The Glory of Hair

9 January 2012, 06:00

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Gothard was not shy about what he found to be attractive on a woman’s head–long hair, soft curls. I heard girls reacting to that all the time. There were girls who couldn’t get their hair to hold a curl. One friend said to me, “Look how limp my hair is, and I had it all up in hot rollers just two hours ago!” Others couldn’t grow their hair long or just preferred it short. Still, they knew they weren’t living up to Gothard’s ideal. Some girls probably weren’t bothered at all. I heard more from the ones who were.

Well I wanted to meet that ideal, and I did. I had plenty of insecurities, but my hair was my one glory, my one claim to beauty. I could make it do whatever I wanted. Add a little navy and white and some bright eyes, and I could achieve the perfect ATI (Advanced Training Institute) look. Yes, other girls were jealous of my hair. I know because they told me. As an ATI teenager, I couldn’t talk to boys and had to go skiing in a skirt, but at least I had great hair.

After I graduated from high school, I got eighteen inches of hair chopped off. I just thought it would be fun to try what I had never done before. I came home and my brothers and dad were NOT happy. In fact, one of my brothers wouldn’t talk to me for several days. My dad looked at me and said, “Well, it will grow.” I hadn’t really known how important my hair was until I made that awful mistake. I repented and allowed my hair to grow again. In a year, I had my glorious hair back.

A few years later, at age 19, just before leaving for college, I visited my aunt in California. She had a different attitude toward my hair–she asked me if I ever thought of doing something else (anything else?) with it. I said no, that nothing else really worked for me. So she skillfully helped me to see that my hair had become too much about the hair. She must have repeated 50 times, “It’s not about the hair” (or it just echoed in my head 50 times). She said that the face is more important than the hair. A skillful hairdresser will give you a cut that makes YOU stand out, not one that makes your hair stand out.

She convinced me to take a huge risk and then took me to a high-end hair designer downtown. “Don’t tell him what kind of cut you want–tell him what kind of person you are. If a hair designer is put in a box, he won’t be able to do his best for you. If you give him freedom, he could surprise you.” So I sat in the chair and said, “Do whatever you envision for me. I’m a violinist so I don’t like hair in my face, but something fun and simple would be great.” He pulled my hair back into a ponytail and said, “so it’s okay if I take off this much?” “Yes,” I answered confidently (although cringing inside). He then cut off the ponytail with one swipe of the scissors and let my glorious hair fall all over the floor. “Ah, so much better already,” he smiled. When he finished and I looked in the mirror, I finally saw a “me” that I had never seen before–a me that had been hiding behind all of that hair. I was scared. As I left the salon, everyone was raving about my “transformation.”

That night, I stood in front of the mirror and didn’t know how to feel. Part of me really felt like I had lost my “glory” and the only physical beauty I ever had. Furthermore, a more real me was exposed and I couldn’t hide behind my hair anymore. I looked at myself and didn’t see my hair. Even worse, I would have to face the world again–without my hair. Probably no one would ever notice me again. My friends wouldn’t recognize me. My family would be disappointed. Why had I listened to the “worldly” advice of my aunt?

I went home and braced myself for the reactions, but kept repeating to myself, “It’s not about the hair.” Well, some people did react with disappointment but I noticed another reaction this time–simply that people started commenting more about me than about my hair. I went to a wedding a few days later and one of my guy friends said, “You look really nice.” I was struck by the fact that he said “you” and not “your hair.” It scared me that others were also seeing me.

I went to college and made new friends who never knew about my glorious hair. It was okay–I got used to feeling naked without my hair and learned that I could even survive in the world without it. I finally realized that my aunt had rescued me. It’s been ten years now and no one has raved about my hair since then. And that explains why I feel a special connection with Mia in “Princess Diaries” and Rapunzel in “Tangled.”

Now I am convinced: It’s not about the hair!

Isabelle Hoffmann was enrolled as a student in the Advanced Training Institute from 1985-2001, during which time she attended numerous seminars, training programs, music courses, and served at the Moscow Training Center.
All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.

