#996: “The Palette Wife”

Dear Captain Awkward,

An anniversary is coming up, but I am so frustrated with my husband! When I met him, I looked a certain way (i.e. hair length, weight, etc.).

I used to be a fitness instructor and went to the gym in my spare time, all the while juggling multiple jobs and trying to go to school. So, I was always toned out and at a happy place with my weight. I then got a full time job that still requires me to work out, but not as often as I used to.

Anyway, due to the heat, my new job, I wanted a change to my hair. I did not want to change my hair if my husband would not have liked it. So, I asked him and confirmed close to a million times as he kept saying, “Yes. Do it. I can’t wait to see how it will turn out.” and I did. Chopped it all off and it was a drastic change that took me a long time to get used to. In between that time, my husband kept asking me to do different colors and styles of my hair. So I did with no hesitation (okay, maybe sometimes, but I still agreed and went with the flow). He loved every single look I did and the one he had the brightest reaction to was dying my hair back to my original color. Other events in between all of this, he would bring up my previous hair style and how attractive I was with it. The insecurities crept in and crawled under my skin. But he stopped bringing it up when I came home with my original hair color.

Anyway, now, he brought it up again, mentioned how I used to be, how I used to look, the past this, the past that. So now, I feel almost guilty for ever beginning to change my hair style the way I did. Now, it’s going to take months, maybe even years to get it back to how it used to be. So now, the insecurities really dug under my skin and are clawing, scratching hard inside. During me trying to get my look back to how it used to be, I feel like it won’t amount up to what he wants–the original “me” until then and it worries me that when I do get it back, he’s going to keep addressing what I used to look like during this time, or that time, or that he wants me to go back to my current look. If that makes sense Am I over thinking this? Am I wrong for being hurt and feeling the way I do? I have been at a loss for words with talking to him about this situation and whenever I would try, it would be me jumping to conclusions rather than trying to calmly address the situation and find a happy medium for both of us.

Trying to remember my breathing,
The Palette Wife

Dear Palette Wife,

First, some reading: You Don’t Have To Be Pretty.

Next, I think it’s time to say something like this to your husband:

Husband, it was really fun for a while to experiment with my hair and get your input on all of it, but these conversations about ‘going back to how I looked when we first met’ are really stressing me out and hurting my feelings. We’re hopefully going to be married forever, and I’m going to look lots of different ways (as are you, by the way!) over the years, so it’s time to change the way we talk about this. I’m the boss of my hair and how it looks, so, I might cut it, I might grow it out, I might change the color again, who knows? I need to take this back as something I do for myself by myself rather than something we decide together. I’ll let whatever it is be a surprise for you, and the only input I’m looking for from now on is ‘Hey, wow, you look great!'”

The only good answer, and I mean the ONLY good answer when your spouse says something like that to you is some version of “Of course, babe, it’s your head & your body! I always think you look great! I’m sorry if I was stressing you out before.

NO adding “…but I just think you look better with x kind of hair” on the end of that. None. Zero. He could feel that way inside his head, but you don’t say that to someone who just told you that it hurts their feelings.

I would accept this as an alternative answer (no transcript but the lyrics show up on screen):

More than acceptable:

If we’re time-traveling here why not go all the way to Everybody’s Prom, 1991? (Why did people think this was a cool song for 17-year-olds to dance to?) A marginally passing effort:

The first 2/3 of this poem by W.B. Yeats would also suffice:

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;”

Compare that to the poem that men who think that they own their wives’ appearances seem to be writing:

What’s this “old and grey and full of sleep” b.s.?
When you are in your 80s
You’d goddamn better be well-preserved.
Wait, I meant to say “Time does not pass for us, my love”
Or something else romantic. I wrote it down somewhere.

When I say “I miss how you looked when we first met”
I guess I’m just trying to say I miss being that young with you,
and it makes me think about being old. That’s depressing!
Like, yeah, I theoretically want us to grow old together –
– But that doesn’t mean actually growing OLD-old –
Does it?

Wait…does it?

It also gratifies my ego to know that you’ll change your hair, for me.
Don’t you want me to be happy?
Don’t worry, babe, I know I can count on you
To always look terrific, to be the perfect accessory.
I know you’ll always do whatever is necessary
To save my eyes and my boner from the fate of
having to look at some wizened crone.

For now, let’s stick to constant exercise and tone
And running all your hair decisions by me first.
We’ll save the plastic surgery for later, for when we really need it.

Aw, babe, don’t cry, you’ll ruin your makeup!
Stress isn’t good for the skin!
I like you so much and we get along so well,
I really don’t want to replace you with a younger version,
with the next best thing.

It’s okay that you want to feel a certain way in your body, it’s okay that you want your husband to admire how you look, it’s okay to have complex feelings about aging and changing bodies and attraction. It’s okay to renegotiate how you talk about certain topics, okay to say “Hey, you probably don’t mean it this way, but that thing you’re doing is making me feel bad, so, can you not?

Guess what? It’s actually extremely okay to not like someone’s haircut all that much and also to keep that information firmly to yourself, forever. Not every opinion you have needs shared! Amazing, right? (For those of you who watch The Good Place, remember the parable of Chidi and The Red Boots).

Over time, you enforce the boundary with “Hey, we agreed – you’re not my Hair Critic, you are my Hair Cheerleader!” and/or “Hey, let’s agree to be really gentle about how we talk about appearances. I always love your face and your body, and I gotta know that you love mine as-is, that’s the only way this can work.

It’s also okay to invest in some wigs if the idea of “Hey, surprise, look at me in my new secret identity!” turns you both on sometimes. There are ways to be fun and playful about this without making work and anxiety and awkward growing-out-stages of haircuts for you! (This is a suggestion for far in the future when you feel much better about all of this and your husband has shown with time and actions that he respects your autonomy, NOT something to pull out next week like your job is to please him).

It’s 100% not okay for your husband to seek some former version of you literally at the expense of the present-tense woman in front of him today, so, remind him not to.

Above all, fall in love with the person you see in the mirror and don’t let anyone give her any crap. ❤



176 thoughts on “#996: “The Palette Wife”

  1. LOL re. the Clapton song. I mean, sure, it’s Clapton, and sure, the tune is pretty, but the lyrics are…kind of yucky. I know he’s a genius and all, but facts are facts. Having your lovely lady help you into bed because you just got too blitzed is not all that romantic.

    1. Oh yeah, it’s a terrible song, it’s just part of being a teenager for me, totally inescapable.

      1. Clapton fans think it’s heresy to suggest anything by Clapton is less than perfect, and therefore if you find anything even the teensiest bit off or yucko or unromantic about, for example, “It’s time to go home now and I’ve got an aching head/ So I give her the car keys and she helps me to bed,” it can only be because you don’t – oh the horror – like Clapton! No other interpretation is possible! And when you point out that the lyrics are not merely unromantic but actually romance-killing – because really, how many of us find helping a falling-down-drunk person get into bed stimulating in any way? – they just refuse to hear it. They just say over and over again that it’s Clapton. It’s kind of like how some Southerners feel about Robert E. Lee.

        (I’ve had this conversation more than once, as you can probably tell.)

        Anyway, yes, the lyrics are blech, the guy needs to do some work so as to deserve this lovely lady, and lovely lady herself needs a strong injection of self-esteem.

    2. I’m so naive. I thought he was just so old that even cocktail parties wore him out.

      1. Meanwhile I thought he was getting sick so he really shouldn’t have gone out, but he sucked it up and went anyway for his wife’s sake (because obviously, I assumed, this would only happen in a long-term partnership), and then his wife could tell he really wasn’t up to it, hence asking if he feels okay and getting him to bed when they get home.

        I guess we’re just good at interpreting icky stuff in more comfortable ways.

        1. Those are really great interpretations and I like them.

          I think a LOT of people don’t listen to full lyrics – only to the chorus/song title. Websites with lyrics on them are changing this.

  2. The part that I want to emphasize is where you say “I did not want to change my hair if my husband would not have liked it. So, I asked him and confirmed close to a million times”.

    LW, maybe you should spend some time thinking about why you did this.

    1. Yeah, I also noticed that LW talked a lot about being a fitness instructor and going to the gym a lot when they met, and how she doesn’t have time to do that quite as much now, and then the rest of the letter was actually about her hair. So I’m wondering whether part of the hair-anxiety is displacement for feeling less in-shape and fit than she did a few years ago?

      LW, I definitely think you need to have the conversation with your husband about how he speaks about your appearance, but I sort of suspect that this isn’t “just” about him. I think you maybe need to have the conversation that goes “We’re hopefully going to be married forever, and I’m going to look lots of different ways (as are you, by the way!) over the years, so it’s time to change the way we talk about this” with yourself as well as him.

      Do *you* know when you’re asking for “honest opinion, I want suggestions and critique” and when you’re asking for “hey, I am feeling a bit bleh and I would really like some reassurance that you find me hot”? Both questions are totally legitimate and normal within a marriage, but if you’re hoping for the latter and getting the former, ouch, that really hurts. But you might need to get more clear with yourself which you want before you can express it to him. And if you really are super dependent on your husband’s reassurance that you look good, maybe think about ways you can build a bit more confidence in yourself too?

      Good luck!

