I’ve been fascinated for a lot of years about the pre-occupation with controlling women’s’ appearance in high control groups such as The Truth.
Women and their hair and general appearance is given such high importance, discussed to the point its fetishized in my opinion. The length and style of women’s hair, the style of their clothing is considered to demonstrate about her devoutness, her dedication to The Truth. Women’s appearance is judged, constantly on display. It is both a signal of our devoutness, and a signal to the ‘world’ of our difference.
I was never comfortable with my hair and my clothing –I was always conscious that my appearance made me stand out. I recall being 12, in the first year of high school, and realising that at some point I had to embrace wearing my hair like other Truth Women. I had always worn my hair down, or in a loose ponytail – and I had a realisation that my hair gave me the appearance of being ‘immodest’ and that I needed to pin it back, tie it into a tight bun. I had a vague idea that made me more ‘modest’, a ‘good girl’.
I recall (male) workers asking why I didn’t pin my hair up, and older family members encouraging me to put my hair back. Every woman around me wore her hair in a bun, I rarely recall seeing either of my grandmothers without a bun. It was expected that I would also pin my hair up, and to be modest.
Women’s hair receives such unjustified attention – too short, too stylish, not pined up. Looks dyed, has a fringe cut – these are all used as indicators of a woman’s devotion to god and to her faith. By extension – also the faith and devoutness of her family. A woman’s hair and appearance is a sudo-indicator of the devoutness of HER FAMILY – not of her own beliefs, of her own identity – but that of her family. Women and their hair is scrutinised, judged, and used to condemn women (and families) as ‘worldly’.
I was conscious from around 10 years of age that my clothing was used to judge the devoutness of my parents to The Truth. I knew that the length of my dress mattered, and that I should not wear trousers. I knew that dressing ‘immodestly’ reflected badly on my parents.
Our appearance is used against us, it is a tool to control us. Controlling a woman’s appearance is abuse, and I now realise that is why I felt uncomfortable with the subtle (and sometimes overt) pressure to conform to hair and dress standards – they curbed my right to independence and independent thought. I wanted to be recognised as a person with my own flair, personality, and traits – not simply a clone. I believed I had worth outside my appearance, in both the world AND inside The Truth.
I was also uncomfortable with conformity – the idea that you should adhere to group norms and behaviours in order to ‘fit in’ – in The Truth context I felt that the length of my dress or the style of my hair was no indicator of my heart or the state of my ‘spirit’ – which was alluded to by workers. I wanted to wear what felt comfortable or fun to me – not as an indicator of the state of my soul.
While Truth men are expected to dress modestly, they do not stand out like Truth Women do. This bothered me from a young age– that my male cousins could ‘fit in’ at school, in the street with friends. While I, in my long skirt or dress, with my distinctive hair – stood out. It bothered me that men could ‘assimilate’ while I had to be an open, obvious demonstrator of our values, morals and beliefs. I wanted desperately to be a boy, to have the freedom they had in appearance and behaviour.