The Olympic Games are a prestigious global event where athletes across the world compete to bring victory and pride to their nations. Athletes train for years, countless years, at least for fifteen years just to get invited to represent their country. South Korea’s female archers have been a dominant force, leading every women’s team competition to ultimate victory since the game was first introduced at the 1988 Seoul Games. In the Tokyo Olympics that was held in August, An San, who is a member of the team, won three gold medals but what greeted her wasn’t praise or celebration at all. Despite a 20-year-old archer winning three gold medals and setting up a new Olympic record, what she was criticized for was her hairstyle. Regardless of her achievement on the international stage, a flood of criticism bombarded her on social media, labeling her as a feminist, a word that often has more radical connotations in South Korea where people associate the label with hating men. According to Lee Hyun Choi, the writer of The Nation, one man complained, “She has short hair and goes to a women’s only college-- she reeks of feminism. If she is, I withdraw my support,” not for her performance at the Olympics but for her short haircut. On one of An’s Instagram posts, a user questioned why she had cut her hair. An replied with a smirking emoji that it’s just “because it’s comfortable.” Despite her opinion, YouTube channels continued to launch a defamation campaign against An and members continued to bombard her Instagram account with hateful comments. Their tactics always followed a similar pattern: accuse the target with some built-up words, back-up their claim with nonsensical evidence, and continue to build pressure until the target apologizes to the public for their actions.
High-profile figures are often targeted by anti-feminists in South Korea, and oftentimes this inspires social media movements to defend female celebrities by posting pictures of themselves with short hair-- claiming that it did not make them less of a woman. The hashtag #women_shortcut_campaign on Twitter, first pitched by a Korean psychologist named Han Jiyoung, was used 5,800 times on Twitter as of the morning of the 27th. Additionally, a South Korean politician Sim Sang-Jung has also publicly defended San, tweeting: “With that firm look, please shoot through every prejudice in the world. We stand by your short-cut hair and support you.” According to Yvette Tan, the writer of the BBC article, through such small but powerful advocacy “women are trying to chart new paths for their lives and defying societal pressure to look a certain conventionally 'female' way - to have the freedom to choose whatever hairstyle they find most comfortable - that is one small part of it.” Women are always at the frontline of being the target of hairstyles and clothes becoming controversial issues. There is no such thing as a “feminist appearance,” but women are constantly being shamed for having one, nonetheless. Is there someone who women need to ask for permission in deciding whether they want to cut their hair short after having it long for years?
Similarly in the workplace, women are often judged heavily on their outer appearances, like their hairstyles, which merely show one’s personality or core values. Having tattoos or piercings causes women to be looked down upon, although most people should understand that it does not correlate with one’s ability to succeed. According to More Than a Magazine, women of color tend to be discriminated against when they refuse to straighten their naturally curly hair. Minda Harts, a woman who founded the career development company for women of color, asked the recruiter a question: who would you feel more comfortable putting forth a candidate for a board, a woman of color with a sleek ponytail, or a woman with a natural hairstyle such as locks or an Afro. Without a moment of hesitation, the recruiter answered that she would prefer having a woman work with a neat ponytail. This biased preference is no longer surprising, but is rather a reminder that these conscious and unconscious biases keep people from even having the opportunity to have a seat at the table. Minda Harts herself claims that she wears her hair straight almost 99 percent of the time, after seeing how clients with braids and natural hairstyles are significantly looked down upon. Due to the damage that is being done chemically from maintaining straight hair, online communities are supporting the natural hair movement, with black women not being reluctant to adopt locks, soft curls, braids, and ways that embrace their cultural heritage with pride.
Telling women what they must or must not do with their hair—whether that be the color, texture, quantity, or location of it-- is a ludicrous way of undermining one’s ability to thrive in an environment. How can our employers, our colleagues, and our customers try to squash our ambition from the moment they see how we dress, how our makeup looks, and our hairstyling, before we can even do our jobs? Although such issues have always been present, people don’t bring much attention to this because they do not think it’s that big of a problem when there are larger issues at hand. However, we must expose that as uncomfortable as it may be to realize, women are poised under the microscope every day. A well-groomed person is perceived as more attractive, and a smiling face brings more cheerfulness regardless of background. Our facial expressions silently communicate life’s wisdom, lessons, warmth, and love of one’s character. It is not just the clothes we wear, the accessories we put on to decorate ourselves, but most importantly our attitude and mindsets that differentiate us and are unique from others.