      1. “Do *you* know when you’re asking for “honest opinion, I want suggestions and critique” and when you’re asking for “hey, I am feeling a bit bleh and I would really like some reassurance that you find me hot”? Both questions are totally legitimate and normal within a marriage, but if you’re hoping for the latter and getting the former, ouch, that really hurts.” 

        This is such a good point. I always get annoyed by the popular advice “If she says ‘does this dress make me look…?’ always be super flattering! She doesn’t really want an opinion!” because really, people, it is in fact just as possible that someone might ask their SO for an honest opinion regarding Insert Thing as it is that someone might ask a friend or family member for an honest opinion on Insert Thing.

        Protip for the person being asked such a question: if the person seems really excited about the dress (or whatever), you probably shouldn’t criticize. If you can’t tell how the person feels about it, go ahead and ask them how they feel about it first.

        Protip for asking such questions: try to be clear about your feelings and what kind of response you want. My sister showed everyone in the family two prom dresses she was choosing between. We all preferred the dark blue one. She got super upset because “nobody liked the sky blue one” which she really wanted. I am pretty sure that if she had told us which one she liked better going in, we would have all said something like, “They’re both nice. If you like the sky blue best, get it!”

        1. I think Miss Manners’ rule for these kinds of questions is great. You first ask yourself two questions: 1. Is this a request for my actual opinion, or for reassurance? 2. Is this an opinion about something that can be changed right now? So, when you are dress shopping with your BFF and she asks if this dress makes her look fat, you give your honest opinion (nicely). If you see her at a party and she asks if this dress makes her look fat, you tell her that she looks fabulous. If your SO tells you she is thinking of a drastic haircut and asks what you think, you can say, “Didn’t you regret it last time you tried that?” If your SO asks your opinion of the drastic haircut she just got, you tell her that she is always beautiful to you.

      2. Oh, I’ve only recently learned how to ask for what I *actually* want/need. It’s saved a lot of hurt feelings, but it’s also really difficult! For instance, last night, I was talking to my girlfriend and feeling hurt that she seemed distant, and then I got brave and said, “Could I have some attention?” and she immediately said yes and started asking me about my day and telling me stuff about hers, just things that we could connect more over instead of random cat antics. But if I hadn’t gotten brave enough to ask, I would have had hurt feelings and she would have been utterly baffled as to why I was upset. And sometimes it takes a moment and a step back for me to *realize* what it is I need to ask for.

        It’s not something that happens overnight, or without a supportive partner, but I’ve found it’s worth working on for me. It’s so much easier to get the result I want when I flat-out ask instead of hint around. 🙂

    2. Yeah I’m just personally sitting here going, “I’m way too aro for this noise.”

          1. Also honestly how is it not constructive to say because I’m grey aromantic I wouldn’t put up with certain things? There’s people below saying they got haircuts and their partner reacted badly and they broke up. How’s that different????

          2. Yeah I was kinda talking about the “I wouldn’t put up with X” stuff. There’s that or there is saying “Hey LW, consider if you have to put up with this. I don’t think you need to.” But I’m also completely fine not arguing semantics.

          3. “There’s that or there is saying “Hey LW, consider if you have to put up with this. I don’t think you need to.””

            I was LITERALLY replying to someone who said that. I think it’s pretty unnecessary to repeat exactly what they said while agreeing with them and adding why I feel the same.

  3. Great answer as always, and Captain, did you write that poem? It is perfection.

    1. I did write the last poem just now, yes. Maybe I’ll send it out as D Tells M That He Is Not That Into Her New Haircut

  4. LOL re. the Clapton song. I mean, sure, it’s Clapton, and the tune is pretty, but the lovely lady hoisting the too-drunk-to-function guy into bed is just not all that romantic a notion. I know he’s a genius, but the lyrics are kind of icky. I guess there are worse songs to play at prom, but not very many.

    I remember one Olympics where the network used it as the theme whenever they talked about the women’s gymnastic team, I think it was. I was like, “Have you never listened to the lyrics or what?”

    1. It’s like when they had k.d. lang sing Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the Olympics closing ceremonies. I mean. Really? REALLY?

      1. See, I thought that was awesome. Being an athlete’s not all medals and applause…

        1. …sometimes it’s also schlepping falling-down-drunk dudes home and hoisting them into bed? 🙂

      2. k.d. lang singing “Hallelujah” was about iconic Canadiana, not particularly about the nature of the event other than that lots of people worldwide were watching.

    2. Worse songs to play at Prom: we had school disco slow dancing to, I kid you not, The Police’s ‘Stalking: The Musical’ aka “Every Breath You Take” – which I have always found to be creepy af, which i later learned was written and intended to be creepy af. and ye still somehow ended up being a …love song?

      Also, “You’re Gorgeous” by Babybird. At a school disco.

      1. Sting’s actually quite open about the meaning of the song. I think there was an interview where he said he always ended up in awkward situations when fans would tell him they used the song as their first dance song or as “our song”, when he was actually talking about his divorce.

      2. A *LOT* of people are under the wildly mistaken impression that “Every Breath You Take” is romantic. Ye gods. Listen to the dang lyrics, people.

    3. I’ve got a bigger “Have you never listened to the lyrics?” moment: A friend of a friend wanted to play Meatloaf’s “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” at their wedding. They were not grateful to be warned how that song ends.

  5. Slightly irrelevant story time! I had a crush on a dude in middle school and then I chopped off 16 inches of hair and got a cute bob. He HATED it, and did not hide it well. Between this and one spectacularly awkward middle school date, we silently and mutually agreed never to speak to each other again. Ah, middle school.

    Anyway, you can do whatever you want with the hair that you grew from your own head, unless you want to glue it to your husband’s head without his permission. That would be uncool of you.

    1. OMG, you mean I’m not the only one who Once Crushed On a Dude Who Hates Short Hair on Girls?! Ack!

      I had that. Except I was 22 I was an awkward duckling who never bloomed and he was a dude who was nice to me but who seemed inordinarily more interested in pictures of me when I had longer hair (I rocked a short bob – even an asymmetric one – throughout our acquaintance.) Not that he ever said anything but the subliminal messages made my jerkbrain go into overdrive about how unfeminine I was.

      Needless to say, no amount of dramatic makeovers made him look at me twice, and so the story I kept telling myself was that I was too ugly and mannish to be loveable. Truth – he and I were just incompatible and he ended up with a girl who made him light up just by being in the room, so… yeah. (Less generously, he was also a fat shamer and I was struggling with a myriad of body-related issues at the time, so his ‘jokes’ didn’t help me out. Incompatible indeed.)

      Anyway. Going back on topic, LW, you are the boss of what you look like and feeling like you have to perform for your husband is not cool. He may not be doing it consciously, but telling him to lay off the comments would help you, and at the end of the day, that is what a good partnership is about.

    2. There was this Warren-Beattyesque coworker in a place I used to work. He was many-times married, but he was all the time on the prowl. Successfully, too, given the WB good looks and level of financial success. He hit on me once (with a wife, a bunch of kids and who knows how much alimony); I demurred. We never socialized off-work, and our at-work relationship was nothing beyond standard cordiality.

      One day, after I’d lopped off my brunette hair for a short black punk/goth look (I’d done lots of hair experimenting in my day, but had not yet done so at that place of work), I had occasion to drop off some stuff in his office. He looked absolutely crestfallen. He said OUT LOUD TO ME “No! You had such pretty long brown hair!” Like, dude, seriously? I mean, like, seriously?! I sailed out of the room, and over my shoulder I replied sunnily, “And now I have pretty short black hair!”

      He was actually miffed that his opinion didn’t matter to me. Douchefrigate.

      1. Heh. When I started college, my hair was long enough to sit on. Showed up to class one day with most of it chopped off, and a guy I’d been flirting with until then reacted in shock!! and horror!!

        I did end up dating him, but in retrospect I should have taken that attitude as the warning it was. My hair is now basically a crew cut, and I love it. My spouse prefers how it looks long, but he knows better than to give me attitude about it.

        1. Oh yeah, I know my spouse preferred when my hair was down to my butt. But after he said it once or twice I told him it was my hair and I was tired of the effort involved and if he persisted he would be making me feel bad about wanting to be comfortable.

          Last week I told him I was cutting it super short (it’s just past my shoulders now) and he said “You’re gonna look great, hon.” I know he’s not thrilled but he’s also not going to give me crap about it.

          1. Heh, I have the opposite – always had close cropped hair (occasionally long enough to mohawk, then buzzed again), and have been growing it long on one side for the last couple years. SO was so supportive it wasn’t until recently when he said “I wasn’t sure at first, but I like the way your hair is looking lately” that it came out that he preferred my look with very short hair. We both are pretty “whatever makes you happy, dear” about each others style choices, but it’s so nice to know that if I surprise him by shaving my head (which happens every few years!) he will be pleasantly surprised.

            I was pretty stoked to discover that his love for me and appreciation of my appearance wasn’t dependant on looking a certain way. Most of my SOs have been the exact opposite.

        2. The day after I started dating a guy, I went from chin-length green hair to pixie cut red hair. He expressed surprise at the change, but no negative reactions. 8 years later, I married him – and we are still very clear that one’s hair is one’s own, to do with as one pleases.
          Speaking of which, I think I need to call my hairdresser. It might be time for another pixie cut.

      2. OMG, I love your comment so much, especially **He was actually miffed that his opinion didn’t matter to me.** I mean, not glad he acted that way but glad that his notion that his opinion *should* matter got called out and thrown in his face. Brava!

