Less hair, more hope

pic_201308_23Sometimes I wish all women with long hair would wear head scarves.

Friday night, close to 11 pm, and the metro was packed — though that in itself was not unusual. I was squeezed between two young women who seemed to have taken a lot of trouble to dress up for thank-god-it’s-friday socials rather than for work. Nothing wrong with that, except that I think the one at my left elbow had had too much to drink. With every jerk and sway of the train, she lost her balance. Between her and the one on my right who was speaking animatedly with her friends, swivelling her head ever so often, my face was repeatedly swept by hair.

Ewww.

* * * * *

The Minister for Education had to intervene personally. Only then did the principal of St Margaret’s Secondary School relent. The kerfuffle was over two students who took part in a Hair for Hope event, raising funds for the Children’s Cancer Foundation. They had their heads shaved to demonstrate solidarity with kids who have lost their hair as a result of chemotherapy, and to raise awareness for the cause.

But this drew the ire of their principal, as they had not donned wigs, as they had promised earlier.

The school’s rules do not allow “punk, unfeminine or sloppy hairstyles”. Said principal Marion Tan: “It’s very clear in our mission: it’s about their turnout as a young lady.”

— Straits Times, 2 August 2013, Girls’ bald move a no-go at school, by Grace Chua

The two Secondary 3 girls were called out from class and made to purchase a wig each, at a reported $70.

While the principal’s chief justification was that the girls, when they sought permission to shave their heads had earlier promised to cover up, and promises must be kept, it is not hard to discern that underlying the whole issue was Marion Tan’s determination to impose her idea of “feminine” appearance. Why else would she have made the girls promise to wear wigs in the first place?

But the students and parents, including Leia’s mother Emily Chia, argued that covering up was against the spirit of Hair for Hope.

Said Madam Chia, 41: “The purpose of Hair for Hope is to show children with cancer that it’s okay to be bald.”

— ibid.

Singapore schools put too much stress on conformity at the expense of originality. This is a criticism that many have levelled at multiple aspects of our education system, which has been known for producing adults weak at critical thinking and problem-solving. When it comes to social roles and sexuality education, the conformity demanded tends to be of the embarrassingly conservative kind. Rigid rules about gender appearance are only the most obvious examples, as this case shows.

These things never stand alone. Demands for genderised presentation are inextricably co-mingled with expectations of gender roles. And these dovetail with insistence on hetero-normativity. Ultimately, they result in closed minds. Yet, Singapore’s education system seems not to have noticed.

* * * * *

Look around and one of the most striking things is how just about every young woman in Singapore keeps her hair long even when it’s not very practical in our hot and humid weather. When working with machines, it is downright dangerous; in fields such as catering or healthcare, it is unhygienic.

And in crowded trains, it is patently anti-social.

Yet you’d be hard-pressed to spot an exception. The women with short hair are almost always over 35, when, I suppose, looks don’t trump everything else. Still, the point remains: granted that young adults care a lot more for looks, nonetheless why must looking good equate with long hair? The sheer uniformity of it suggests a tacit norm. It may not be one that the individuals themselves are conscious of, but the visible result points to its existence.

At once, some readers will take exception to my opinion. “I choose to wear my hair long,” they will insist.

Yes, you did, but what influenced this choice? What subliminal standards of femininity are at work? Who introduced and propagated these standards?

pic_201308_24

As the photos here (easily obtained from surfing the web) attest, short styles can be very good-looking indeed. Yet we rarely see them around in Singapore. Are we lacking in imagination? Actually, we don’t even need imagination; any number of fashion magazines will have models with short hair. I think it’s more a case of being conditioned to groom ourselves in a certain way in order to live up to certain implanted gender and social roles. In other words, even when we see examples of good-looking shorter-haired girls, we still feel ‘it’s not me’, and not even pause to examine what it is that boxes us in.

pic_201308_25Lest you think I’m saying only girls are so affected, let me also recount an incident. I was with about seven or eight guys, varying in age from early twenties to their forties. As far as I can tell, all straight. Every single one of them wore black — and I pointed it out. No, it wasn’t a funeral. Partly, I reckon, the colour choice has something to do with perceived fashion and lazy defaulting to a ‘contemporary-enough’ shade, but partly too there is a sense that brighter colours aren’t very masculine (now, why is that?).

