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The Meaning of Beyoncé’s Haircut

• August 12, 2013 • 4:00 AM

(PHOTO: INSTAGRAM)

Oh, you haven’t heard? Beyoncé got a haircut.

It is a dark time for hair flips. Beyoncé Knowles—Queen Bey, Sasha Fierce, #Beysus—has simultaneously shocked, angered, and delighted her legion of fans with the unveiling of her new short hairdo. Some have described the look as “so beautiful,” while others, like Rebecca Black, who is arguably the Beyoncé of YouTube disasters, responded with a simple: “BEYONCE NO.”

Time magazine cares that Beyoncé cut her hair; so does the Washington Post. The majority of major media outlets have reported something about the chop, except for The New York Times, which is perhaps embarrassed that it already declared the “haircut of the year” back in January. Bey’s new look is being called “the hottest haircut to hit America” since “The Rachel” which is kind of (?) a big deal because that cut is at has-its-own-Wikipedia status.

Perhaps Beyoncé is using her short hair and considerable power to trounce the traditional image of femininity and prove fabulousness goes beyond the boundaries of your mane. Or maybe it’s because her old hair got caught in a fan.

A reasonable person could say that a celebrity haircut is the least important news of the day. But Beyoncé’s influence over culture can’t be ignored: worth an estimated $53 million, the star was labeled by Forbes as the 17th most powerful woman in the world. She was enlisted by Michelle Obama in her crusade against childhood obesity and signed a $50 million multi-year deal with Pepsi, demonstrating an obvious confidence by the soda brand that we will buy what Beyoncé’s selling.

In his paper “Buying Beyoncé” Straffordshire University professor Ellis Cashmore states, “In Beyoncé, the United States–and perhaps the world–has a symbol of glamour and unrestrained consumption that offers, if not a solution, then an apparent salve to the enduring effects of racism.” That is sort of dehumanizing and definitely a stretch, but still, here’s an academic of some prestige who has decided that Beyoncé may have the power to influence race relations in the U.S.

So as we have a diva with the uncanny ability to influence the lives and choices of her fans, of course people are going to talk about and subsequently copy her hair. And why does that matter? Because regardless of whether you believe it’s a good thing, women have been conditioned to think that they are their hair. In the journal Gender and Society, professor Rose Weitz describes hair as a “cultural artifact” and writes, “No matter what a woman does or doesn’t do with her hair … her hair will affect how others respond to her, and her power will increase or decrease accordingly.”

Fellow academic Jodi Manning continues Weitz’s argument in her paper “The Sociology of Hair.” “For women and girls, hair has been the primary way in which their identity is declared to those they meet,” Manning writes. “They are socialized to accept this connection to hair at an early age and develop an emotional attachment to their hair.” She argues that the perception of hair in society is most influenced by its representation within media; young women are especially influenced. For those accustomed to that part of the Internet, this isn’t necessarily surprising. It’s all too easy to try on Taylor Swift’s coif or learn how to get the best haircut in America: Anne Hathaway’s pixie cut. (Obviously, this was before Beyoncé’s reveal.)

Perhaps Beyoncé is using her short hair and considerable power to trounce the traditional image of femininity and prove fabulousness goes beyond the boundaries of your mane. Or maybe it’s because her old hair got caught in a fan. Regardless, a trickle of society is going to copy the look, hoping with every snip they inherit some of the “it” factor that helps Queen Bey run the world.

Sarah Sloat
Sarah Sloat is an editorial fellow with Pacific Standard. She was previously selected as an intern for the Sara Miller McCune Endowed Internship and Public Service Program and has studied abroad in both Argentina and the U.K. Sarah has recently graduated from the University of California-Santa Barbara with a degree in Global and International Studies. Follow her on Twitter @sarahshmee.

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