Women all over the world invest considerable time and energy to look attractive for men. And one significant component of their appearance is hair. Perhaps this is why women continue to agonize over the right hairstyle which will not only attract the man of their dreams but also keep him hooked. But then how to understand what the guys want and whether they like short or long hair on their women?
Till the beginning of twentieth century, the desirable length of hair in women was barely a problem since across cultures and class, women were naturally expected to have long hair. Shorter hairstyles for women like the bob or ‘marcelled’ hair arrived only in the 1920s and that too was seen in select avant garde social circles. It was not until that the women’s emancipation movement in the 1960s gave women the assurance and economic independence to look how they wanted to. Shorter hairstyles in women thus became associated with an assertive independence and by a chauvinist extension often with an aggressive masculinity. This led to the question of how men would like to see their wives and girlfriends – with long or short hair.
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The almost natural association of long hair in women with feminity thus springs primarily from a historical situation, namely the women’s liberation movement. However to some extent the male preference for women with long hair is a matter of tradition too – men who have grown up seeing their mothers and other female caregivers with long hair, especially in certain cultures, expect their partners in their adult lives to conform to the same image which is seen as a signifier of feminity and submissiveness.
However, in certain western cultures mature women are often expected to wear shorter hairstyles. A woman above 40 for instance would be pressured by her friends or images in popular media to cut her hair short to an ‘appropriate length’. Considering that the male preference for women with long hair, it is curious why mature women allowed themselves to be persuaded so. The practice might have something to do with the fact that as women age, thinning hair makes shorter hairstyles more practical as well as the fact that since these women already have a partner and children, they feel less pressured to maintain a hairstyle that is considered indicative of sexual attractiveness. However in recent years there have been changes in cultural norms which are reflected in more mature women sporting longer hairstyles. This may owe something to the fact that women are marrying later in life than before and thus wish to look youthful and attractive for longer. Fashion magazines which are significant trendsetters too have become more inclusive and less concerned with perpetuating age stereotypes. Several magazines like O and More, which cater for middle-aged women present a diverse range of models, including older women with long hair.
Proponents of evolutionary theory maintain that they have the real answer to the male preference for women with long hair. During primitive times when propagation of the human species was paramount, signs of good health like long lustrous hair were coveted in women. The quality and length of hair thus served as a marker of genetic strength and overall health and Men rated longer haired women as healthier and fitter than shorter haired women to successfully bear and rear children.
Over successive centuries, such physical attributes eventually came to stand for sexual attractiveness and the male species came to be genetically wired to select mates with long hair. So even though in these times the enlargement of the family is not a priority, the preference for long hair by men in their partner remains to a large extent, thanks to evolutionary choices.
Intrigued over theories that men tend to choose longer haired women as their partners, sociologists and researchers of human behavior have long conducted studies to see whether the preference would be borne out by statistics. One of them is Tamás Bereczkei, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Pécs in Hungary, who performed a study in which images of female faces were given varying lengths of hair and then evaluated by men on their attractiveness. “Longer hair had a significant positive effect on the ratings of a woman’s attractiveness; shorter styles did not,” says Bereczkei, according to whom long hair most likely increases the perception of good genes. Other studies too have demonstrated that men find women with medium-length to long hair more attractive than shorter haired counterparts. In one of them published in the research journal Human Nature, researchers found that women who had initially been rated by a test group as being less attractive were rated far more highly when shown with a longer hairstyle. However instead of explaining the phenomenon as the product of cultural or evolutionary preferences, the researchers of this study sought a more practical cause. According to them, a longer hairstyle camouflaged several unpleasant facial features in women like softening a square jaw or taking the attention away from undefined cheekbones. Also longer straighter hair appeared to make some women look slimmer than they actually were.
However with increasing exposure to different cultural images and a gradual weakening of evolutionary compulsions, men have begun to appreciate women with varied hairstyles. Hair which shines with health and luster now appears to be more attractive, irrespective of length. This is exactly why shorter hairstyles with bounce and body are now deemed more attractive than longer hair which may be limp or lanky. Also the popularity of various hair styling aids like hair dryers, rollers and straighteners now makes it possible to sport a far greater variety of hairstyles, all of which are likely to be appreciated by men.
Finally women have contributed to changing notions of female attractiveness by choosing hairstyles suited to individual lifestyles and personalities. Busier lives mean lesser time to spare on washing, combing and styling hair. Shorter hair is not only easier to style but also to keep healthy. Also women have discovered that with a confident and attractive personality, they can carry off various hairstyles with panache. So no matter what the length of hair, in the final analysis it should be healthy, lustrous and compliment their personality to be irresistible to men.