Coming back to girls, there is one exception that I should mention. When I am with a roomful of lesbians and other queer women, I see a diversity of hair styles, short and long. And it’s not hard to discern why, for these are the ones who don’t accept — can’t accept for the deepest personal reasons — heteronormatvity and all the gender roles and rules that go with it. Liberated from all this rubbish, they are also free to choose how they’d dress their hair. Diversity is the result.

Generally I don’t give a fig how other people wear their hair — until they swish it around my face — but I suspect it doesn’t stop there. The troubling possibility is this:  that the uniformity in hair styles we generally see in young women here may indicate that inside their heads, they’ve been equally conditioned too and not just in standards of beauty. Uniformity may indicate a deep insecurity about non-conformity and a fear of venturing afield. Thinking outside the box, the willingness to experiment, desire for originality, and the courage to be different — all these may have been compromised.

That would be sad. So perhaps, the day we see some relief from the bondage of tresses may be the day we can have a bit more hope.

48 Responses to “Less hair, more hope”


  1. 1 weliveinaflat 12 August 2013 at 16:15

    Short hair actually requires more regular maintenance to upkeep. With long hair, you tie it in a ponytail and visit the hairdresser once a year.

    • 2 yawningbread 12 August 2013 at 19:51

      If long hair is so much more practical maintenance-wise, how would you explain the fact that most people have short hair? That is, if you add up virtually all the males plus perhaps half of females over 35, plus some queer women, you’d get more than 50% of the population.

      If you argue that males keep short hair because they’ve been conditioned to see it as part of their gender identity, how then can you suggest that young women are free from such conditioning, and that they keep their hair long for utterly rational reasons?

      • 3 Jake 12 August 2013 at 20:05

        I think they said they were allergic to the wigs. Should the principal even have ventured to subvert the idea behind the movement to preserve the sanctity of her ideas of femininity? If she hasn’t done so, no one will get to idea that this is a convenient button to push to challenge her authority. Had she shot herself in the foot now?

    • 4 Cami 13 August 2013 at 22:33

      Yup. Totally agree. Short hair requires more maintenance and is harder to keep neat.

    • 5 yuene 14 August 2013 at 10:25

      I agree–short hair is, more often than not, more difficult to maintain. There’s a good reason why those pixie-cut hairstyles look good: there’s quite a fair bit of styling, blowing and teasing into shape to get it to look that way, and then only until you accidentally brush your hand or arm or bag strap against your head.

      I personally keep my hair long most of the time so that it’s easier to gather into a ponytail, and to keep neat while I dance. Furthermore, I have frizzy hair which also has a natural wave, making it even harder to control. It’s just simple. It’s fuss-free, and for a person who doesn’t get a lot of sleep in the first place, I appreciate every moment not spent putting and getting the gunk off my head, and then having to spend even more time going for treatments to keep my hair feeling normal later, and maintaining the look by going to a salon. I could just leave it without styling, but I hate spending just to keep up some image. It’s got little to do with how womanly I look, and more to do with money and time, and my own dislike for consumerism.

      And yes, I did do Hair For Hope in 2009, and I kept my bald pate uncovered the whole time, till my hair grew out. And from time to time, I do get tired of stuff tickling me at the back of my neck, and snip it all off. Only for it to start tickling again (and to be too short to tie up). I still do it, because I want to change my look. It’s not a protest against traditional images of femininity.

      While I agree that there are a lot of women out there who subscribe to pre-conceived notions of femininity, I’d dare say that most of us do so largely because it’s the least trouble.

      • 6 mrstomhiddleston 1 September 2013 at 10:56

        Well said! Emma Watson’s pixie-cut made me want to chop my long wavy locks off so I could rock that hairdo, no matter how many times my male friends insist she looks better with long hair. Unfortunately such a hairstyle requires too much patience and maintenance, both in terms of cost and time. Gender expectations have nothing to do with it – short hair can appear unkept and frizzy if not well-maintained and it is not a good look on ANYONE, male or female. I’d totally do a Anne Hathaway and lop it all off if I had loads of money and time on my hands.

        Women don’t make style decisions based on what men think are “feminine” or “sexy” (unless that man happens to be Zac Posen); we do it based on our personal taste, or in some cases, what’s low-maintenance and most easily pulled into a ponytail/bun in the morning.