39 Comments

  1. Eliza January 9, 2012 Reply

    Ah yes, the days of trying to get hair to do what it was not designed to do. Glad those days are over! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Darcy January 9, 2012 Reply

    I remember my identity being tied up in my hair. It was blonde, past my waist, and people loved it. I chopped it off when I graduated and never looked back. It was scary but I never regretted it.

  3. RyanR January 9, 2012 Reply

    I have a friend who was told by ATI leadership that her naturally curly hair looked "worldly" and she should use Dippity-do to straighten her hair. Then she could re-curl it with "soft, Christ-like curls."

    I would find the entire episode to be rather bizarre, except I spent enough time working for IBLP to know that characterizations of "Godly" and "wordly" were indeed assigned to something that really was nothing more than one man's personal preference.

    • Ileata January 9, 2012 Reply

      Ryan, you've got to be kidding. Soft curls are "Christ-like?" So, much for the 10 "unchangeables", huh?

    • Mercy January 9, 2012 Reply

      That's so ridiculous! It makes me mad that THAT is being taught as Biblical.

    • Christy Bell January 9, 2012 Reply

      Wow! How utterly outrageous!! As if our awesome Creator made a mistake by giving a woman uber-curls! Way to smoosh someone into a cookie cutter! I'm all for styling and grooming, but one should definitely work WITH what the Good Lord has given instead of against it. Auntie was right on target; it's about the person, not the hair.

    • BeverlyB January 10, 2012 Reply

      Bwahaha! So Christ had long, soft curls? Help--I just can't deal with that mental image!

    • Maria January 11, 2012 Reply

      Ya know, I don't think they meant Christ HAD long, soft curls. I think they meant Christ WAS a long, soft curl! (Probably blonde, but the color, I freely admit, is pure conjecture.)

      • Christy E. Bell January 16, 2012 Reply

        come to think of it Jesus didn't wear shirts with buttoned-down collars. I wonder if he even wore blue and white? ; )

        • Heather July 6, 2012

          No, ya'll are wrong. Jesus wore DRESSES! And SANDALS! Our savior exposed his tootsies!

    • Heather July 6, 2012 Reply

      Are you SERIOUS! That kind of absurdity really makes me want to spit fire, to me, that is a relatively minor thing, however it sums up what ATI is, I think. FALSE, FALSE, FALSE!

  4. greg January 9, 2012 Reply

    Another proof of BG's scriptural ignorance,,, In God's creation, He created variance, difference, and variety for OUR ENJOYMENT,,,,this man really is off base......

  5. Cheryl Chamberlain January 9, 2012 Reply

    I notice a connection between long, flowing curls that can cover up a person's identity and the long, flowing robes that some cultures make their women wear in order to avoid offending men. Hmmmm. It's interesting to me that after your cut your hair, people started seeing YOU, not your hair. I bet you're gorgeous all by yourself!
    At one point in my family's story, we applied to be one of the resident families at a Training Center. My dad was ill, and my mom was trying to figure out what to do with her brood. We put together a packet about us and how we could contribute. It was very cute and creative. The only problem was that we included a picture, and I was wearing my hair short at the time. Still do, I can do short hair really well. :-) Always the rebel. Yup, that's me. When we got a response, it was "your daughters wear their hair short and that is not honoring to God and clearly you don't have them under authority, so no thanks." My mom was devastated. I was relieved.

    • Betsy January 9, 2012 Reply

      oh my gosh! I mean it shouldn't surprise me, but I still can't believe how crazy such assumptions are. Your daughters aren't under authority because they don't have the hair style WE think they should - it doesn't matter what you as parents actually think of their hair.

  6. Becca January 9, 2012 Reply

    The hair...the horror! I had the waist length very straight hair. It was my pride and about the only thing I thought noticeable about me. It is a very long story but I got secretly engaged to a boy behind my parents back. When it was discovered I went through a very public humiliation (or punishment) with a haircutting in front of another AITA family for breaking my vow to my father to allow him to pick my husband. There is a lot more to this story...but keeping it about the hair.... It seemed it was just another way to control and use for guilt trips. I still struggle with this today, 19 years after leaving home, whenever I get my hair cut...the "shame" of "short" hair (which in our family is anything shorter than middle of the back).

