Some weeks back The New York Times published an article entitled ‘Mom Hair: It Exists. Now what to do about it’. The introduction to the article explains how Mom Hair is “inescapably frumpy”. It describes the short bobs of women in “suburban malls” and the styles of city-dwelling moms who, it’s assumed, should know better just by virtue of being urbanites, but who nonetheless persist in wearing “short of flattering” hair styles.
One hairstylist suggests mothers plan their hair colour while still pregnant (because they’re not busy enough with pelvic floor exercises, buying nursery furniture, and attending antenatal classes). Another recommends opting for a shorter than usual fringe to enhance the “teenage feeling of irresponsibility and youthfulness” (because we all feel like reckless teenagers when elbow-deep in dirty nappies).
Not only was there an urban/suburban kind of superiority akin to the scrunchy scene in Sex and the City, but the question arises whether the term Mom Hair should even exist and, if so, why is it synonymous with frumpy when a quick search on Instagram for #momhair or a quick look at the mothers around us reveal women of all types with a vast variety of hairstyles and types?
What about women who don’t have enough (or don’t want, or are not able to grow) long hair to “hide behind”? Is Mom Hair a question of the beauty industry and the media putting more pressure on women to look a certain way? Does it undermine mothers? And why should a woman who has just given birth even give a damn about what her hair looks like?
I’ve been there. After I had my first son, I saw clumps of my hair fall out in the shower and my hair was regularly scraped back in a bun (another classic #momhair style by the way). Splashing out €100 or more for a haircut seemed like a terrible waste of nappy funds and it’s not that easy to breastfeed in a black cape and towel in an open-plan salon.
Having seen my hair tied back for his whole life, my toddler was intrigued when I collected him from playschool. “You look lovely. Is it a helmet?” was the response to my chopped, coloured bob. I don’t know if I had Mom Hair then but, in hindsight, I was a mom and I did have hair and it was cut in a bob. Despite working in fashion journalism and being coiffured by one of the best precision haircutters in Dublin, had I unwittingly become a frump with Mom Hair? Did I fit into the “not all mom bobs deserve a bad rap” category or had my crowning glory become the hirsute equivalent of Mom Jeans?
Author Cathy Kelly is a mother of twin boys and says brushing her hair was hardly an option, never mind worrying about having Mom Hair.
“I lived in a haze for six months, am not sure if I went to the hairdresser to get my roots done, but I must have, and didn’t go for any short cut to ‘get my pre-mom groove’ back because I had had damn all groove in the first place,” she says. “I was too shattered by being a new mom to care about how I looked. Having babies is amazing and hard and messy and leaves you with mastitis, like a cow, a belly weirdly like a sponge and a pale face with bags under the eyes.”
For Kelly, it was more a case of “trying not to mess up taking care of these incredible, miraculous beings who came without a manual” than worrying about her looks or whether she had the right haircut. She says it’s essential that if women are getting their hair done when they’ve had babies that they do it for themselves, not because of any pressure to fit in.
“If you feel crappy with your hair falling out then get your hair done,” she says. “Get whatever. But do it for you. Do it so you feel good and strong so you can be a good enough, happy and content mother to those kids.
“Don’t do it so you fit societal expectations of what a new mother should look like because the way things are going, by 2030 the ‘good enough’ new mother is going to have to look like Barbie, have a PhD in physics, cook like Nigella, and be able to perform brain surgery in her spare time — oh yeah, and mind the baby. All by day three after the birth.”
Lili Forberg, a photographer and mother of Leon, is co-founder of online children’s fashion and interiors magazine Mutiny Kids. It’s safe to say Forberg could never be described as frumpy, and yet she has hair and is a mum so does that mean she has Mom Hair? Luckily Forberg says she avoided the dreaded mom hair bob by virtue of never having time to go to the hairdressers. Instead she took out her hair extensions and settled for the ‘messy hair, don’t care’ look.
“New moms are busy, very, very busy,” says Forberg. “Every waking moment and pretty much every sleeping moment, is completely dedicated to the new little person they’ve just brought into the world. Obviously our personal appearance has to take a back seat and anything that can make our lives easier can only be a good thing. Mom hair should be seen as a badge of honour because, let’s face it, anyone who gives birth and manages to look after a tiny human deserves a medal.”
Forberg believes the term Mom Hair should be turned on its head and perceived in a more positive light.
“Fair play to any new mom who actually manages to get a haircut,” she says. “I was so caught up with feeding, the baby sleeping and me not sleeping, that going to a hairdresser didn’t even enter my mind.”
Entrepreneur Niamh Hogan recently appeared on RTÉ’s Dragon’s Den and had her daughter, 11-year-old Bella, 13 weeks premature. Hogan believes that the idea of Mom Hair is an insult to the experience of motherhood and to women in general. She runs the natural skincare company Holos and says the overwhelmingly male-run beauty industry is intent on plundering women’s insecurities for profit.
“I spent three days at a conference in January with some of the world’s biggest skincare brands,” she says. “Most of the people at the top of these companies are men. The way some of them spoke about women and how we spend on beauty products was sickening. I went away fed up with the knowledge that, yes, indeed it is men deciding what next product women need to feel beautiful will be.”
Hogan says the notion of Mom Hair is demeaning to women because it paints them as uncool, insecure fools.
“If a woman decides to tie her hair back, leave it long or shave it off it’s her prerogative and we don’t need anyone telling us our decisions are uncool because we’re suddenly mums,” she says.
“If anything, becoming a mother gave me the confidence to be brave and try new things in all aspects of life from buying a home to launching a business to having some crazy fun hairstyles. If we can decide to squeeze a human being out of our vaginas, I think we can decide on what hairstyle we want and feel comfortable with.”