A little while ago, my mother sent me a short video of my dad trying to describe a woman’s hairstyle. I’m not sure how or when my mum was alerted to the fact that my dad cannot under any circumstances or conditions describe any woman’s hairstyle at all. Maybe it’s just one of those things that happen when you have been married for an outlandish amount of time. One day you just look at your beloved spouse of many years and realise, “This man has never once described a woman’s hairstyle to my satisfaction.”
It is one of my mum’s things. “Dad can’t describe hairstyles at all.” “Dad couldn’t tell you what a bob is if you paid him.” She texts me about it all the time. “Dad tried to describe a mullet the other day and he couldn’t do it.” “Dad thinks Nikki has curly hair when as you know she doesn’t. Her hair is wavy at best. He also thinks she has ‘a sort of a fringe’ when she has no such thing.”
The video was a first though. I wish everyone could see it. Picture a man in his early sixties with a nice face, and then picture him holding both hands above his head and doing the most weird things with his fingers as he attempts to tell my mum what this one woman’s hair looks like. He sort of wiggles them around his ears and forehead seemingly in order to indicate that the woman he is describing has like an Annie hairstyle – very top-heavy ringlets, with some special curly bits around the sides. Then he says “her hair is very curly and goes all around her head.” Fingers wiggling away, and the image of a truly fearsome Annie haircut firm in his listeners’ minds. In fact, I know the woman he was describing, and the haircut she has is absolutely nothing like an Annie haircut in any way. Her hair is straight, she has a short fringe, and some flickety layers around the front. It is a haircut that was very popular about ten years ago among women who made shopping at vintage stores one of the main things of their personality. You know the haircut I mean. My dad does not. He just doesn’t have the vocabulary for it, and up until recently, I thought this was a my-dad-specific issue. I thought that he was the only one who had weird things to say about women’s hairstyles, and who seemed to view them through a different lens than what I consider to be usual. I didn’t yet know that all around this world, there are people who say incredibly surprising things about a woman’s hairstyle. Most of these people are men. Not All Men, obviously, but it appears that a statistically significant number of men in my circle have startling and original things to say about this matter.
Here is my friend B, describing Angela Merkel’s haircut: “It definitely seems like the hair obeys her. Some faint highlights which I guess is a surprise but definitely a plus. Last observation: the source of her hair seems to be in an unusual spot and I appreciate that.”
Some other responses: “I believe this is the regulation cut at the E.U.”; “Short side bang”; “Princess Di haircut from when she was a nursery school teacher.” “Just normal.” “A kind haircut”; “the best one for when you can’t choose.”
Here are some men on the haircut widely known as Meghan Markle’s Messy Bun: “This is extremely good. I don’t know what it’s called. Is it just called a knot?”; “bun (practical)”; “Is this what a French plait is?” (air quotes around the word French plait); “Cinderella hairstyle”.
Some descriptions of an iconic Halle Berry haircut, when she had a nice long dreamy fringe: “this seems more “fringe” than “bang.” Are those “highlights”? She looks good but has an unfair advantage being her”; “The 60s”; “Ariel from the Little Mermaid hairstyle”; “Mean Girls hairstyle”; “*Makes motion to indicate wings*”.
On the infamous “Speak To The Manager” haircut: “I don’t know”; “Two-toned”; “Going all around her face and head”; “Bad”; “All different”; “Going up and down”; “You can’t trust her”; “Seems like she does karate.”
What does any of this mean? Where is the consistency? Is this like when I found out that Americans mean a TOTALLY different thing when they say “frown”, where they mean turning your mouth upside down and the rest of the world means wrinkling up your forehead? Is this like Jonathan Franzen’s complete inability to describe women’s clothes? What kind of blind spot are we up against? What if you went missing and one of the above men was called upon to describe your hairstyle for the purposes of a police sketch, and on the Missing Person poster under hair it said “Just normal. The best for when you can’t choose” and nobody could identify you?
It is hard to know how big a deal this is, but I do think it is more revealing and/or interesting than the widely held belief that most men will only notice if a woman is wearing make-up if she has all different colours of eyeshadow and glitter on her face. I think we are only scratching the surface here, and that this will precipitate a debate that is long overdue. Here’s B again, of “Angela Merkel’s hair comes from an interesting part of her head” fame: “I really have no idea about how to describe a hairstyle. Why? Outfits I can do no problem but hairstyles: what is the vocabulary for them? Please send me at least one good description of a hairstyle I’m curious as hell.” Same. Can the men in your life describe women’s hairstyles? What do they say? Why do they say it? Who are they? What is next?