    • Darcy January 11, 2012 Reply

      Wait...they publically chopped your hair off because you were "rebellious"?? That's so twisted and wrong. :(

    • Heather July 6, 2012 Reply

      Dang!!!!! I'm so sorry! That's awful! For anyone that's familiar with 'Jane Eyre', I'm noticing a very strong Brocklehurst resemblance to these stories. Sick!

  7. Lynne' Sleiman January 9, 2012 Reply

    Yes, long hair isn't always the answer. I had always had long hair before I met my (then future) husband. He hadn't ever seen me with long hair (it was short when we first met) but he happened to LOVE short hair! Go figure. I guess Gothard's ideal isn't every man's. ;]

  8. Betsy January 9, 2012 Reply

    ah yes I used to think that my beautiful blonde hair was the *only* thing I had going for me. And while it was one of the things that initially attracted my husband's attention he couldn't believe I thought that was the only thing about myself that was beautiful.

    But of course our hair was the only thing we were allowed to be proud of and make and feel beautiful about. Apparently that was the one part (and your bright eyes so one of two parts) that were acceptable to take pride in and for men to admire. (what?) So crazy.

  9. cindy January 9, 2012 Reply

    I liked this story! I was one of those who had to perm in those soft curls about every 6 months!! & I could never get it to grow past the very top of my shoulders. I was in from 85-89! I slept on sponge rollers! UHG!! What freedom I found when I chopped it off and what's worse??? I colored it!! Because I began to gray in my early 20's (probably from hidden sin)! I asked my hair dresser to make it look as natural as possible, she said, and I quote, "Listen honey, you'll never get anything that looks that mousy out of a bottle!!" I've been coloring, highlighting and cropping ever since! Also I love the advice from your very wise aunt to let the stylist know you!! Great advice!

  10. Suzannah January 9, 2012 Reply

    When I was in ATI I always felt the injustice of Mr. Gothard judging girls by their hair. Sweet, kind, hardworking girls were not invited to headquarters because they had short or curly hair. I remember when I first realized Mr. Gothard had such an outward focus. I was about 14 years old and attending a counseling conference. There was a girl there who was beautiful. She had long blond hair, a great tan, and a slit up to her thigh. She had what would be considered a rebel attitude and broke rules by talking to boys (God forbid). I was worried about her getting into trouble because I assumed she was new and didnt know the dress and behavior rules. At some point during the week I saw Mr. Gothard pull her aside personally to talk to her. Imagion my suprise to find out he was inviting her to headquarters because he was so impressed with her. My eyes were opened to the complete double standard applied in ATI. From that point on I saw Mr. Gothard in a different light.

    • Another Hannah July 7, 2012 Reply

      wow! Seriously? That's totally wrong....definitely double standards. Girls with short hair are not allowed, while girls with slits that long (goodness, ANY slit pretty much was considered a sin, it seemed) were personally invited to Headquarters?!

  11. WendyA January 10, 2012 Reply

    Ah, the hair. Yes. The paradox of my hair is that when it is longer than shoulder-length, it will not hold a curl for anything. When it is chin-length to shoulder-length, it makes perfect little Shirley-Temple ringlets ALL BY ITSELF. And when it is shorter than chin-length, it is just a step down from Richard Simmons.

    When I think of the time I wasted --- and the tears --- trying to get my waist-length hair to hold a curl back in the days when I was at IBLP HQ, I could just scream. Hot rollers. Steam rollers. Curling irons. Perms. UGH! The time and money I wasted! Not to mention that when I finally cut it to chin-length after the birth of my second child, we discovered that the weight of all that hair was contributing to my debilitating headaches.