  2. 7 bluetingeddreams 12 August 2013 at 16:24

    Hmm, I think it’s quite unfair to say that Singaporean females are conditioned to conform to having long hair. I’m a Singaporean female, I’m not a lesbian, I’m not 35 yet and I keep my hair long or short as the mood strikes me. Heck, I even change my hair colour from black to red to brown. This I’ve been doing since I’ve been a wee slip of a girl.

    As for the St Margaret’s Secondary School case, frankly, I think that if the girls had promised to wear a wig, they should be held to their promise. In the first place, they should not have made the promise and should have perhaps tried harder to convince the principal of what they were trying to achieve. They should not have made a promise they did not intend to keep, as an easier way out.

    That said, I find it incredibly irritating too when females swing their long hair in my face. I wonder if straight men have a different opinion?

    • 8 CK 13 August 2013 at 08:10

      Depends on how chio the females are.

    • 9 nliu 13 August 2013 at 22:09

      To me, it seems quite clear that any “promise” made by a student to her principal is unlikely to have been freely given. I suspect it was more in the nature of an imposed condition which they then “agreed” to.

      • 10 bluetingeddreams 14 August 2013 at 13:54

        To say that takes away from the bravery that they have shown in shaving off their hair. I would like to think that girls brave enough to do such a thing would not be the sort that conforms to such “imposed conditions” without thought.

        To clarify my stand, I do not agree with the principal’s antiquated ideas of femininity and think that it’s silly that that’s the reason being given to why the girls had to wear a wig in the first place. However, I do have an issue with how people are so quick to criticise the principal when she was not in the wrong in ensuring that her students keep to their word. To not do so would have to spread the message that it’s ok to break your promises.

  3. 11 yuen 12 August 2013 at 18:11

    taking the parts together, it is obvious you approve the example of the St Margaret girls and would like everyone to emulate them by going bald; such a movement would surely attract the attention of the international press, and prove to the world that Singapore is non-conformist, hip, spiritual, anti-cancer, pro-chemotherapy, etc and do much to confirm the government’s positive attitude towards openness……

    and increased sales of wigs would boost the GDP…..

  4. 14 Jake 12 August 2013 at 19:40

    If the education encourages creativity and fosters heteronormality, students will be more independent thinkers and more adaptable to a knowledge based economy. Unfortunately for the ruling party, such a situation might also breed what they would consider an unruly electorate less willing to accept everything and more willing to question. Might not the orthodoxy of one party dominance by PAP be the main obstacle to achieving such a desirable education environment and culture?

  5. 16 swh 12 August 2013 at 20:22

    There is social normativity everywhere – that’s what living in a society entails. It is not just about hair or dress, standards of behaviour, how you act in front of other people, the habits you keep, those count as standards too. All of our decisions are part made by ourselves and part influenced by our surroundings – it would be erroneous to believe complete free choice is ours to make, just as it would be morose to think that everything we do is predetermined by society. If keeping long hair for these girls gets them compliments like “you look pretty” and wearing black for guys makes them look “handsome”, people will have the mindset of “Why fix it when it ain’t broken?”, and yes while lack of creativity may be to blamed, but ultimately we choose which social expectations we conform to and which we reject. Such is how we navigate society, and it is this choice of the individual that allows us to live.

  6. 17 PR 12 August 2013 at 20:47

    I am female, straight, kept my hair short for most of my adult life, still under 35. I also have a number of friends who are like that too. So I think your statement about the type of women with short hair is over-generalising.

    I don’t like having hair swished against me in the trains either, but I think that is more a question of lack of etiquette (on the part of the “swisher”) rather than going to support your point on conformity.

    I do have a bone to pick with a school policy that requires girls to look “feminine” or not look “unfeminine”, if indeed there is such a policy. What in the world is feminine or unfeminine?! And I am not even a feminist. I am glad I never went to school like that before! Not sure if I would put my own child through that either.

    • 18 yawningbread 12 August 2013 at 21:16

      “So I think your statement about the type of women with short hair is over-generalising.”

      I didn’t say “all” young women keep short hair. But the next few times you ride buses or trains, or visit a busy shopping mall, count the percentage.

