I like pigtails, but I’m too scared to wear them to work.
Wearing pigtails is often considered unprofessional, and I worry that people will respect me less.
In Tina Fey’s book Bossypants she writes, “If you are a woman and you bought this book for practical tips on how to make it in a male-dominated workplace, here they are. No pigtails, no tube tops.”
I understand that this is a joke, but when I read “no pigtails,” my first thought was, Oh no. I’ve let down Tina Fey. Sometimes I wear pigtails. Am I setting myself up to fail?
A lot of advice intended to help women ends up sounding more like criticism of women. Each tip turns into one more thing to add to an endless list of rules required to simply exist.
Women are encouraged to constantly worry about how they should and shouldn’t look. School dress codes typically focus on what girls can’t wear. Tips for how women should present themselves at work are complicated — you shouldn’t be too sexy, too trendy, too matronly, too harsh, too boring, too dressy, or too casual. And on top of figuring out your professional aesthetic, being a woman comes with the constant reminder to LOOK ATTRACTIVE AND YOUTHFUL AT ALL TIMES.
OK, but how youthful? Because according to some products I’ve seen at the drugstore, I’m maybe supposed to look like an actual baby.
Wait, so looking like a baby is good?
I know braided pigtails are kind of trendy right now, thanks in part to Kylie Jenner. I chose this as my first look because braids seem like the most sophisticated version of pigtails. But I felt very self-conscious at the office. On me, this hairstyle doesn’t evoke cool music festivals so much as it does me trying desperately to sell you hot chocolate. Seriously though, will you buy my hot chocolate? Please. I need this. It comes with tiny marshmallows.
But mostly like this.
Pigtails like this have always seemed too whimsical to wear to any office I’ve ever worked in. The last time I wore this hairstyle was in high school and a classmate told me I looked “psychotic.”
I like it. It gives me a “Come, run away with me so we can live in the forest” vibe. Or an “I live in a hut on the beach because I’m trying to escape from my past and no surfer boy can tame my wild heart” kind of vibe.
But I will probably never wear this hairstyle to the office again. I felt like my hair was screaming, “Look at me! I’m quirky and fun!” And worse, when I was in an important meeting with someone I had just met, one of the elastic bands broke and one of my pigtails exploded. I tried to play it cool, like that was the look I was going for all along.
But my hairstyle malfunction did manage to compromise my professionalism. Only loop those clear elastics twice! Three times and you’re asking for an explosion.
I was dreading the side ponytail. I thought it was going to look dumb. I never even tried to wear this style as a kid because I thought it was too goofy. But I was surprised to discover the adult side pony gives off a certain Blake Lively sleekness. I mean, is this really just a photo of Blake Lively? Essentially, yes.
I actually would wear this to the office again. I didn’t feel self-conscious at all.
Two identical images.
One time Pinterest convinced me that adult bows were a good idea. I went straight to Etsy and ordered some, like the one above. I tried to wear it once. And someone made a comment like “interesting bow,” and I never wore them again. But I kept them, thinking one day I would find a way to make them work.
Trying to force this bow to happen made me realize this might not be the aesthetic I want in life, in general. I feel like I’m Zooey Deschanel-ing too hard. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not for me. A light Deschanel-ing is all I can handle.
But wait — maybe I’m just being influenced by the stigma of bows. My mom told me that when she was in college as an engineering student, she and her friends called the education majors “bow heads” because they wore bows a lot (something she now regrets saying and describes as “terrible.”)
Bows are complicated. Men are expected to wear bows to formal occasions (in the form of ties, but it really looks the same). But when a woman wears one in her hair, we act like it says something about her identity.
This look made me feel like I was coming in last in a child beauty pageant, right before being disqualified for not meeting the age requirements. I felt shame as I left the house. My reflection in store windows startled me. I accidentally made eye contact with an attractive man on the train. He gave me a weird look. I wondered why, and then I remembered my hair.
I got a shocking number of compliments on these bows from my co-workers, but they have questionable taste. “Where do you even buy bows like that?” (Etsy, obviously.)
After this day I really wondered if I’d done any damage to my professional reputation with some of the people at work I don’t know as well. I did feel like a few people were judging me. But they may have just been jealous, or genuinely curious as to how a 6-year-old girl got a job working in an office.
I decided to stop by a liquor store to see if they would card me if I tried to buy booze. They didn’t. So I couldn’t fool them. Unless they just have no problem selling wine to a child.
Children’s hairstyles: Yay or nay?
I know I’m extremely lucky to work in a casual office. If I worked someplace else these hairstyles might result in an awkward email from my boss or HR.
Wearing pigtails to work made me realize I was avoiding looking a certain way in exchange for phantom respect and mobility in my career. But a person’s perception of my appearance is mostly out of my control. I can try to put the onus on myself by following the rules of “how to look professional,” but there’s no guarantee that will change anyone’s opinion. Women have so many different (often conflicting) rules for how they’re supposed to look on any given occasion, it’s impossible to follow them all. So I should maybe just wear the pigtails if I can get away with it.
But my biggest life lesson was that if I wear a side ponytail, I look like Blake Lively’s twin. Blake, if you’re reading this (and obviously you are), take a look at my hair and decide if you think we should be best friends. I assume you’re saying yes. Great. It’s all coming together. See you soon!
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