    God made some people to have hair that is straight, some curly, some frizzy, and some in-between. Some looks better long, some short, and some in-between. And just who made Mr. G's personal preferences the standard by which God would measure us all, anyway? Not God, I daresay.

  12. Erin January 10, 2012 Reply

    What must Mr. Gothard think of Asian people, who rarely ever have curls? Durrr...

  13. SaraJ January 10, 2012 Reply

    I remember in the 90s being told that the reason they encouraged "long, soft curls" was because is was classically feminine. With so many ATI girls interacting with foreign dignitaries (this was the Russian and Taiwan era), we needed to respect their cultures by appearing as feminine as possible. It's still good logic, I think. I don't know what his excuse was before then, though.

    It was impossible for me, with my short and unpredictably wavy hair to achieve. One of the many ways I fell short of the ATI Ideal, although I tried very hard to reach it.

  14. enigma January 10, 2012 Reply

    Oh my Goodness!I understand 100%. I cut my long curly hair into a super-short pixie cut right after graduating homeschool and i've never felt more beautiful in my life. :)

  15. Karen Richmond January 10, 2012 Reply

    I still can't believe we didn't all find this way more creepy back then.

  16. Darcy January 11, 2012 Reply

    The thing that honestly cracks me up is that there was sooooo much emphasis on "Defrauding" and "modesty" and being sure to dress in such a way so the boys don't notice you or even think about you as a sexual being. Yet we all were encouraged to have hair past our waists. Which is really sensuous, as most cultures know. There's a reason I felt powerful when guys ogled my long hair. I guess our frumpers made up for it though. :P

  17. "Krash" January 26, 2012 Reply

    I like to say that now, post ATI, I'm working on the Gothard approved "longer hair with softer curls". Think he'd mind that I'm a guy? The motorcycle dealership I worked at certainly never complained about the look...

    • Heather July 6, 2012 Reply

      HAHA! Like!

  18. Esbee July 1, 2012 Reply

    The more I read about the stories of all those harmed, injured and hurt by having to live under Gothard principles, the more creepy I think he is...the double standards he practices, the way a woman should look (i can just see those long soft blond curls on a black woman) the way BG invades the space of some of his "favorites" that border on harrassment, not ever qluestioning authority....geesh!!!!

    I feel that if a certain Bible principle cannot be practiced worldwide in any time, era, area, or culture then it is man-made, not ordained by God. I.E. how women wear their hair

  19. Heather July 6, 2012 Reply

    I had perfectly straight, blond hair from the time I was born. I grew it to my waist and chopped it when I was about 12/13. It took me about 3 years to convince my mom to let me do it. (My parent's weren't that intrenched into ATI to say that it should've been curly, or long, or whatever, I think it was more a personal preference than anything else). Once I got into my later teens and cut it shoulder length after growing it out again, it had darkened to a light brunette, and it held curl really well. Once I got near twenty, my hair started to become more wavy, slightly curly. Who knows how curly it may be in another ten years? I love curly hair, so it wouldn't really bother me. I also love long hair (on me), and keep it as long as I can, but again, that's my personal preference. My cousin is part of a different cult where the women are forbidden to cut their hair except to trim it a little every now and then once it passes their bottoms. So sad how this weird religion forces itself on every part of your life.

  20. Another Hannah July 7, 2012 Reply

    Weird that, though the ATI look was long, soft curls, my mom (very dedicated to IBLP) had me and my sisters grow long straight hair, and it was pretty much a sin to do anything to your hair but wash it...and let Mom trim it when the ends got uneven (note, it had to be Mom, a sibling might trim it too short...). Even though we had straight blond hair. Apparently Mom's interpretation of Gothard was that God gave us the hair he wanted for us, and we shouldn't do anything to it (curl/straighten, shorten, dye, etc.). Yes, it was supposed to frame our "countenance", but we couldn't do anything with it but put it up in a ponytail or something...of course, horrors is you let it hang in your face or got long bangs cut that might hang into your eyes. And french braid was the standard for church. Of course, getting it cut a a barber/beauty shop was a sin, or so I grew up thinking. I literally was nervous about getting a hair cut when I went to a hairshop just this year for my first haircut, which itself wasn't more than trimming and a little layering and shortening. Even my sisters who saw me several days later didn't even notice the difference until I mentioned it. And I was nervous about THAT. At the same time it was a big deal for me.