  7. 19 ape@kinjioleaf 12 August 2013 at 20:58

    “Uniformity may indicate a deep insecurity about non-conformity and a fear of venturing afield.”

    However, uniformity can also be a means to prevent stereotyping or discrimination.

    In any case, shouldn’t we be more discerning when occasions call for uniformity and when not?

  8. 20 Goh EH 13 August 2013 at 00:01

    Short hair, more hygenic, high revolt.
    Should all Singapore girls take up Alex advice, this is what they’ll look like …. Short hair revolution… see here🙂
    http://bit.ly/16a4dGx

    • 21 yuen 13 August 2013 at 03:45

      while I prefer not to invoke the spectre of cultural revolution, the St Margaret incident does raise the issue of distribution of power in Singapore society:- even a matter like ordering the girls to wear wigs ultimately has to be decided by a cabinet minister, and the school principal doesnt actually have the authority

      when the minister overrulled the principle, did he provide support for non-conformity? it might be so from the students’ point of view, but from the point of view of the principal and other middle level managers, the event confirms the following conventional wisdoms

      1. we have no power of our own

      2. every decision we make should be in accordance with existing instructions

      3. if something is not covered by existing instructions, …

  9. 22 mj 13 August 2013 at 00:37

    I think it is more of a personal preference and the desire to attract guy’s attention and cover up flaws. I think you are over-analysing it. Most guys do like girls with long hair. This is a very natural thing. Nothing to do with conformity for the sake of it. Given a bald girl and a girl with long hair, I would choose the latter if all else is the same.

    • 23 J 13 August 2013 at 01:09

      Natural thing hahaha. Obviously not understanding what Alex is saying. Lol

      • 24 yawningbread 13 August 2013 at 09:56

        I would add: standards of beauty are cultural. In Mauritania, the traditional standard is that fat girls are beautiful, and so women go to great lengths to make sure their daughters get fat. Let’s not imagine that our standards of beauty are any more natural or that we don’t likewise promote all sorts of cultural practices to achieve them.

        http://personalitycafe.com/current-events/67035-mauritania-cultural-beauty-standard-overweight.html

        see also:

      • 25 mj 13 August 2013 at 12:40

        It is an issue in Africa, but Singapore is not Africa. Parents here do not force it upon their children. It is more of a self-awareness thing. Girls do not get ostracised if they keep their hair short. As adults, they do have a choice to do what they want with their hair.

      • 26 nliu 13 August 2013 at 22:13

        @mj: Perhaps not directly, but there’s general social pressure to wear it at a certain length. It feeds into–and is fed by–homophobia and related stereotypes (i.e. a woman with hair that is “too” short is bound to be gay, OH NOES).

      • 27 mj 14 August 2013 at 14:39

        @nliu, I tend to disagree. Gay or not is not judged based on hair length, but their behaviour with same sex friends.

    • 28 dk 13 August 2013 at 22:13

      When does an ‘analysis’ become an ‘over-analysis’? People who say ‘you are over-analysing it’ never seem to think very hard. Most guys like girls with long hair? Why? How is this a ‘natural thing’?

  10. 29 Anders 13 August 2013 at 08:40

    Although I agree with what you say, I find it strange that you lament about conformity of hairstyles among young women, while at the same time the hair style conformity among young men is even bigger and even more directly enforced by the schools. Elephant in the room?

  11. 31 Humph 13 August 2013 at 11:22

    I’m 34, and from observing peers’ parenting of their tots, all I can say is gender conditioning begins [superbold]very early in life[/superbold], and hair is oddly a large part of it. Parents of baby girls can’t wait until they have long enough hair as a means to differentiate their gender, and girls and boys are dressed in different colours and given different toys.

    It’s all very alarming for me. These people had the best sort of education Singapore could offer (and subsequently went on to Oxbridge, Ivy Leagues) and it’s not made a difference. We had the same GP lessons hadn’t we? Heck, they probably wrote more eloquent essays denouncing the evils of sexism than I did.

    But what do I know – I’m not a parent. On the flipside of the coin a friend related to me how she used to dress her baby girl in very simple, gender neutral clothes until the child started to form her own opinions and chose very frilly pink dresses for herself!