        I guess to be a little bit fair I really hated my boyfriend’s haircut. He shaved it *all* off, after a bad review at work. It kinda made me think of Bob Geldof in “The Wall.” I was vocally displeased, but I did drop it because it’s his head and his hair, after all… It’ll grow back.

      3. Heh. My girlfriend actually just cut my hair and I love it and so does she. 🙂 (Irrelevant, but I just love my new cut so much.)

    3. Heh. All through college, there’d be guys talking about how Girls Just Look Best With Long Hair. I’d show them a picture of my in my shoulder-length days. *It was cut short with clippers at the time, so short by anybody’s yardstick.* They’d look at it, they’d look at me, and to a man, they said “You look better with short hair.” Yep. I do.

    4. I met this guy in the late summer, right before my sophomore year of college. We got it off, and went out a couple of times before he had to return to his college in another part of the state. His friends had girlfriends who would drive down a couple times per semester to visit them, so he asked if I’d like to come visit him next time they made a trip down. We had been hitting it off, so I said sure.

      In the time between his leaving and my visiting him, I had made two changes in my appearance. First off, I had gotten my shoulder length hair cut very short. Secondly, I finally got new glasses and actually started wearing them. (My eyes are terrible, but after my last pair of contacts had worn out awhile before, I’d been going without any vision correction. )

      So, I was pretty excited to see him, and we get down there to their apartment right off campus. From his first look at me, I could tell he was not impressed. He kept mentioning the hair and glasses all weekend, asking me why I had cut my hair, etc. We were getting ready to go to a party, and he forbid me to wear the glasses, saying he didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of his friends.

      I felt rather perplexed and sad by his behavior, because prior to this visit, he had really seemed to be into me, actually a lot more than I was into him. On the walk to the party, he kept walking ahead of me, like he didn’t want people to think we were together.

      I had almost zero self esteem back then, so a few months later, when he was home on break, I went out with him. I had, however, completely lost interest, and while he kept calling me, I sort of “ghosted” on him.

      I am not sure what the purpose of this post even is, but something in these responses made me remember that whole thing, which I have seldom thought about. He was kind of a douchebag in retrospect, but the larger lesson is that a woman should never let a man dictate her appearance, nor alter her looks for anyone else. I’m old now, and I would laugh at him now, but at age 19, it was hurtful. I was still the same person, only with short hair and glasses.

      1. I have fairly long hair now, and have had my hair this length (for the most part) since I was in 8th grade.
        Prior to that, I had relatively short hair. It was easier to manage, my mom encouraged that, I didn’t really LIKE my hair that style, but I guess I didn’t care enough to object?
        My college boyfriend saw some photos of the short-hair years when we had been together for about a year, and acted absolutely DISGUSTED by them. Now, I was an awkward kid regardless of hairstyle. My fashion sense was wacky and often augmented with grandmotherly hand-me-downs. My glasses looked huge on my face. I had braces for nearly 4 years. So yeah: a weird kid, but ultimately, a kid. But to CBF, this was an affront, somehow. He acted as though the fact that I looked too “boyish” or “ugly” at age 7 or 11 or whatever called his masculinity into question. It was weird, and it felt like he, as an adult, was bullying the child-me. He’d use it as a retort sometimes, too–he teased me a lot, and if I good-naturedly teased him “too much” (that line was unpredictable), he’d yell back about how ugly I looked as a kid.

        Last Thanksgiving, my relatives were passing around a photo album of various family members throughout the years. There were some of young me in there, and my husband saw. I was nervous, but he just chuckled a bit and said, “I think we were similar kinds of awkward as kids.” And then the nerves about that particular thing just melted away.

    5. My daughter dumped her ex-boyfriend because he gave her a hard time about cutting her hair short, basically saying “My haircut is not about you and your feelings.”

      I have never been more proud as a parent.

  6. LW, this issue is entirely about your husband and his insecurities and not about the way you look. And the way he is behaving strikes me as being controlling. It’s not lost on him that his responses are causing you stress. Keeping you constantly guessing about whether or not he likes the way you look is his way of making you dependent on his approval. Ask me how I know that – I spent 20 years in a marriage with a man who did this sort of thing on a daily basis.

    Oh how I wish I could give younger women the sense of freedom I feel about my looks that I now have in my “Fuck-it Fifties”. I spent the entire 40+ years of my life apologizing for the way I looked. Never again!

    1. I don’t know, to me it reads a lot more like the LW demanded her husband give her a lot of input and opinions on how she looked, he complied with that, and then somewhere along the way it got too much for her and he hasn’t picked up on that yet. Possibly combined with misunderstanding the difference between “I’m looking for suggestions” and “I’m looking for reassurance”. Which is insensitive, but not necessarily controlling.

      1. Yes, I’m reading it as “She definitely asked for input, and he gave it, and now it’s time to stop, whoever started it and why.” “I know I asked you to weigh in on this, but let’s change that up” can be a powerful and important conversation.

        1. I think acknowledging that one changed one’s mind about such things is really important. It drives me crazy when I do a Thing at a partner’s request, and then the partner seems to change their mind and doesn’t tell me, or makes it sound like they had never asked me to do that in the first place. I am fine with people changing their minds, just acknowledge it already.

          1. Oh my God, I hate this too. Especially because half the time That Thing Partner Doesn’t Like Anymore was a thing I never really liked doing in the first place but was happy to do because it made them happy. I once had a boyfriend who told me he really liked it when I would cook ragu for him, didn’t like stressing about dinner, and would always be happy to be surprised with a huge pot that would last a week of lunches. I don’t particularly like ragu but I don’t hate it, so I was happy to do it but wouldn’t otherwise have made ragu. 2 years into making it once a month he finally told me he was trying to cut back on meat for the last year and hated that I kept making him surprise ragu.

            That wasn’t the reason we broke up, but it did make me take a long look at how we communicated…

          2. @scoutslookingglass Are you kidding me? That is some next level non-communication. It must have felt super annoying to hear that after a year(!).

      2. That’s my sense. It was a thing they did together, with positive emotional/erotic charge on both sides, and now it’s not feeling so positive and it’s time for a change.

        Dear LW: it’s fine that you used to do it that way AND it’s fine that you want to do something else now. Happy Hair!

      3. Likewise. I’m pretty literal-minded, and I could see myself failing to get the distinction between ‘tell me what you think about my hair and what you’d like me to do with it’ and ‘literally I just need to hear that you like how I look.’ That may be the husband’s problem here; the proof is in how he responds to being told that his behavior here is hurting the LW. If he apologizes and backs off, good. If he doubles down… well, that’s important information to have about him, too.

  7. Even with the best of intentions from LW’s husband, this would still play into an unfortunate dynamic that says Women’s Job is to be Visually Pleasant Objects. Both of them may need some time to process that, read up on some feminist thinking, and sort out what they REALLY want vs what the patriarchy we’re all swimming in says they SHOULD want from each other.

    Good luck LW, and happy hairxperimenting

  8. Agreed with Cap! As always. It is so fun to do something different and extra exciting when that person is your partner and you love to watch their eyes light up. But a partner has such capacity to play on your insecurities and cut you deeper than anyone even unintentionally.

    Hair on women also has such a weird and fraught history. True story: I once had hair 1/2 way down my back but then I got on a birth control that had my hair falling out in clumps and I decided if I was going to lose that many hairs per day, I may as well make them all shorter. I chopped my hair to a short pixie cut and Loved It! My bf Loved It! My bf’s dad was terrible. He took one look at it and said (CW for problematic and ignorant phrase) [tw] “Ah son, she went dyke on you!”[/tw] The dude who should have had nothing to say on the matter made me question everything and suddenly decide his son must secretly agree and hate my hair. But also, F him. My hair has been short ever since and it makes me happy. I even shaved my head bald once and I really loved that! I had this total Sinead O’Connor thing going on for a minute.

    I suggest taking a bit of space for you where you meditate on your hair and what would make YOU most happy. Do you love it when you throw away all your brushes and roll out of bed in the morning and run some gel through the short ends and get out the door? Do that! Do you find you really miss waves down your back and the ability to braid your hair or toss your lushes locks over your shoulder? Do that! But love yourself as it takes the journey forward to what you want.

    1. Oh man being bald is the best!!! I did it last summer and I felt so free and badass. Really cut back on cat callers and shitty tinder dates. and every step of growing it out is super cute! Too bad people think buzzcuts for women aren’t “professional”

      1. I am super envious of women who look good with shaved heads. I think I would look like a fuzzy potato. I am going to cut it super short into a sort of curly-faux-hawk thing next week though. Closest I dare come to shaving it.

        1. My cycle is: grow hair until it reaches small of back -> cut it off to chin length and donate it -> repeat. This cycle takes about three years on average. I was involved in FWB situation with a guy during a long-hair phase, and every so often this would happen:
          Me: Shave your beard.
          Him: Shave your head.*
          Me: I have a dent in the back of my skull, what’s your excuse?

          *This was not a serious demand, though I do truthfully prefer clean-shaven men, just as he likes short-haired ladies. He actually broke things off with me just after I’d cut my hair but before I had a chance to tell him, and his reaction when he found out was priceless.

