Experts on 'bias' towards female hair length, after Miss France's pixie cut backlash

Miss France 2024, Eve Gilles (Miss Nord-Pas-de-Calais), performs during the Miss France 2024 beauty pageant in Dijon, central-eastern France, on December 16, 2023
Miss France 2024, Eve Gilles (Miss Nord-Pas-de-Calais), has faced criticism for her pageant win because of her short hair. (Getty Images)

Beauty pageants have long had a reputation for perpetuating certain stereotypes about how a woman should look, dress and talk. While in recent years, some of these stereotypes have been done away with as society moves away from outdated ideals, the recent reaction to Miss France shows that some old habits die hard.

Over the weekend, a 20-year-old woman named Eve Gilles was crowned the winner of the Miss France contest. She reportedly became the first contestant with short hair to win the competition, which is more than 100 years old - but her hair length has caused a row over social media.

In previous years the title had always gone to women with long hair. But this year’s decision to crown a woman with a pixie cut has become a controversial topic, with critics accusing the all-female judging panel of being "woke" in order to promote diversity in the pageant.

Gilles told French newspaper Le Monde after her win: "No one should dictate who you are. We’re used to seeing beautiful Misses with long hair, but I chose an androgynous look with short hair."

She was quoted as adding that "every woman is different, we’re all unique". French politicians have come out in support of Gilles, hitting back at the criticism from people who accused the judges of casting aside "traditional" beauty.

It’s hard to imagine that, in 2023, the length of a woman’s hair is still one of the deciding factors when it comes to femininity and beauty. But the response towards Gilles’ win shows that society still has a long way to go.

Traditional beauty ideals have deep roots

Miss France 2024, Eve Gilles (Miss Nord-Pas-de-Calais), performs on stage during the Miss France 2024 beauty pageant in Dijon, central-eastern France, on December 16, 2023
Miss France 2024, Eve Gilles (Miss Nord-Pas-de-Calais), described her hairstyle as 'androgynous'. (Getty Images)

Women’s hair length has deep roots in culture and history in many parts of the world. It is often seen as a symbol of femininity and has been popular in Western countries for centuries - although in the 1920s and 1930s, short bob cuts were extremely fashionable and longer hair was rare.

Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist and founder at Private Therapy Clinic, tells Yahoo UK: "The idea of long hair being feminine can be challenging to overcome because we see long hair everywhere we look, with the media playing a significant role in perpetuating and promoting long hair as a beauty ideal."

Bayu Prihandito, certified psychology expert, life coach and founder at Life Architekture, adds: "Historically, attributes like long hair have been culturally and religiously seen as symbols of purity, elegance and femininity.

"This perspective is also echoed in children’s toys, like Barbie, or children’s movies with princesses like Frozen or Tangled, which always feature long hair, directly impacting and programming their early perceptions of what beauty stands for.

Watch: Real-life Rapunzel drapes hair down balcony

"Further reinforcement comes as we grow up from the media, advertising, and beauty industries, which continue to emphasise and profit from these narrow standards. This creates a vicious cycle where our societal norms and expectations intersect, creating a perpetual limited and narrowed definition of beauty, long hair being just one of them."

The long and short of hair trends

As the backlash towards Gilles’ pixie cut shows, society’s relationship with women’s hair is influenced by tradition and the desire to preserve beauty ideals, even if they no longer reflect modern times.

But did you know that, historically, long hair on men was seen as an asset? In ancient Greece, men with long hair showed they had wealth and power, with various gods and heroes like Zeus and Poseidon often depicted with flowing locks.

Over time, views on men’s hair length varied according to status, culture, religion, war and circumstances. The Romans favoured shorter hairstyles while the Vikings kept theirs long and lush. The Roman Catholic Church endorsed short hair, and it became even more of a trend during the First World War as soldiers were commanded to keep their hair short to prevent flea and lice infestations.

EGYPT - FEBRUARY 22: Bust of Zeus, from, Alexandria, Egypt. Greek-Roman civilisation, 2nd-3rd century AD. Alexandria, Greek-Roman Museum (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
A bust of Zeus from, Alexandria, Egypt, during the Greek-Roman civilisation in the 2nd-3rd century AD. (Getty Images)

For most of history, women by and large kept their hair longer than men’s. The idea that a woman should keep her hair long has been ingrained in society for centuries, making it a “symbol of femininity, beauty, and traditional ideals of womanhood”, Prihandito says, adding that this is an “outdated” concept now.

“Overcoming the bias towards long hair will require a lot of effort from individuals, communities, businesses and the media,” Dr Spelman says. “We can start to challenge societal beauty norms by encouraging conversations about beauty standards and gender norms.

“We can celebrate and embrace diverse representations of beauty, including different hair lengths and styles, because femininity is not only for those with long hair. We can encourage each other to express ourselves freely. Beauty businesses and the media can help by portraying a wider range of hairstyles, which will help to shift public perceptions. It's a mammoth task, but it's one worth pursuing!”

Commenting on the Miss France response, Prihandito adds: “I personally see this as an opportunity to challenge these outdated norms and promote a more inclusive understanding of beauty, where choices like hair length are seen as personal expressions rather than some arbitrary societal mandates.

“Embracing diversity in appearances can have a positive impact on women's identity, self-expression and societal perceptions, fostering an environment where individuality, creativity and uniqueness is celebrated in all its forms.”

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