen. So, I headed over to the salon one day after work – without telling anyone my plan.
The reactions matched what the research indicated – I was treated as more “intelligent”, “knowledgeable”, “confident”, and “mature”. The only thing that I changed was my hair, and I felt as though I was treated like a different person. I have to admit that I was a bit self-conscious at first. I have never kept my hair this short – and I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t feel as feminine and confident as I did when I had long hair – and it took some getting used to. But there were some good things that I noticed right away. The best part of having short hair is that it is so much easier and faster in the morning – blow-drying my hair went down from 25 minutes to 5. The big caveat is that it is overall more expensive to have short hair. More frequent hair cuts and more styling products can add up.
Overall, everyone was very supportive of the change. I wanted to know if the responses I’ve received with my short hair are similar to others – so I reached out on Twitter. Overwhelmingly, other female professionals indicated that they’ve been treated differently with short hair. These amazing and successful women shared that they were treated with more respect, but also with some negative backlash from men. We discussed an article about news anchor, Rachel Maddow that addressed her “smokin’ hot yearbook pic” from when she had longer hair. Here was a smart and inventive woman that was being diluted down to nothing more than a sex object. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident for the news. The documentary Miss Representation discusses this realty in great detail – and I definitely recommend it.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve settled into this new look. I enjoyed trying something new and testing the variables of my personal brand. I’d love to know if anyone else has had similar experiences! Please share below.
Hair Color and Courtship: Blond Women Received More Courtship Solicitations and Redhead Men Received More Refusals http://goo.gl/I0UW22
Hair Colour and Attraction – Is the Latest Psychological Research Bad News for Redheads? http://goo.gl/12HvYZ
Redheads and Blonds: Stereotypic Images: STEREOTYPIC IMAGES http://goo.gl/pJNQJS
The effect of attitudes on inferences of homosexuality and perceived physical attractiveness in women http://goo.gl/HBw0sm
WOMEN AND THEIR HAIR: Seeking Power through Resistance and Accommodation http://goo.gl/ndht5b
Effects of Gender and Dress on helping Behavior http://goo.gl/Oh3l3a
Black Women Worry That Their Natural Hair Could Affect Job Employment Or Retention http://goo.gl/YaFdsu
Patients’ and Physicians’ Attitudes Regarding the Physician’s Professional Appearance http://goo.gl/Jj18Br
Long Hair Looks Great On Older Women And Men — Or Does It? http://goo.gl/ceXfxk
Editorial: Short hairstyles: do haircuts affect your love life? The painful truth behind pixie haircuts and short hairstyles http://goo.gl/Qdquxs
What Is Your Hair Part Saying About You?: The Effects of Hair Parting on Social Appraisal and Personal Development http://goo.gl/RUz3J4
Editorial: Is Long Hair Bad For Your Career? http://goo.gl/71ojXG
Policing Female Masculinity: Much Ado About Rachel Maddow’s Yearbook Photo! http://goo.gl/eehf6k