    2. For the last two decades of my life, my hair has been down to my waist. Easily the prettiest thing about me. Cost a mini fortune in conditioner and time spent putting it in order. I chopped it all off last month with kitchen scissors. Does it look better? Definitely not. Does it make my life easier right now? Actually very much. Also looking in the mirror and sniggering at current look is very cheering and worth something to me.

      Hair is great. It reminds you that you get to make changes and it does grow back eventually. You don’t have to be trapped in amber, you can operate your body any way you like. It’s fine to choose something else over prettiness for now. It’s fine to choose a different style of prettiness. I bet you look lovely. You can stop taking both requests and feedback. The sooner your husband realises that you’re not available for tweaking, the sooner he can learn to love your current look (which, by the way, will work better for you if you are enjoying it rather than feeling sad about it).

      Also, the ‘You don’t have to be pretty’ link was an excellent read!

      1. +100

        thanks for saying these things the way you said them. I hope the LW finds your story as helpful as I did.

      2. I am a natural red head with thick, coarse, wavy/curly hair. My hair makes me stand out and there’s a lot of it on top of my head and I have a twisted love/hate relationship with it. I’ve never done extreme colors because every stylist I goes to gives me an impassioned speech about what a shame it would be to dye it. I’ve done short styles but given my hair texture and thickness they don’t work and long hair is just so heavy and gives me headaches so I have a boring, shoulder touching length with virtually no style. The result of my lack of fun hair means that I waaaaaaay supportive of my kids hair styles. My daughter has had a pixie cut, a bob, hair to her waist and back up to a bob, it’s been bleached (ends only!), dyed blue, pink, and magenta – all in the last 7 years (between the ages of 5 and 12). In fact the only color I won’t let her do it black and that’s because she’s a blond and it’s harder to color over / wash out.

        1. I have similar thing with my hair, but mine is a brown color with reddish tints. Hooboy is there a lot of it, though. Stylists tend to give me the same speech about how everyone would love my color and why would I want to dye it. My response has generally be “I’ve had this color for x years now, I just want something different for a change. Once I’ve displayed that it’s gonna happen with or without them, they set to it, and seem to try to do a good job to justify it, or something. I’ve so far done a warm blond, which was also a short almost-bob that they thinned out so it would work, I’ve done black with purple streaks and a deep red, and I’ve enjoyed them all, but always been happy to come back to my natural color after the foray into new-town. I find I like my hair so much more after having experimented, and even though I’m back at the same style I always had, I like it now that it feels like something I legitimately picked instead of defaulted to. The power really is there in the choice.

        2. Have you tried an undercut? A dear friend of mine has similarly wavy/curly, thick, coarse hair, with similar problems – triangle hair, headaches, etc. She recently did an undercut, with cute patterns shaved into the sides, and when it’s down, you would /never/ guess that she had the undercut – she has so much hair that I once used two boxes of drug store hair dye to colour her chin-length bob. When she wants to show off the shaved sides, she wears it up, and it looks awesome. She says it makes her waaaayy more comfortable in the summer heat, too, so extra bonus.

        3. Yeah, somewhere around 4-5 years ago I moved solidly into the “it’s only hair, the kids can do what they want with it” camp and we’re not looking back. My daughter is 9 and we’ve done some spray dyes (that fade out in a couple of days) and length is solely up to her.

          My son is 7 and has thick, wavy hair. It’s currently very shaggy but the last hair cut he had traumatized him somewhat. I bring up haircuts and he says NO and I let it drop. I’ve offered him the spray dyes but he’s not interested.

          Their dad is more on the fence about their hair and control of it but so far so good.

          1. My only exception to this is that kids are not allowed to have styles that require Mom to do any work in the morning. So you have only have long hair if you are going to commit to brushing it every day to keep it from getting matted, and you have to learn how to put it in a ponytail or make a neat part for yourself if those are going to be your style.

      3. I cannot get enough of DreadHead shampoo. It’s the only shampoo I used that liberated me from conditioning and combing my long super-thick wavy hair. I just finger-comb it now and it looks fine. Before, the stuff would try to twist into dreadlocks unless I put three handfuls of conditioner in it with every wash. Plus my hair dries twice as fast now.

  9. My dad hates change. Hates. It. So every time my mom changes her hair (for example, since it’s related), he has nothing nice to say about it for at least a week. Eventually he gets used to it and usually he likes it, but…yeah. Ugh. So a while ago I started dying my hair (purple) and when I next saw my parents I looked at him and said “You’re not allowed to say anything about my hair until you’ve gotten used to it.” Because I love it (so much that I’ve kept it up for 3 years now) and him saying mocking or insulting things would’ve really hurt.

    Your husband should love you and be attracted to you, not only how you looked at a particular point in time.

    1. I can’t help but think of how similar that is to my cat. He HATES all new things. Get him a new toy, he hates it, he will complain about it’s presence for days, until one day the NEW wears off and the new toy is OK.
      Except, humans should not be at the same level of maturity as a pet.

      1. Well, my toddler also hates transitions. She loves baths but the minute it’s time to go take one, NOOOO! WANNA PLAY! Then it’s time to get out again. NOOOO! MOAR BUBBLES!

        This being 100% typical toddler behavior, the implications are left as an exercise for the reader.

        1. …is it bad that I’m basically the same, only no one’s around to force me to do things? (Not with baths. I love baths, heck yeah! But bed…I don’t want to get in, and then I don’t want to get out.)

      2. LOL
        Comparing my dad to a cat made me giggle, thank you. Also, yes, cats can get so offended by change. It is a pretty apt comparison!

    2. That reminds me of Lord Peter Wimsey in the novels by Dorothy L Sayers. He hates new clothes and has his valet ‘age’ any new suit by approximately three months before he wears them. Things like brushing them to create the appearance of wear, leaving heavy things in the pockets, bagging out the elbows very slightly.

    3. I hate when other people get very different haircuts because I’m moderately face blind (I know there is a fancy word. I forget the fancy word). I know they don’t objectively look bad, but when you recognise your friend by a combination of their hair & voice, it’s disconcerting to have friend-voice coming out of “someone else”.

      on the other hand, I know other people have every right to get haircuts (/hairdyes), so I am responsible for relearning what they look like and not being rude about it in the mean time.

      1. (There is a fancy word, but “face blind” is a perfectly good thing to say. I just looked it up, it’s prosopagnosia, I would not have known what you meant if you’d said that. 🙂

        I sort of think if that were the problem he’d have said something. He knows a little about that sort of thing, he taught psychology at a university for decades. But yeah, even if it were the case, that doesn’t give him the right to be a jerk about it in the interim. And it’s not just that, too; that was just the thing that was related to the letter. Dad also gets upset about other things that are just, like…I get that it’s stressful, but being sarcastic and rude to other people is not the way to deal with it. I should know! I have the same impulse to lash out when I’m stressed!

        1. This is a test to see if an issue I’ve had commenting is fixed (it seemed to be related to one of my browser extensions).

  10. Speaking of awful prom songs about a woman’s appearance, see “Lady in Red.” Ugh, tonight you look sooo much better than usual that other men want you. Who cares about how you elevated a conversation above small talk or drew out another woman who was shy, only to find that she’s a brilliant physician with original insights into the heath-care crisis? No, what matters is that “I’ll never forget the way you look tonight ” in that fuckable red dress.

    For a hilarious antidote, see Roy Zimmerman’s “You’re Pretty”. (Do not, I repeat do NOT listen to the latter while drinking anything at your keyboard. )

  11. I’m assuming best intentions here on the part of the husband for a couple of reasons. First, the LW practically demanded he keep her updated on his opinion re: the hair changes from the start. It’s totally fair to change those boundaries now that it’s making you feel insecure, but he didn’t come up with this tactic on his own. For all he knows she genuinely wants all this feedback still and doesn’t take it personally at all. After all, he never says (that I see here in the letter) that you look bad now! He’s just mentioning things he thought were sexy, and they’re items that are changeable (unlike body changes or aging, etc). I can absolutely see how based on your previous push for him to share, he thinks this is a positive, fun way to interact and you have to be very clear and direct that it’s no longer the case. And how before you weren’t asking him because you really wanted his input on everything and would be completely unaffected by him having preferences…. you were asking because you were insecure about him not liking it.

    Also, I may have missed this…. but the only one who seems to care about your (possible) weight gain is you, LW. You don’t mention him commenting on your body at all, just the hair that you asked him about repeatedly. I can totally see why the hair issue has pushed you to worrying about that, but just remember that you can’t read his mind just as much as he can’t read yours.

    I understand to an extent because my boyfriend also loves when I mix up looks. When it comes to clothes, I’ve always told him I’ll wear whatever he buys for me but when it comes to my money, I’m not looking for feedback. I love when he compliments me of course, but I also just have to accept that his preferences are different from my preferences in that variety of looks. He would never say anything bad about what I wear/look like (the biggest criticisms I’ve heard are that he doesn’t like bright blue in undergarments and “So you really like those [baggy, men’s style] jeans, huh”), but if he compliments a certain look a lot I get the gist quickly. That’s okay, he’s allowed to have preferences! And I’ll cater to them when I’m trying to look particularly nice for a date, but otherwise I cater to my own preferences and he loves me/my “not open to feedback right now” attitude so it all works out.

    Basically, you’re not wrong for being hurt, because you’re allowed to have feelings about all of this. But you do have to share them, because I don’t think your husband is wrong for doing what you seemed to want. And I do think you’re overthinking this, and it would be good to share your insecurities with him because right now you’re taking a “I liked this look before, I’d love to see it again” as a “You look bad (and also fat) now”, and that’s really not what you’re reporting as the series of events.

