When I was at secondary school, there was a fashion for tucking our jumpers into our skirts. Looking back now, I have no idea why we did it, and I can accept that we must have looked stupid, but for some reason it made sense to us at the time. It was a way for us to identify what we were about. What we looked like became a shorthand for who we wanted to be (although goodness only knows why that involved tucking your jumper in your skirt). At around the same time, I got my hair permed, and sprayed Sun-In into it to make it lighter. I must have looked a sight with my curly orange frizz, but those superficial acts of rebellion were part of me figuring out who I wanted to be. Not long after, punk started trying to destroy everything that had gone before. Old people (adults) were horrified about what young people were doing. At school we were torn between shock and fascination. How brave did you have to be to get piercings and walk down the street with a Mohican? How scary were punks? Could that really be an option for us when we grew up?
As I got older, and I became more serious about becoming a dancer, I spent a lot of time scraping my hair back into a bun. Our hair had to look smooth, and it definitely couldn’t get in the way of our spins. Hairspray and Kirby grips it was. We were all pulled back and buttoned up and in thrall to the discipline of dance. Then in the summer after I stopped dancing, I cut off all my hair and basically embarked on a new life. Hair cuts are a great way to define the changes you want to make. You can create them as easily as finding a pair of scissors (which is why the kid once had a wobbly fringe) although you can only really work with the hair that you’ve got, which is either a shame or a blessing. Watching my kids, as they experiment with hair cuts and hair styling products, I thank my lucky stars how proficient hairdressers are nowadays. It’s a far cry from my mum’s hairdresser friend, the chemical perms and the fake sunshine in a bottle. So this is why I find debates about hair cuts and school confusing. While I get some of the reasons why people think it’s important, I don’t understand them. Hair styles aren’t about learning, and they’re not about behaviour. They are about how we want children and young people to identify.