  12. 32 ybin 13 August 2013 at 11:57

    While there certainly may be some element of social/cultural conditioning regarding what human features are considered attractive/desirable, there may also be more “scientific” (e.g., evolutionary biology) explanations for such preferences.

    A Wikipedia article on long hair has this to say about hair length and female attractiveness: ” … Long lustrous female hair is rated attractive by both men and women across cultures. An evolutionary psychology explanation for this attraction is that hair length and quality can act as a cue to youth and health, signifying a woman’s reproductive potential…”

    I personally also find women with long hair that is well maintained, styled and un-tied up to be generally more attractive.

    If you think about it, the criteria for male attractiveness are perhaps even more rigid. [Here, I originally wrote that men with long hair are much less likely to be considered attractive than their female counterparts with short hair. But some quick google search did not yield any confirmatory results. So I will just say that personally, I consider men with short hair to be more attractive than those with (e.g., shoulder-length) long hair].

    I do realize that the thrust of your article is about potentially subverting existing (beauty) standards, rather than explore why such standards exist in the first place. I suppose we cannot help wanting to be perceived as attractive. And the easiest way to maximize the chance of that is to do the best we can to adhere to the prevalent beauty standards. It’s easier that way. Individuals do not feel the burden or need to modify existing norms, nor do they necessarily have the power to do so, right?

  13. 33 Daniel Ling 13 August 2013 at 13:29

    Dear Alex, this is one of the few articles of yours which I completely disagree with on multiple levels. Every society has its cultural norms (let’s leave right or wrong moralising out of this for now). Many (including degree of conformity) are arbitrary, granted, but every society has them. It is simply part of the human experience, a result of the way we are wired. One cannot simply wish this away (as I feel your article tends towards). Youth will be youth and will always seek to push these normative boundaries set by adults, to the latter’s ire. Much of the time, this is achieved by equally arbitrary “up yours” gestures against social norms, often seeking to maximise shock value as an end in and of itself.

    Should we encourage or suppress this? It depends. Adults do sometimes know better (smoking, extreme body mods and other social ills come to mind), but other times, are simply grasping at the straws of control.

    I argue that allowing some room for youthful experimentation is entirely justified, but that there should be limits. And adults have legitimate grounds to signal their preparedness to enforce these limits by having occasionally arbitrary OB markers, as a “buffer zone” between acceptable behaviour and harmful behaviour. Like how exit ramps on expressways have chevrons which it is illegal to drive over, to keep drivers well away from the actual barrier. To bring this back to the issue of hairstyles, schools should have style rules, which should be followed, even if arbitrary.

    I think that the principal was entirely justified in her initial response (just as her flexibility on the issue later was laudable); surely one can foresee the floodgates for abuse being opened, with girls jumping on the bandwagon to shave their heads, more to shock their school/parents than out of a genuine wish to express solidarity with cancer victims. At worst, it could devolve into a fad, trivialising the hair for hope cause.

    Also, to add to the point made by fellow commenter Anders, your essay doesn’t seem to complain about how men in cold European climes keep short hair, as an act of conformity to social norms there.

    Perhaps your thrust of having females embrace short hair is slightly biased, and making a mountain of a molehill.

    • 34 Anders 13 August 2013 at 16:19

      I would just like to clarify that I find hair style rules based on gender to be nothing but sexist nonsense, and that it’s shameful for any school to try to condition our kids into chauvinist non thinking idiots in such a way. My comment above was to point out that this kind of conditioning is already in place and enforced a much higher degree for our boys, but nobody seems to notice or care.

    • 35 Anders 13 August 2013 at 16:27

      About the “floodgates of abuse being opened” you are so very wrong. There are many places around the world without _any_ hair style rules in schools, but this doesn’t make the kids want to shave their heads or do anything else extreme. Most kids still choose to conform to the norms, and for the very few who don’t, what’s the harm??

    • 36 dk 13 August 2013 at 22:30

      First you say “Youth will be youth and will always seek to push these normative boundaries set by adults, to the latter’s ire.” Then you say, “Adults do sometimes know better (smoking, extreme body mods and other social ills come to mind), but other times, are simply grasping at the straws of control.”

      Can you please have a moment to think about what you are saying and the contradiction here? What does ‘Youth will be youth’ mean? Do you really believe that adults, in general, are more sensible than youths… if it is possible to make such a generalisation in the first place?