    1. Kay, I agree with everything you wrote here.

      LW, it sounds like a lot of the space in your head is taken up by thoughts about your appearance. It’s not surprising, since women are socialized that Being Pretty is the most important thing we can achieve. But it sounds like the quest to Be Pretty is making you sad and anxious right now. You sound like you’re not happy about many of the changes time and different priorities (ie, your job) have wrought on your appearance. I’d like to gently suggest that you look into talking to a therapist about this, because it seems like negative thoughts about your appearance are intruding on a lot of other areas in your life and may be affecting your relationship with your husband.

  12. In terms of good responses I had an ex who: always noticed when I did something to my hair; and always said “wow! That [hair change[ looks wonderful.”

    In fact he more than once said “Wow! I’d forgotten how wonderful [hair change] looks, because [hair before change] is also gorgeous.”

    He had many flaws and we’ve been divorced for 20 years, but that was a good response.

    So, dear LW, you are the boss of your appearance. Your husband’s job is to applaud your experiments.

    As far as songs go, the one you don’t want is The Way You Look Tonight.

    That whole “never ever change” should be set on fire.

    1. I give “The Way You Look Tonight” a pass, because he focuses on her smile and the warmth in her eyes and her charm. Maybe, I’m being kind, but I always mentally interpreted it as “don’t ever change the way you look at me tonight.” As in, I hope you always light up when you look at me and your eyes and smile are always warm.

      But, I agree, “never, ever change” is awful.

      1. Slightly off topic, but whenever someone says “Never change!” I’ve taken to responding, “Only dollars?”

        It throws them off stride just enough 🙂

  13. When my parents got married, my mom had hair down to her waist. She also had regular headaches from the weight of it, so she chopped it to shoulder length a little bit later. For the rest of their marriage, any time she got her hair cut, he would give her the cold shoulder for a week or two. He once explained this to me as “she kept going shorter and shorter and eventually I just didn’t find it attractive, so I had to say something.” Funny, considering she didn’t go “shorter and shorter”, it was always about shoulder length, and his version of “saying something” was pointedly not saying anything.

    I got a pixie cut as a teenager, and very deliberately blew him off when he told me that he doesn’t like short hair on women. Not playing that game.

    1. Given that it’s normal to get a haircut every month or two that seems like… really a lot of “cold shouldering” in the long term. Like, a week or two out of every month or two? Really? And yeah. Gross.

      1. She got it cut less often than that, but don’t worry – he found other excuses to give her the cold shoulder those months. (She was so much happier after he moved out. Gosh, wonder why.)

    2. I know this is off topic, but am I the only person who is deeply disturbed by this kind of comment from a father to a daughter? Genuine question since my dad and I are not close, never really lived together, and don’t have the kindof relationship where he tells me any of his opinions ever (good or bad).

      But there’s something deeply disturbing to me about the basic premise of a comment like this, which reads to me as “daughter, here is what I think is sexually attractive, also I think you should do exactly that.”

      1. You are definitely not the only person disturbed by that, and it is not just your not having a close father-daughter relationship that makes you feel that way! My relationship with my father is practically the opposite of yours – we lived together until I was 18, plus almost another year later on when I moved back to Hometown for a new job as an adult, we continue to see each other regularly, and he tells me MANY of his opinions. None of those opinions that he shares with me, however, relate to what he finds attractive or to his perception of my level of attractiveness, and I can’t imagine a level of closeness that would make comments like that not gross/creepy.

        1. Agreed. I’m very close with my dad. Lived with my parents until 19, then moved back in for two years in my twenties to save up for a down payment. Still visit regularly. Really the only comment on attractiveness comes in with other things – for instance, if I’m in a self-pitying mood about being chronically single. To which he responds along the lines of “you’re smart, capable, and good looking – you’re single because you’re independent and not willing to settle. that’s not bad.” To me that is an acceptable level of dad looks comment – no specifics and mixed in with other traits (and always at the tail end of the traits listed).

      2. In Patriarchy Club, women’s sexualities belong to their fathers before they are deeded to husbands in expensive performative public cerermonies. It’s creepy as hell, but not unusual, hence a cultural canon full of sexist “jokes” about fathers flipping out over daughters having fun sexytimes with boyfriends.

        1. It might not be something overtly sexualized, but it certainly is ‘girl must conform to my idea of uniform’ which is patriarchal bullshit.

        2. This almost makes me think the Josh Duggar child abuse case is the logical conclusion of this bullshit. I’ve done way too much reading on extreme Christian patriarchy, and the incest/child sex abuse dynamic is all too common in that culture.

        3. Honestly I kinda think there’s… something not toxic involved too? Like, for a lot of people your father will be your closest adult-male relationship prior to a serious boyfriend (and your mother your closest adult-female). I know my mom did think about what she was modeling in that regard, not in a sexual-abuse way (at all!) but just in a maybe-some-advice, maybe-a-good-role-model way.

          Obviously it was Daffodil’s dad’s opinion that Wimmin Gotta Have Nice Hair and it was his job to enforce that, which is fucked. But I don’t think it’s entirely exclusive to Patriarchy Club, right? Like, if somebody else’s dad was like “yeah, my job here is to show my daughter how your real friends act when you change your hair, i.e. tell her what you like about it and maybe ask her what she wanted/was thinking about (because she is your daughter/other loved one and you are interested in what she thinks),” does he get Club Points for that?

      3. It is absolutely creepy as hell and something my own dad did a lot while I was growing up. My mom catered to his preferences (woman have long hair, stay thin, and wear attractive clothing in the styles he likes, don’t have tattoos or piercings, etc.) and my sister and I got a lot of praise when we worked to fit those standards. Teenage experimentation in appearance was met less with coldness than baffled disappointment and the slight implication that we were destroying something that he had helped create and therefore had a say in managing. He was definitely less than subtle about commenting about the bodies of other people and I now feel terrible about the people who no doubt overheard the fact that they were made object lessons for preteen kids.

        In a shocking twist, my sister and I both grew up to have serious and lingering problems with disordered eating and exercise.

      4. I’m pretty close with my dad, and he gives me some similar comments, but it doesn’t bother me at all because he usually has pretty good taste and has bought me some of my best clothes! (And if I put my foot down on something, he respects that.) I get a lot of “You look great/confident/beautiful/comfortable in that. We should find you more clothes like that!” Also, when he complements my looks, it’s sometimes a roundabout way of complimenting my mother. My mom is currently having a lot of body issues and isn’t good about accepting direct compliments about her appearance, so dad sometimes compliments me on something we both share and then tacks on, “Just like your mother.” I’m sure out of context that might be creepy, but it works in my family. He’s almost always positive (unless I’m asking his opinion between two things so he has to pick one he doesn’t like as much) and he also praises me for non-appearance related things like being smart/kind/talented/capable.

        Mom is the one who tends to be more negative– she’s constantly trying to get me to cut my hair shorter and it drives me nuts! Whenever I let her talk me into it, I always regret it and it takes me YEARS to grow it out again.

      5. Thanks for chiming in to say you find this creepy y’all, the reality check and validation is much appreciated. I totally found it creepy, especially because we weren’t close – he basically ignored me, except for noticing when I hit puberty. There were other comments on my appearance too. We’re estranged now, and I like it that way.

      6. Agreed! I’m not super close with my dad, and he has many flaws (being pretty damn sexist is the big one) but he has NEVER commented on how I look, even when I was a kid, other than to say something like, “you look really nice” when we’re all dressed up for a special occasion or something. Considering that he can be very controlling in other ways, I am really grateful that he gets that my appearance is none of his business.

    3. My now-ex made obnoxious comments when I cut my hair. Then whenever I changed my short-ish hairstyle, I took grief about that, too.

      “I liked it better long” is NOT A THING TO SAY. It’s not your goddamn hair! Except that I was too emotionally/psychologically bullied to be able to stand up for myself.

      Here’s the really funny part: He had the world’s worst comb-over. I mean, the WORST. About a quarter of an inch of front-of-the-head hair combed over an otherwise bald top-of-the-head.

      It’s our hair, gentlemen. Leave it.

  14. OK, so I am in a BDSM relationship, and one of the aspects of my life that I gave over to my life partner and dom is the length of my hair. It was collarbone length when we met and I had always like the idea of long hair but never had the patience. He loves long flowing hair. He asked me not to cut it. Four years later, it has had nothing more than a trim. I love it, even though it requires a lot of maintenance. He loves seeing me preen and primp with it.

    I know his love for me is not based on my hair. Just as it’s not conditional on me being young, or mentally well, or on being agreeable 24/7. If my hair fell out or I had brain surgery and they shaved my head or I couldn’t stand another day of long hair, he’d still love me.

    Since we met, my weight, my taste in clothing, many aspects of me have changed, organically, due to circumstances. I am not the woman he met four years ago. My body and my appearance will change as I grow old. Depression means I am often in a stare of unshaven legs and pajamas. And I am so, so loved. My Dom too has changed, grown a beard, gained weight, changed his tastes. My Dom adores me and would hate it if I was carrying insecurities and if he was unwittingly making them worse.

    Even in a comparitively extreme relationship deal where my hair is a point of attraction, acceptance of each others bodies and our beloved ness to each other is really important. BDSM means we seek out those awkward subjects to negotiate, and find that those insecurities need to be aired and soothed.

