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Do I Have Mom Hair? An Investigation

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Three alpha moms, one example of mom hair.
Three alpha moms, one example of mom hair.
Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images

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I'm a mom, so yes, I have mom hair. But do I have, you know, mom hair? This is the kind of deep question about motherhood that I usually ponder around Mother's Day because I am vain, and also because worrying about whether I'm raising my children to be good people is too stressful to contemplate.

Mom hair is a tricky thing to define but immediately obvious when you see it. There's a certain practicality and efficiency to it. It's usually not long. It's probably layered. You assume the person attached to it rarely has sex, or, if she does, it's scheduled in a planner. Beach waves, obviously, are totally out of the question.

Mom hair is not like mom jeans, which have an ironic appeal and genuinely look good on people who do not have a mom bod (you know what I'm talking about). Moms rarely show up on street style blogs; there's Miroslava Duma, but she doesn't count because she does the couture circuit. Regular moms don't go to couture shows because they have too many other things to do, like schedule hair cuts every eight weeks.

oprah Photo: Andrew Toth/Getty Images

Oprah, Mom of Us All, used to have mom hair but doesn't now. Barbara Walters and Gayle King totally do.

The point is, mom hair isn't aspirational—unless you're Kate Middleton. (She is very controversial when it comes to hair, though, and just got mom hair-shamed because she doesn't have mom hair.) Sitcoms tell us the woman with mom hair is inherently not chic. This is because, in our society, motherhood itself is not chic. Mothers are supposed to transfer all the energy that formerly went into fishtail braiding their own hair into wiping various bodily fluids off their children, preferably while doing seven other things at the same time, all while not wearing couture. Come to think of it, Kate Middleton doesn't wear couture.

In my extensive studies of this topic, the cut needs to be above the shoulders to be considered mom hair. Long hair traditionally signifies youth and sexuality and femininity, three things that are definitely not associated with motherhood. Mom hair happens when women cut their Cindy Crawford-esque (mom who definitely doesn't have mom hair) manes off into flattering, easy layers in order to concentrate on the more important things in life, like pumping breast milk.

Not all moms have mom hair, of course. It's a stereotype, and like most stereotypes, is a blanket generalization. I didn't chop my hair off as soon as the epidural came out and none of my mom friends did either, but apparently someone does, because that's the mom hair trope. But ever since Kate Gosselin (mom of eight) hit small screens with her sassy short crop, moms everywhere began to look at themselves with a critical eye, wondering if they actually have mom hair.

kategosselin Photo: Dr. Billy Ingram/Getty Images

Kate Gosselin, circa 2009, at the height of her mom hair reign.

Since I've been in college, a time when my then-childless uterus blessedly had no idea what was to come in the future, I've been a short hair person. It's ranged from a pixie cut to almost shoulder length, meaning that I was flirting with mom hair territory even when I was at my most nubile. But now that I am actually a mom, I wonder if people immediately think to themselves, "Yup, she definitely knows a thing or two about episiotomies" purely because of my hair.

Over the course of the last five years, because I have a job that requires me to try different things in beauty -€— and also because I really wanted to do all of these things, truth be told -€— I've had pink hair, the Skrillex cut, and done a full head of extensions that would bring a proud tear to Paris Hilton's eye. My kids hated all of them. I especially hated the long hair because I felt like an imposter. I lasted only three days before I was ripping the extensions out and going back to my short-ish, semi-severe, maybe-mom-hair blonde bob.

Kate Gosselin's friends surely told her that her hair was "edgy" and that she was a "cool mom" after she got her famous cut. This happens to me constantly. Joey Silvestera, a NYC-based hair stylist, just gave me one of the best cuts I've had in several years. It's blunt yet severe, soft yet architectural. It's cool! When he was asking what I wanted I mumbled, "I don't want it to look like, uh, lady newscaster hair." I was embarrassed to say "mom hair," because it felt like a betrayal of all moms. But he got what I was saying and gave it his all. The rest is now up to me, but I have no idea what vibe I give off. Just this past week, though, a younger, childless woman said to me, "Your kids must think you're such a cool mom." Uh-oh. (And they don't. They think I'm a noob — this is a bad thing -€— of the highest order.)

On the flip side, one of the most cutting insults you can give a younger woman who isn't a mom is to say that she has mom hair. Take Jennifer Lawrence in 2013, for example. She famously cut her damaged hair into a pixie cut, and my co-workers at the time said gleefully/sadly of the cut, "It looks like mom hair!" To be fair, it sometimes did:

jlaw_momhair Photo: Larry Busacca

But then she grew it out into a bob styled with a flat iron into what I call cool girl waves, and everyone heaved a sign of relief, because cool girl > cool mom.

Last year at the American Music Awards, Gigi Hadid (not a mom) pulled off a rare mom hair feat. She copied her actual mom's actual mom hair by using a half wig. Her hair stylist Bryce Scarlett told Elle that the secret to keeping it from skewing too "soccer mom" is "textured sleekness." Sounds like two opposite concepts to me, but duly noted.

Which finally brings us, as all discussions of mom hair should, to Michelle Williams (the actress). Whenever I have these sorts of existential moments of hair reflection I ask myself, "What would Michelle Williams do (#WWMWD)?" Michelle Williams (mom) has managed to maintain different versions of short hair for the past several years without looking the slightest bit mumsy. Her hair says that she is definitely a woman who has spontaneous sexual encounters.

michellewilliams Photo: Todd Williamson/Getty Images

There is zero mom hair in this picture.

I hated her new shaggy, limp, dishwater blonde hair that she wore to the Met Gala; it was very divisive in our office. One thing everyone can agree on, though, is that it definitely isn't mom hair. I think her secret is that the way she uses color and texture in her hair is always slightly unexpected. Also she never smiles openly and completely in photos, so she's mysterious. Whatever it is, her hair transcends her parental status.

It's my ultimate hair goal, really, more than any one specific style. I love being a parent, but I hate the beauty expectations that go along with being a mom. WWMWD? Keep ‘em guessing, that's what.

Happy Mother's Day!


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