      OK. So let’s assume we accept that there should be ‘limits’ and ‘OB markers’… Who set them? The same unreasonable people who then insist that these limits are maintained? You said “School rules should be followed even if they are arbitrary”… Does this not make you precisely the object of Alex’s criticism?

      Also, the school principal had NO say in the end. She wasn’t being flexible. In Singapore, once the minister has spoken, everybody will fall in line… probably and especially you.

      So if shaving our heads become a fad, if that would trivialise the cause, should the cause remain unpopular? Supported only by a few? Can you name a popular movement that does not lend itself to ‘floodgates of abuse’?

      • 37 Daniel Ling 14 August 2013 at 01:16

        I see no contradiction here. I was merely making an observation. Youth rebel and old people nag. Sometimes, these naggy elders are needlessly straitlaced, other times, they are actually prudent. Just like online chatter is not always just noise.

        To the extent that adults err on the side of safety and youth on the side of gratification (that phrases such as “youthful exuberance” and “he mellowed over the years” exist is proof enough), yes, adults often are more sensible. Should that be surprising? Our impulse control circuits are not fully developed until early adulthood.

        Who set these OB markers? No matter what type of society (band, tribe, chiefdom or state, take your pick), it overwhelmingly tends to be elders. Unreasonable? I don’t think so. Human, more like.

        I concede that the principal did not have much say in reversing her decision. But I did not appreciate the personal attack, thanks.

        A balance has to be struck in publicity stunts for solemn causes. If the plight of some persecuted people was brought to the public consciousness by a campaign selling slogan-emblazoned underwear, I would not be surprised if they would take offence, good intentions notwithstanding. Hair for hope as a campaign is fine, but I’m not sure if I am comfortable with endorsing it for schoolgoing girls. Maybe I’m a prude.

        I believe you misquoted me. I said, “schools should have STYLE rules, which should be followed, even if arbitrary”. If a school decrees we should do the chicken dance every 3 minutes, no, I don’t think we should follow it. However, if it decrees that white, and not coloured socks should be worn, it should be followed. This is simply a logical extension of having a school uniform in the first place.

        And to pre-empt the next argument, no, I don’t think abolishing school uniforms will suddenly cause a creative awakening among Singaporean students. I think it is neither a symptom nor a cause of our conformist culture. Many, more innovative countries also do have the practice of wearing uniforms.

        But uniforms (and dress codes) make a tempting and visible target whenever conformity and the stifling of innovation is discussed. I think structural and systemic features of our country (our “one correct answer only” exams, regulated media etc) are much more responsible for our dullness.

  14. 38 Piffle 13 August 2013 at 16:40

    It’s so annoying when hairs get stuck between your teeth. Good job they’re short and curly….long hair would be a real pain.

  15. 40 Chloe 13 August 2013 at 22:40

    If I had a dollar the number of times that classmates and guys have told me “girls look better with long hair” or “why don’t you like long hair?”, I’d be rich!

    I’m 24 and have kept a short bob all my life. I dislike how it becomes all unkempt once it grows below shoulder-level. Also as a wee rebel in primary school, I’d learnt to associate long hair with femininity and I rejected that, I wanted to hang from monkey bars upside down with unhindered vision. Short hair is probably more leceh as I do have to run to the salon every few months to maintain a tropical climate-friendly hair length but it seems gender norms > practicality.

    It seems some parents use long hair to “enforce” heteronormativity as well. I know a girl who loved playing drums and football, and her mum dictated that she should keep long hair at all times to “prevent” herself from turning into a lesbian.

  16. 41 yawningbread 13 August 2013 at 23:19

    The reactions to this essay are typical of reactions each time I write about society. When I write about politics, responses take a very different pattern: there is a lot of echoing what I say. When I write about society, at least half the responses are characterised by a relatively superficial reading and a kneejerk, self-referenced reaction (implicitly: “why are you criticising me???”)

    I do understand why there is this difference in reaction pattern. When I write about politics, the object is the Other whom we like to criticise. When I write about society, the object is Us, and for some, it’s too close to home.

