When it comes to short hair, hairdressers just aren't cutting it

READERS, please send me recommendations for hairstylists who will cut women's hair short without requiring persuasion.

It seems I can't find any on my own, which surprises me. Eleanor Roosevelt had short hair. Janet Reno and Laura Bush regularly appear in public with short hair without causing riots. Why is it such a dadgummed surprise to hairstylists that a woman might want short hair?

The last time, I used visuals, measurements and similes to get the stylist to understand. I showed her pictures of men with mannish haircuts. I said, "No strand of my hair should be longer than one inch." I said, "I want to look like a man from the 1950s." She nodded and smiled and made affirmative responses to all of these, yet she still seemed astonished when I thought the cut was unacceptably long. Did she think I was joking?

I consulted the five separate magazines devoted to pictures of women with short hair. (Yes, somehow several nearly identical magazines — "Short Cuts" and "Short Hairstyles" and "Celebrity Styles: Short Hair Edition" to name a few — regularly make it onto store shelves. And I wonder why I can't find The Atlantic Monthly at the Pak'n'Save.)

But alas! These magazines, despite their names, portray very few truly short haircuts. Most of the pictures show hair that goes well below the ears and eyebrows, not to mention the neck. To any ordinary observer, these are medium-length cuts, not short cuts. Who has "long hair" by this standard? Rapunzel?

I've had medium-length hair before, out of inertia or a desire for warmth. So I can understand why one might want hair covering one's ears or neck. But the eyes? When hair hangs into my eyes, I can feel the germs speeding down that keratin highway, gleefully invading my body through my defenseless eyes.

Personally, I use my eyes to see. Bangs that create a beaded-curtain effect over my primary visual organs substantially reduce my comfort. Forget peripheral vision — I need vision, period.

If money and efficiency were the only issues, I'd follow my boyfriend's lead. He cares even less about hair aesthetics than I do, so I buzz-cut his hair with electric clippers. In the summer, or when I enjoy the aerodynamic feel and spherical look of the buzz cut, I have him reciprocate. But for that wee bit of shaping that screams "This person is not in the military," I go to a stylist. And perhaps from now on that stylist will be a barber.

A barber wouldn't need special equipment or new theories of cosmetology to cut my hair short. He'd just recycle the ones he already uses to cut men's hair. And he might refrain from saying, "But you'll look like a boy!" as a strip-mall stylist once told me. I have various physical attributes that make gender confusion quite unlikely, thank you.

I'm also hard-pressed to figure out why it should bother me if a casual observer thinks I'm male. It happens to me all the time on the Internet anyway. The only reason most people would need to know my gender would be to decide whether to ask me out.

I found a clue in one of those look-alike "short hair" magazines. Next to the single, acceptable short hairstyle, I saw the warning: only for use by women with "a strong sense of self." Aha! If I have a haircut that allows other people to actually see my face, I must have an exceptional level of self-confidence! An almost mannish caliber of self-esteem!

A veil of bangs over my eyes would make me more vulnerable, and therefore more feminine. It wouldn't let me look at anything directly, nor use my eyes to express my concerns or desires. That would be too brazen, too strong. No, evidently unimpeded sight and direct gazes are the domain of men alone.

Why would I want to hide my eyes or blind myself? Why shouldn't I have the most efficient hairstyle available to either sex? And where can I find a stylist who won't find that request shocking?

Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each Thursday. You can write to her at sumana@crummy.com .