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[Opinion] Freedom of Hairstyle

Posted May. 10, 2005 23:36,   


Here is a family with teenagers. If there is yelling or shouting every morning, chances are great that the reason is either of the following: 1) “Wake up or you’ll be late for school!” or 2) “Enough with your hair!” Mom has no choice but to yell because she’s so impatient with her son or daughter who is eager to skip breakfast to change their hairstyles at least thousands of times before leaving for school. So, today, she has to yell again. “Why can’t you study as hard as that!”

For students who have to wear uniforms, their hairstyle is the only possible “body politics” that enables them to express their own identities. As Queen Elizabeth Ⅰ, without a single hair dangling on her forehead, declared her sovereignty, confidently saying she was married to Britain, Korean students use their hairstyles to declare their unique identities. Rules, such as the head shaving of a 1.5 centimeter length for boys and the short cut hairstyle of five centimeters below the ears for girls, may make them feel more stuffed than in prison.

Teenagers participating in a campaign to stop rules related to hair length are arguing that such forced uniformity is because schools view them as inmates, a subject for regulation and control. Other complaints even claim that though teachers explain that they are only worried that “hairstyling” could distract from studying, students think those accounts are nothing more than an excuse for exercising revenge on students for how they’ve treated teachers in the past. Seeing the photo of a student whose head was vertically shaved thus looks like a road, such complaints are understandable indeed. Though they are still adolescents, it is impossible to dismiss easily the feeling of insult, rage, and hostility of those who had their hair forcibly cut by the authority of teachers. Their wound is something that can be equivalent to that of those who had suffered the authoritarian oppression in the past. Such regulation is beyond the limit of disciplinary education and can be regarded as juvenile abuse and human rights violation.

The problem is, however, not whether the 1.5-centimeter rule is right or wrong. What should be understood clear is whether the regulation is made in agreement with all members of the school. To educate students about what it takes to be a responsible, democratic citizen regarding the freedom of hairstyles, it is desirable to first offer them a process of discussion and agreement and let them follow the agreed rules by themselves. The body politics suitable for students are good for developing their sense of self-respect and gives them a good reputation from others, according to some foreign studies. Perhaps, students are not an exception in the saying, “Physical appearance is a strategy, too.”

Kim Sun-duk, Editorial writer, yuri@donga.com