As the years go by, any comprehensive knowledge I once had of pop starlets recedes further and further into the distance. I must have simply lost interest in reading about them at some point or other, and then hundreds of shiny new ones started to bank up, at which point it was easier just to bypass them all completely.

However, sometimes the internet force feeds me the details of said pop starlets' lives when it develops an inexplicable obsession with some tiny detail or other and won't shut up about it. Everywhere you turn - blogs, Twitter, news sites - that detail is dissected and discussed, until it's blown right out of proportion and right into absurdity.

Miley Cyrus' new haircut is a prime example. When the 19-year-old - of TV series Hannah Montana fame - recently cut her long hair right off, a chorus of blatant distaste swept through cyberspace. Twitter was rife with disgust; one Tweeter putting it thusly: "When Miley Cyrus said the best of both worlds no one thought she meant one day she would be a boy." And another: "Not a day goes by where I'm not saddened and disgusted by Miley Cyrus' hair." People compared her to Draco Malfoy. News sites covered the chop. Celebrity sites weighed in, as they're wont to do: "Check out this new snapshot of her cuddling her dog - you can't blame [Cyrus' fiance] for passing on the opportunity," snarked one. Even fellow celebrities felt it appropriate to comment, with British rapper Fazer asking: "Why on earth would you do that? You've got beautiful hair. You've been growing it your whole life and now you want to shave half of it off? Leave it!"

The general consensus was, naturally, that Cyrus had gone mad. (Never mind that her hairdresser was Chris McMillan - the man responsible for the Rachel-From-Friends cut. Or that she'd excitedly pre-announced the chop herself, via Twitter.) Cue endless comparisons to Britney Spears' 2007 head shaving incident, an act (allegedly) borne of mental instability. And waves of faux cyber concern, where 'close friends' worried about her imminent demise and experts weighed in on the crisis.


For the record - and let me now parade my newfound knowledge of all things Miley Cyrus - the singer/actor appears to be in a 'good place'. She's newly engaged, the number one teen celebrity on Twitter, and nabs high-profile magazine covers. For all intents and purposes, all evidence points to... a haircut. And just a haircut.


Too many people is who. It appears we've arrived at a point where young female celebrities are so hemmed in by templates of femininity, any deviation is akin to breaking some sort of invisible contract. And not only is it socially acceptable to vocalise our disapproval, it's seen as a right. People were ANGRY about this. As though we're actually owed the obedience of image-makers like Cyrus, the likes of whom are paid in fandom.

Perhaps the outrage shouldn't come as a surprise. Long hair, says convention, is feminine. Short hair is decidedly not. And boy do we hear about it. Women's media will occasionally give generous nod to pixie cuts on 'edgy' celebrities like Michelle Williams or Agyness Deyn, but overwhelmingly, long hair is held up as the pinnacle of femininity. Disney told us, boring scientific studies tell us, shampoo ads tell us, endless male-preference pieces and female exposes tell us - and debacles like this tell us. Over and over. Because it is isn't the first of its kind, of course: when Harry Potter star Emma Watson cropped her hair, for instance, she found it harder to get acting roles and the press enquired if she was coming out of the closet.

To be clear: I'm not really that concerned about Miley Cyrus' welfare. I feel sorry for her, sure: no one deserves public shaming for a haircut, even if they do court the media in the first place. But she'll be fine (as the young, rich, healthy and white are generally well-equipped to be). What concerns me is the fuss and anxiety provoked by the act. The hyper awareness of young female icons' looks, to the point their sexuality and politics are treated as inextricable from their physicality. They have become public property; unwitting pawns in the rigid game of How to Look Like a Woman. That short hair violates the rules of this game so thoroughly, and that people are genuinely UPSET, is bizarre to me.

Ultimately, Cyrus 'redeemed' herself online when it was rumoured her haircut was actually for charity. Good for her, etc, if that's not just a knee-jerk PR move in response to the uproar. But really, it's besides the point. If some greater, sacrificial good is needed to justify a harmless departure from stale ideals of femininity, something's wrong.

Follow Rebecca Kamm on Twitter.