    It’s natural to look back at past selves and wish for that vitality. I can relate. But don’t short change the awesome you that you have become.

    1. This. It’s a really fine line when you start explicitly asking your partner what they find attractive–or if your partner starts telling you unsolicited. My father-in-law is firmly of the “women should have long hair” camp and my mother-in-law keeps hers short, but constant bemoans the fact that she knows her husband would find her more attractive if she grew it. Or, if she grows it without meaning to, she seems anxious about having it cut back to her preferred style. THAT kind of feedback (and LW’s situation, more extremely) are a world away from how healthy relationships handle this kind of thing. For instance, my husband is ultra-supportive of anything I’d want to do with my appearance. His feedback is only ever “wow, that looks great!” Even times when I think he wasn’t sure if he’d like something (i.e. piercings, tattoos) he has always been nothing but positive and encouraging beforehand, and complimentary afterward. And same for me to him. Long-term love is based on commitment, not attraction based on the length of your hair.

    2. I think it’s really telling here that you’re in a full-time BDSM partnership and yet you still say your Dom “asked” you not to cut your hair. Because it’s an agreement you made an equal part of! Even in a dominant/submissive relationship, if it’s healthy, one partner does not get to unilaterally decide things about the other person’s body and life and then offer commentary! You two sound like you’ve got a good thing going, and you sound secure in your relationship, and I am happy for you.

  15. My question for the letter writer: why are you so nervous about the idea of him not liking your hair or your appearance in general? You mention insecurities. Do you think he’ll stop loving you if you are less attractive? If so…how do you feel about that? Do you think that’s the sign of a healthy relationship?

    It’s possible that your nervous simply because of the insecurities you mention. Maybe he is a lovely man and will love you no matter what and is only telling you what he thinks of your hair because you asked. But…where do those insecurities come from? Maybe from movies and magazines. But maybe also from him? It’s possible that you’re nervous because your husband has made it clear, either in words or in other ways, that his love and the marriage are contingent on you looking a certain way.

    I am here to tell you that if you have contingent-on-looking-amazing love, you have problems. Because, as the Captain said, people get old. People age. Skin wrinkles, body parts sag. The love that disappears when you’re no longer fit and hot is no love at all. If he is obsessed with you looking like a 23-year-old, he will become increasingly dissatisfied the older you get.

  16. I have changed my hair quite a bit since I was married. I had waist length hair and chopped it to chin length when I had to go through the summer pregnant. I have grown my hair out, cut it, colored it, etc. over the years. The only thing my husband has ever said was “looks good”.

    I’m sorry that your husband is making your hair a thing. It’s your hair and your body. Please use the Captain’s scripts, repeat as necessary and get him to chill. People change all the time and he needs to learn to accept it and knock off the commentary. How would he like it if you commented on his appearance continuously? He married you, not your hair. He could develop a medical condition that causes his hair to fall out or make him gain weight, have a horrible accident that disfigures him, but you would still love him, right? He needs to knock it off and be glad he found someone to love him- a lot of people never find that.

    1. I’m with you. Long, short, medium, colored, not colored, my husband doesn’t care. It’s long and half gray now and I wear it in a bun most of the time and he doesn’t care. We have other issues in our marriage after 40 years together but thankfully, hair isn’t one of them.

  17. My husband has always handled this well – I know he prefers it shoulder length or longer, because I asked him. And I’ve asked him a couple of variations on that theme over the years, expecting and receiving valuable input – i.e. “Job interviews next week, do you think this looks professional for that gig, should I bring it up?”

    His A + moment was when I lost all my hair to chemo and he said “I’ll be happier when it comes back, but your skull is the right shape to be bald.”

    And now when it’s super hot and I muse about shaving it again just to be comfortable (I would never, I hated the way I looked), he says “Eh, it would grow back.” I’m pretty sure he knows I wouldn’t actually do it, but it’s still the right answer.

  18. So… I´m the only one who hates the Billy Joel song then and thinks it tells the story of a very insecure guy who´s afraid his wife/partner would leave him for someone hotter if she were more attractive herself? I mean:
    “Don’t go trying some new fashion
    Don’t change the color of your hair”
    What if she really wants to?
    “I don’t want clever conversation
    I never want to work that hard
    I just want someone that I can talk to
    I want you just the way you are”
    Particularly that second one. It sounds like he wants someone to talk AT without getting clever replies that would require mental work from him so he´s quite happy with his dumb little girl. Maybe I´m overreacting but this song raises my hackles SO HARD.

    1. I am not 100 percent fond of the Billy Joel song either, but my interpretation is slightly different. To me, the second stanza reads as though he thinks she’s just not all that smart. And that’s apparently fine with him.

    2. Wishful thinking maybe, but I assumed it meant that he didn’t want to keep up witty repartee as a poser, but enjoyed soulful, authentic conversation, one-on-one with the beloved. And that she didn’t have to be constantly, stressfully, buying new clothes or covering gray hairs for him because he was interested in deeper qualities.

      1. I think you can also make a case for “you don’t have to put on a performance to entertain or impress me, let’s just talk about regular stuff”, but even that can be icky…oh well.

      1. I always heard it next to his “She’s Always a Woman to Me,” which feels like, “this person is just the worst, stupid, sadistic, a thief, but she does my emotional laundry and y’know, what can you expect from a chick?”, and I can hear n.b.’s point, but I would still swipe the hell left on 70’s-80’s no matter how much I liked “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”

      2. Yeah, don’t take the second verse out of context. But following the first stanza, with “Don’t go changing to try to please me” and “Don’t imagine you’re too familiar and I don’t see you anymore”, I think we’re supposed to see her as doing the “Would he like me better if I was blonde/wore skinny jeans/was better at witty comebacks and obscure allusions? Is he bored with me?”, about which he is reassuring her.

        But he should definitely work on that “I might not seem to care” thing.

  19. >>Above all, fall in love with the person you see in the mirror and don’t let anyone give her any crap. ❤

    This was lovely, thank you.

  20. LW, one thing that I’m not clear on from your letter that I think is REALLY important is… how do YOU feel about your new hair?

    It’s clear that your husband’s opinion matters a great deal to you (which is okay!), but at the end of the day, it’s YOUR hair. Are you glancing in mirrors and smiling at your cute new bob (or whatever)? Or are you sighing a little because you miss your longer hair?

    I think the Captain’s advice to ask your husband not to comment anymore is important, not just because it hasn’t been making you feel good about yourself (though that’s VERY important), but also to help you clear his voice out of your mind, and instead listen to your *own* inner voice. Hair chops can definitely take some getting used to – but for what it’s worth, when I went from waist-length to bob-length hair, and then a bob to a pixie-shag, as much as it was an adjustment, both times I found myself thinking “WOW!!!” when I looked in the mirror, too. If you aren’t feeling that wow, then it’s okay to decide to grow your hair out for your own sake, too.

    But the point is that the decision should be based on what makes YOU happy with your hair, and your husband should be supportive of you.

  21. Derail: When I was thirty-five, I was shocked to find that “When You Are Old and Grey” was actually a translation of a poem by Pierre de Ronsard, “Quand Vous Serez Bien Vieille.”

    I mention this not to be a snooty, oo-I-know-something-some-people-don’t condesplainer, but because finding what Yeats added (and subtracted) and strolling through various other translations (many, many are available online) was just one of the loveliest hours I have spent, and I’m recommending it like I would a really, really good restaurant. (The thing about truly great restaurants, though: not one of them is for everyone. Don’t do it, if that’s not your thing, obviously.)

    On topic: my biggest mistake when I dated men was buying in to the cultural narrative that men are delicate baby-flowers and should be feted and served and praised every moment of every day like ridiculously-hatted, ribbon-festooned dictators or tantrum-prone celebrities. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is tell a person when that person is being ridiculous.

    1. On topic: my biggest mistake when I dated men was buying in to the cultural narrative that men are delicate baby-flowers and should be feted and served and praised every moment of every day like ridiculously-hatted, ribbon-festooned dictators or tantrum-prone celebrities. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is tell a person when that person is being ridiculous.

      YES! This.

    1. I got my family to stop using a few different methods. I told them that my weight, my body, what I was wearing, what and how much I was eating was off limits. Then if someone commented something like “you look a little heavier,” I would say, “Why would you say that? I know what I look like. What result, other than hurting my feelings, could that have.” After that, if comments kept coming, I left. Even in the middle of a family dinner.

  22. @The Awe Ritual: Thank you for your comment. As someone who has a history of enabling, I need to hear that it is loving to tell someone when they are being ridiculous.

  23. There is something wrong here that isn’t directly stated in the letter. Clues:

    Anyway, due to the heat, my new job, I wanted a change to my hair. I did not want to change my hair if my husband would not have liked it. So, I asked him and confirmed close to a million times as he kept saying, “Yes. Do it.

    This has an explanation that is neither necessary – “because I felt like it” is a perfectly good reason to change something about one’s own self – nor requested, suggesting that LW anticipates a rebuke and is attempting to preempt it, as does the further assurance about not wanting to upset Husband with the change and reconfirming a bunch.