    This essay is actually not about hair. If you thought so, you have not read it with sufficient understanding. The discussion about hair is just to open a door into a discussion about conformity

    – the ways it is instilled
    – the roots of the desire for conformity which can reach deep into notions of social roles and the ordering of society

    It is also about how people may not even be conscious of the extent to which their own conception of the self has been moulded/manipulated.

    The social purpose of such an essay is to draw attention to this aspect of our selves and the way we’ve been made. Unless we’re even aware we’ve been conditioned, how do we exercise any choice about overcoming it if we wish to. It’s about self-awareness, and making ourselves less of a robot and more of an autonomous human.

    • 42 nethc 14 August 2013 at 10:13

      After reading your article at breadtalk, I lifted my head from my phone screen, and took a quick count around the space.
      14 out of 16 women are with long hair.
      2 out of 10 men are with short hair,
      1 is balding,
      1 (me) has long hair.

      We (Singaporeans) do conform more.
      Not just in the way we dress, but in the way we live (hdb), in the way we express our opinions (lack of free speech) & in the way we think (many stopped thinking).

    • 43 dk 14 August 2013 at 16:38

      I second this view. As a Singaporean living overseas but who is keen to engage with my friends in Singapore, I often find it frustrating because any discussion not about criticising politics or politicians as ‘them’ but brings to light a certain critical perspective (which may simply be a moot point for further discussion) immediately brings many people to a defensive position as though they are being criticised at a personal level. The discussion cannot grow because it is stunted by “you are over-thinking it”, “you are generalising”, “not everyone is like that”, “I didn’t say this or that”. This leads me to conclude that our critical culture is very weak, as is our visual literacy and media literacy. But that is a different topic…

  17. 44 singaporearmchaircritic 14 August 2013 at 12:59

    The notion of beauty is socially-conditioned and powered by commercial interests. In the last decade or so, the image of a beautiful woman has become increasingly homogeneous, especially in East Asia.

    Just look at the celebrities in China and Taiwan: most of them are (overly-)thin, fair (or pale), has long hair and unbelievably taut skin (thanks to botox). The hottest “beauty” products are, no surprise, whitening lotions, anti-ageing products etc. Beauty salons make big money selling all sorts of weight-loss regimens to women who are only fat by the unrealistic standards of today’s fashion and entertainment industries.

    In South Korea, the social conditioning of beauty has even extended to one’s facial features. Going under the knife to alter one’s looks is very common and so many Korean TV stars are indistinguishable from one another. With the rise of K-pop the Korean definition of beauty is, unfortunately, gaining traction in other Asian societies.

  18. 46 Ink 15 August 2013 at 05:31

    As a point of interest, there used to be a few schools in Singapore (including River Valley, Paya Lebar MGS, and Nanyang Girls’) with rules forbidding girls from keeping long hair. But the rules have since been relaxed, if I’m not mistaken.

    There’s one scene in That Girl In Pinafore that is anachronistic because of this rule change.🙂

  19. 47 Annoyed 15 August 2013 at 05:45

    Thanks Alex.

    As a female (below 35) who’s had short hair for the last 15 years or so, I appreciate your insightful article into cultural norms and what we are conditioned into believing is “normal”.

    For years, I’ve been told to try keeping my hair long because “men find longer hair more attractive” and “it will make you look more feminine.” To this, I say BOLLOCKS!

    I do not, and will never have, the long, lustrous hair so prevalent on Pantene models. Wearing my hair long will make me look like the incarnation of Mother Earth, which is why I choose NOT to. I don’t give a rat’s arse if “men” think it’s unfeminine. And anyone who tries to pressure me into leaving my hair should mind his or her own business.

    Interestingly, I just returned from a trip to Europe where my friend was gushing that “every single person looks like a movie star.” I rolled my eyes and pointed out that it’s because we’ve collectively been conditioned to believe that “tall + thin + high, straight noses = good”. I added fthat if Africans had ruled the world, we wouldn’t even be having that discussion!

  20. 48 Kuok Minghui 16 August 2013 at 00:07

    The problem is this: Does the principal knows the actual purpose behind the support shown for the cancer victims? I don’t mind following the rules, but I don’t believe in worshiping them if the act itself is not constructive. There needs to be a certain line drawn between necessity and red tape culture. To be honest, I’m not that surprised, but I do see this as a challenge the government needs to address if we are to make good the whole “kampung spirit” concept.


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