Pardon me, but I have a little bit of a secret to share with you. Actually, it’s not a secret to the clients who see me on a regular basis, and it’s not a secret if you look hard enough at my profile picture. But I am both male and with long hair. Yes, I’m a longhair therapist.
It’s well past shoulder length at this point. I tie it back in a ponytail or some sort of “man bun” much of the time. It’s usually tied back when I see clients.. That’s my version of a professional look. I’ve been growing my hair since about September 2016 and with some trimming it’s about 14-17 inches in length at this point. This is the third time in my life I’ve made a serious effort to grow it out—the other two times were when I was in my early teens and early twenties respectively.
Long hair and the evil Mr. Scissors
I felt compelled to cut off my long hair in my mid-twenties, and I felt like I’d lost a big part of myself doing so. I’d needed a job when I moved back to my home town of Chicago but I seemed to have difficulty finding one that matched my skills. Noting that the Windy City seemed a lot more conservative than what I’d been used to on the West Coast, I reluctantly decided to cut my hair.
The haircut certainly allowed me to land a job which gave me excellent mentors and valuable experience. But there was one thing that I absolutely HATED HATED HATED about that job—being required to wear a shirt and tie to work every day. Some people are comfortable with that uniform—but I wasn’t—at least not every day. Special occasions? Sure, why not? But when wearing it every day I felt I had to work hard to be somebody I wasn’t. Such effort was very draining. The more energy I put into being someone else, the harder it became for me to just be myself.
If you think I am being overly dramatic, consider the stories told by parents of boys with long hair, as shared on The Longhairs.us website. One of the most moving stories concerns a mother whose son was fighting for his life with a rare disease, and once she decided to honor his wishes and let him grow his hair long, he sailed through physical therapy and became an amazing, unique, creative child.
Even more serious, cutting of hair was routinely done to Native American children when they were forced by the government to attend “Indian Schools” in the late 1800s and early 1900s. These schools had the explicit purpose of wiping out Native American culture and to forcibly assimilate Native American children into a narrow European-American Christian ideal.
I can’t tell someone not to cut their hair against their own desires if they think that making the cut will be beneficial. It’s always a personal choice to decide what the best option is. I’m more interested in what works for you, not what I think is right for you.
Let long hair (and other forms of self-expression) ride.
But as a therapist and an advocate for mental health, I firmly believe that boys and men should feel free to grow their hair as they wish, and should not get pushback for doing so. Who are they harming by having long hair? Workplaces and schools with short hair dress codes are doing more harm than good. By pushing such conformity, these institutions tell us that:
- Our bodies are not our own. Others have the right to impose their will on our bodies.
- What other people think is more important than how we feel.
- What’s on the surface is more important than what’s inside.
Instilling self-doubt in people by denigrating a person’s otherwise harmless choices can lead to self-doubt in other critical areas of life.
I have been following the bloggers El Rubio and El Moreno on the Longhairs.us website during much of my recent longhair journey, and they’ve provided a number of useful tips. (I sometimes post in their comments section as “El Terapeuta” which is Spanish for “The Therapist.”) They have been excellent advocates for men and boys with long hair, and many parents of long-haired boys have turned to them for support. Many parents report that while the teasing and bullying their children receive for long hair has been difficult, it has also been character-building for these children when they get family support for their decisions. Many of these children have learned to politely defend themselves or have witty retorts ready in the face of being picked on. This can provide valuable life lessons for other times when these children will need to assert themselves—especially as adults.
Of course, the importance of being true to oneself extends well beyond hair. Indeed, my challenges in being accepted as a man with long hair are trivial compared to the stigma that many people have to overcome. Thankfully,
- LGBT perspectives are appearing more widely in mainstream media.
- More and more people are awakening to their freedom to express their gender in a way that feels comfortable and natural to them—regardless of current societal gender norms and regardless of what gender they physically were born with
- The body-positive movement seeks acceptance of people with all sorts of body shapes. https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/how-body-positivity-movement-is-evolving-whats-next
- The Disability Pride movement seeks to erase the stigma and barriers that disabled people face.
I find joy in helping people reconnect with their truer selves—whatever that might look like. Pressure to conform is not limited to the length of hair, sexual preference, gender expression, body shape or ability—it can also include lifestyle, career choice, religious or spiritual preference, and a variety of other things. If you feel like you are being forced to be someone you are not, contact me and lets talk about how I might be able to help you.