    I really hope Husband isn’t doing anything to reinforce these insecurities, and that he was supportive of the suggestion of a change seems like a good sign. It could well be some combination of our sexist society, past trauma, LW’s particular wiring, etc. that are prompting her insecurities, and I agree with the others suggesting it might be a good idea for LW to interrogate this a bit (perhaps with the assistance of a helpful professional) to figure out what’s going on. If husband *is* contributing, that’s an important thing to sort out from whatever else is going on, as it will help LW in navigating the conversations CA suggests. I realize that this is a big part of the question LW poses – by way of ‘am I overthinking?’ and ‘am I wrong to feel how I feel?’ – and we’re not necessarily in the best position to answer it. We can answer the second part – no, you feel however you feel, though maybe processing those feelings in a different way would make you happier – but not the first.

  24. It’s amazing how many strange neuroses can get attached to something like hair. But it happens a lot! I just recently found out that my friend cries every time she cuts her hair because when she was young her mother would always force her to get it cut despite my friend begging to be able to keep it long. So, a simple thing like “cutting hair” became “having one’s bodily boundaries violated”. I think LW needs to find out what other issues have gotten attached to this hair thing. Insecurity about looks? Worry about having husband lose interest? Fear of change? Whatever it is, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE HAIR.

    1. Having your hair cut (touched, otherwise manipulated) without your permission IS having your bodily boundaries violated, so I’m not surprised in the slightest. What’s even worse is when the parents do it as a “punishment”, film it, and put it up on Youtube.

    2. I agree that strange things get attached to things like hair! I used to do a really not nice/helpful thing, which was get a bit freaked out/sometimes cry a little when my boyfriend came home with a surprisingly different haircut. But I also have very bad facial recognition, so when he would come home with dramatically different hair he looked INCREDIBLY different to me, and my brain went “that’s boyfriend but also THAT IS NOT BOYFRIEND” and the signals just freaked me out emotionally. I basically had to tell him 80 billion times that it was not him at all, and also sit on on some of his haircuts, just to make the transition nice and easy for my weird bad facial recognition brain. Now that I’ve seen ~~the magic happen~~ it doesn’t throw me off so much, so we’re fine. (Also he gets better haircuts that don’t make his face shape look completely different each time, so the adjustment is minimal.)

    3. When I was young, I begged my mom to let me CUT my hair and she forced me to wear it long down to my butt- because *she* liked long hair and hers wouldn’t grow. I hated it SO MUCH, and I mean HAAAATED it – the way it looked, the way it felt, the massive amounts of care that it took. And the irony was that she’d complain that my grandmother, a retired hairdresser, had forced her to cut her hair in whatever cut was stylish when she was young and she’d hated it so much but couldn’t see she was doing the same thing to me. I can still remember when she finallly gave me a slightly above shoulder bob in 5th grade- I was OVERJOYED, and she cried.

      I finally got it cut very short at 14…in the 36 yrs since then I’ve only had it longer than shoulder length once, when I purposely grew it out to see if my feelings about long hair had changed. NOPE, still hate it. Give me flat tops, Mohawks, buzz cuts, dreads, shaved sides, and artsy styles galore, long hair on me is boring, unflattering, and looks like crap.

      I’ve also never given a single fuck what any man thought of my hair, because the idea that anyone other than me, the person whose head and hair it actually is, should have any input in how I wear it has always seemed totally absurd to me. But when you combine being a feminist at the age of 9 with being non-neurotypical in a way that made much typical social interaction looked like pointless bullshit games to me, and that’s what you get I guess *shrug*


        Er, I mean, glad that’s over for you.

        1. It makes perfect sense if the parent fell into the trap of “if you don’t make me happy you are worthless.”

          1. That is, that particular trap. Not denying it happens, just, man, that’s fucked up, and I hate that anyone ever had to go through it in the history of anything.

      2. My mom always wore her hair short. She also hated fussing over her kids’ hair. So her first two kids (who were boys) got crewcuts (which were in fashion then) and her second two kids (who were girls) wore pixies (which were only in fashion on Carnaby street, where we did not live). Her rule was that we could grow out our hair when we were old enough to care for it ourselves. Happily, hand-held blow dryers were soon invented and mass-marketed, so I only had to wait until the fourth grade. And I never asked for help when the nape of my neck became a ratsnest of tangles because I didn’t actually know how to take care of it. Ah, lessons learned.

      3. Oh man, I hoped I was the only one, except my mum was emotionally abusive and I lived with her right up until my wedding day at 21 years old.

        Before the wedding my now-husband’s immediate family was having their hair cut/trimmed/neatened at the salon owned by his aunt, and he invited me along because he knew I wanted it cut. My mother gave me so much grief over it – before my goddamn wedding – that I chickened out and simply got the ends neatened. She was relieved and nothing but love and light the whole day. I distinctly remember, afterwards, feeling physically sickened by my hair. I felt so controlled, and my hair felt like it was a violation, almost.

        Her influence carried over until four years after marriage when I finally got it cut in a style I liked – it looked amazing on me, felt so much better, and yet when I saw her after getting it done the first thing I said to her, instinctively, was “don’t freak out”, followed by an uncomfortable visit of her making comments and me snarkily defending myself. Ugh.

        TL;DR: Let your kids make their own damn decisions about their hair, damnit. Help them make good decisions – don’t let them wear styles they can’t maintain or make super rash decisions they might regret – but teach them early that their hair and their body is theirs!

    4. Ugh. yes to the boundaries thing. My (otherwise wonderful) grandmother hated long hair, and she would take me to the “beauty shop” to “make me beautiful” and tell me to close my eyes and I’d open them looking like Ricky Schroder sans feathers. And I fell for it EVERY TIME.Even without that ego-bruise, if I had to design a personal hell, having to pay for a stranger to touch me, repeatedly, commenting about how I do everything wrong (my hair comes out of my head the WRONG COLOR and my face is “too long” for the style I wear, even though a hairstylist never sees it, too much work to take a gazillion bobby pins out of my combat-ready Edwardian fighting-updo and get it cut) while making small talk about sports and celebrities comes pretty close… I cut my hair myself. I do all right.

      I’ve also had a boyfriend who would get literally spittle-spraying angry if I referred to my hair as “long,” because I was somehow self-aggrandizing (my hair is well past my belly button, let down, which was much longer than average in our circle or his family/ church. I was actually afraid to ask him what he thought I should call “long” or how he thought I should refer to it).

      But I agree. I feel like the LW has a strong vibe. Having just read Patricia Evans _Controlling People_, I am reminded of the first step in abuse, a partner/ parent/ whoever becoming threatening when your reality departs from their image of you…

      1. “a boyfriend who would get literally spittle-spraying angry if I referred to my hair as “long,” because I was somehow self-aggrandizing”
        sorry, my head just exploded. wtf?

        1. Right?

          On a personal note, this description has given me new insight into an ex-boyfriend of mine who was constantly trying to get me to cut my hair. He came up with all sorts of reasons — he didn’t like it in his face when we were intimate; he thought it was a symptom (via the image of Lady Godiva covering herself up with her hair) of me being a prude, which is to say, reluctant to perform the sex acts he favored — but I wonder if there was some of this “self-aggrandizing” bullshit going on too. Given that he also reacted to my simple nerdish delight in learning cool shit by accusing me of “showing off,” I wouldn’t put it past him to think that my waist-length hair was me “showing off” too.

          (Don’t worry, I only wasted 6 months on this guy. I was 18 going on 19 and it turned out to be a useful learning experience.)

        2. I think I just implicitly added a “QFT” to my above comment about how treating your boyfriend as omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent is just not good for his headspace OR your relationship.

    5. Yes, what is it about hair? My mother regarded my hair as her hair, that’s the only explanation I can come up with. The amount of nagging I got if I dared to do something to it that she disapproved of told me that I was only borrowing it and how dare I do something so irresponsible to the hair that she owned?

      1. For me (as a mom), I have a strong connection to my daughters hair as it is the only thing that she takes from me. Other than her curls she looks exactly like her dad (including the hair color). It is a nice bond for us and we both love it for now. Having said that, if she wants to chop it off, it is her hair. (And I don’t wear my hair curly most of the time either. So much maintenance)

        1. That isn’t the case with me, I inherited my straight hair from my father’s side. Of course, she viewed straight hair as inferior and constantly nagged me to get perms.

          1. My mom made me straighten it ‘to look tidy’. I look awful with straight hair. My mantra with my daughter is “you are perfect just the way you are”. I hope to manage to raise her without my insecurities

    6. Mothers are funny people, aren’t they? Mine always kept mine super short when I was little, and although I was allowed to grow it out after age 8, she’d always cut my fringe overly short and a bit crooked. I was *never* to wear it down, and she’d even make comments about my hair being thin and scraggy into my 30’s if I didn’t have it up (preferably in a very tidy “french twist”). The odd thing being I actually have amazing hair. Yeah, I’ll say it. It’s thick, but not annoyingly so, slightly wavy, and surprisingly strong considering the home colour abuse I put it through.
      I’ve tried *very* hard to not put my own issues onto my kids, primarily because of that behaviour.

    7. It’s personal, it changes over time by itself (grows, greys), it can be changed dramatically on purpose, it’s highly gendered in our culture, it’s subject to fashions/styles and therefore tends to trigger age and class associations in people’s minds, it varies from person to person in ways that are sometimes related to race or ethnicity, it can take energy to upkeep which people can also judge based on their own baggage…

      …yyyyyyep. It’s a personal/cultural marker, like clothing, and so it sucks in this terrible, fascinating web of people’s baggage.

  25. 1) When I was 15, I chopped off my nearly waist-length hair and my then-boyfriend was angry about it. A few years later, when I was consistently keeping my hair in a sharp chin-length bob, he proudly told me he now supported my short hair, as if I should congratulate him on reaching this point of his journey. I had not, at any point, asked him for his opinions. Even if I had asked him, these opinions would still be irritating; I feel opinions on your personal appearance from a partner should be centred on what makes you feel happy and seen, if that makes sense…?

    2) There’s a passage in (v problematic fave) Dorothy L Sayers’ Gaudy Night where the Dean of not-Somerville, the women’s college, remarks that men need time to get used to changes–months and months are required to reconcile themselves to a new hat, for example, as if this fragility is intrinsic to the gender. Men are at once highly capable but also tiny babies.

    3) When I got a pixie, I kept getting the same question from other people: ‘Is your boyfriend ok with it?’ – I didn’t even tell him I was getting a haircut, just asked him where he got his done because it was cute and I wanted that for myself. I didn’t want or felt the need to run things about my personal appearance past my partner; even if you choose to do so and like it, there still needs to be several bright lines drawn for it to remain 100% ok.

    4) I keep coming back to the idea of being seen as you are. It’s very much A THING where a (usually male) partner has OPINIONS about the appearance of the partner who’s usually a woman or feminine-adjacent, expecting you to fulfil his vision. It’s a spectrum of Not OK, from insisting on telling you unsolicited opinions through to horrific controlling abuse.

    5) It gives me the gently screaming mimis when I hear dudes so casually saying to the women in their lives, ‘Oh, I really wish you’d dress like this,’ and suchlike. Not, ‘I think you’d look amazing, would you want to try?’ but more like ‘FULFIL THE FANTASY’ when there’s no established rapport or sense of time and place. The entitlement is what gets me. And it’s just so blithely accepted, too, when it’s just weird.

    6) LW, your husband should be supportive of you and delight in the idea of you feeling good about yourself!

    1. For me, I think that within a relationship, communication about appearance is good and healthy and all. Like, not that your partner gets a final say in what you do, but that thinking about how changing your looks would affect them is a form of reasonable consideration.
      Now, total goddamn strangers who march up to you and announce that they can’t believe ANY WOMAN would do THAT to her hair (whatever she’s done to it), they can fuck right off, preferably off a cliff.

  26. Saw a tweet relevant to this conversation yesterday, so I’ll quote it, “A boy told my sister she’s too skinny to which she replied “this isn’t build a bitch” and I haven’t been right since.” (from @therealkyleren) Which is possibly the best comeback to anyone’s negative opinions of a woman’s appearance, whether it’s hair length/style/color, weight, piercings, tattoos, makeup, etc., though I know it’s inappropriate in many situations. Not the best phrase for the LW, but I know some of the other commenters will get a kick out of it.

    1. THIS is awesome! I want business cards of that so I can hand it out at crosswalks

  27. LW, I’m agreeing on the communication thing. One of the best things I’ve done for myself is experimenting with my hair color and length (right now I’m in the process of taking it from brown-black to light silver) but it’s shown me a lot about the people in my life. And it’s given me the freedom to tell myself ‘this person is not safe on this subject, I will heretofore disregard anything they say about X’. I also dumped a really nice guy because his comment after I’d gone from a light purple to an emerald green was ‘that’s not professional looking, you’ll need to change that soon’. It taught me a lot about him, but it also taught me a lot about me.

    Definitely communicate with your husband that right now you need to hear ‘I love you’ in more than just those three words, and one of the ways he can say that is by not commenting on your appearance, or only commenting with ‘you look wonderful’ and variations thereof.

        1. I think the point was, nice guy was unaware of this circumstance. (Also, it’s difficult for me to imagine a workplace that’d be fine with light purple but green is just way out of the question. I can only really understand this dude as saying “I don’t like that, how about your boss makes you change it to something I like more?”)

        2. Ayup. If management does (not) have a problem with hair dye, management will (not) convey that information.

          Outside persons need not comment.

  28. LW, this is your hair on your head that we are talking about. When hubby is ready to experiment with his own hair, I’m sure you will be ready to advise him about coloring and exotic cuts, thanks to your own experience.

    True facts: I used to have long, long hair, like brushing the table when you try to eat kind of long.

    Then I developed an allergy to — wait for it — shampoo. I chopped it to slightly past chin-length THE WEEK OF MY SISTER’S WEDDING. Well, that was a different look than I had planned, I don’t mind telling you. I missed my swishy hair, but I was still me, you know?

    I have to wonder, as an aside, if hubby has issues with male baldness.

  29. Not every opinion you have needs shared! …(For those of you who watch The Good Place, remember the parable of Chidi and The Red Boots).
    I didn’t really feel that point from those scenes (and I felt like Chidi’s attempts to use polite fiction were very much taken advantage of by a dude who wanted validation for a questionable choice; I would have been mad if someone took a compliment on their boots as a reason to get kinship boots for me and expect kinship boot wearing), so maybe take from those scenes that when you DO share, you can go somewhere between effusive praise and critical truth without ruining someone’s post-op mood. And that you should be very much aware that there is a time and a place for honesty, not anytime and any place. And your husband should be a little more thoughtful in reeling it back.

    1. All Chidi had to say is “They seem to really suit you, bro!” but he’s Chidi, so, no.

  30. I’m a big fan of beards(I could write an entire essay about my love for beards, so yes it can be a hair thing!), the last guy I was going on dates with had a beautiful beard. When I came back from a holiday it was gone, I was sad about this, asked him why it was gone and then said he should do whatever he feels like and I’ll deal with it.
    Someone can have a preference but they are not entitled to anything relating your hair. I think it’s fine for people to express(once, thats the thing) a preference but it should follow with a form of support. it doesn’t matter what your reason is(comfort, experimenting, boredom, etc). For him to keep bringing it up makes it sound like he feels entitled to your hair which is ridiculous. As the Captain so wel said, he should be your haircheerleader.

  31. I also find myself curious what standard he holds himself to. I have seen that some people have relationships I would hate but that work well for them – people who spend hours at the gym together, or do various other activities or have values and priorities that don’t match mine. But this sounds less like something you’re doing together than like something he’s doing to you and you’re walking on eggshells over.

    I also notice a lot of folks talking about men having ideas that women should have long hair. My husband likes long hair, so he has some. He also really likes long hair on me and would be sad if I cut mine super short, and I’d expect him to give me some warning and talk it over with me if he were going to cut his hair super short too. I am SO much more ok with this than I would be if he could do whatever and I was the one with all the rules (i.e. the usual focus of women needing to be “pretty”). So maybe think about the double standard a bit and whether you have one in your life.

    1. Yeah, my friend and her boyfriend have an agreement, she grows her hair long (it used to be pixie short for forever) and he won’t grow a beard (she hates kissing him with a beard)….it seems to work for them. But I also give him a bit of the side-eye because he told me once women are liars because/when they wear padded bras or something or it’s false advertisement etc.

  32. I met my husband when I was 45/he was just turning 48. We were both divorced, I had been on my own a few years and between work and kids, short hair was part of how I kept sane. He fell in love with me looking that way, but having seen a picture of me with long hair, asked if I’d consider growing it out for him. I was tentatively at the wanting to grow it out part too, so I agreed. Fast forward two years and he’s working a couple of months at a time in a different state, which we’ve grown used to, but my body is falling apart (hip arthritis and sciatica, which no one is ever used to). It was all I could do to get everyone (kids and a small farm full of animals) fed and out the door in the morning before hitting my own hour long commute. All that – and still, I hesitated to cut my hair because I didn’t want to disappoint him. I can only claim that the pain meds must have been getting to my brain, because that is really not me. After he finally returned home, hearing me cry with frustration one morning while trying to get ready for work, he gently said to me, “Honey, you were beautiful when I met you, and you’re beautiful now. If cutting your hair short makes your life easier and makes you happier, please do it.” I almost got a speeding ticket driving to the salon. It’s amazing what the right haircut (and a hip replacement!) can do to make your life better.

    Our marriage is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do appreciate having a partner who tells me on the daily that I look beautiful to him. There are days that I really need to hear someone say it.

    LW, it sounds as if the two of you have created a little dynamic where you’ve implied to him that you’ll change your appearance to suit his whims and he’s taken this as permission to constantly state his preferences. What I HOPE is that when you talk to him about how hurtful these comments of his are and how what you really need from him is positive affirmation, that he will have a moment of realization that his words, however unintentional, have been hurting his partner’s feelings and that he will take it to heart and work on changing the way he talks to you, giving you words of appreciation, letting you know that you are indeed beautiful to him exactly the way you are on any given day.

  33. My mom wasn’t too bad about my hair growing up, though she often threatened to cut it because having her brush it hurt a lot when I was little. (Hello, sensory processing issues.) That always upset me. When I got older, though, she did let me get it cut however, until I cut it very very short when I was 17 and figuring out I was Not A Girl. I kept it that way until I was 22, but it’s mid-back now because I got too lazy to have it cut and my dad wasn’t doing it either. He’s got it cut now, and I’m starting to get a rash on the back of my neck, which is weird and may indicate i have to cut it, but I do like having long hair to play with since I’ll never actually pass as a guy unaltered.

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