    • Heather July 7, 2012 Reply

      I do remember my mom refusing to let us get bangs that might sweep into our eyes. That was annoying. Today I don't really have bangs like that, probably out of habit, I tried it once and it annoyed me.. lol. But I wear my hair exactly as I like, however it looks best, and believe that it honors God because I am taking care of my 'crowning glory'. I'll never understand ATI people who quote that verse to their daughters as their explanation as to why they can't cut their hair.. never mind that the girls look like walking haystacks because their hair looked so awful. Nothing crowning or glorious about it.. :(

  21. HELEN J WELLS September 5, 2014 Reply

    JUST READ THE BIBLE REGARDING HAIR!

    • LynnCD September 5, 2014 Reply

      And you know what's going to happen if we all read everything the Bible says about hair, don't you? Somewhere in between shaving one's head and going about like a prostitute, and never cutting hair, people are going to have the freedom before the Lord to decide what the dictates of their respective consciences are, because the Scriptures are not lock step clear in the matter.

      And what does that mean? That means that masculinity and femininity are qualities God created to be manifested, but we have freedom to live out what that means, in a lot of creative ways. Some women, after reading the Bible, determine they must wear a cloth covering at all times, and some women think those references in Paul's epistles mean they should not appear as prostitutes, but should appear modest. Some women think those passages mean they should not try to look like men. There are many serious Bible scholars who differ on this matter, all who regard the Bible as the Holy Word of God.

      Why again should there be so many good people with so many differing views on what the passage means? Because specific instructions on exactly what long hair means are not given, nor are there any prohibitions against cutting hair and styling it. And because some interpret "long hair given as a covering" to mean no cloth covering is needed, while others don't interpret the passage that way.

      It isn't clear. There is PLENTY the Bible says that IS clear, but that is with respect to who Jesus is, and our great salvation in Him. How exactly long a woman's hair should be or not be was just not spelled out. That suggests to me there is a great deal of freedom God give to us, to prayerfully learn how best to live our lives to please Him.

      And as for what Bill Gothard did to the young women at the TCs and at HQ by micromanaging their hair was to take away their freedom in Christ. A dress code is one thing. But the kind of micromanagement he put them under is just too sickeningly controlling.

    • rob war September 6, 2014 Reply

      Which part and which culture? Seriously. I remember sitting at the IBYC in the 1979-1981 and listening the Bill try to make some case about what style of hair is Biblical which was long and soft curls or wavey and I thought to myself "huh?" I was only in my later teens then and if I thought huh, I wonder why others didn't see this as some man trying to promote his own "preferences" as "Biblical". Now we all know it was more than preferences, it was his own kinky turn on which was trying to be passed off as "Biblical".

      • 'Megan' September 6, 2014 Reply

        And it just occurred to me, the type of curls that Bill likes aren't natural curls. The natural types of curly hair are generally wild and unmanageable to some degree or other, not the tame, 'glamorous' hair you see on the Duggar girls. You can only get Bill's preference by doing something to your hair.

        So how could curls that nature doesn't (or rarely) produces be 'Christ like', when they probably didn't exist in Jesus' day? He wasn't around Caucasians, he would have been around pretty much every other ethnicity, what with merchants and such.

  22. rob war September 6, 2014 Reply

    If Bill really wanted to be so Biblical about women's hair, he would have promoted women wearing Hajabs similar to what Muslim women wear because in Biblical times, women wore head coverings. One didn't see if the hair was long, curly, straight, short, wavey etc. It didn't matter, it was always covered up. I really wish there were more pastors and theologians that were willing to take Bill to task on all these personal preferences as being passed off as "Biblical standards" in the 1970's. It is a shame there wasn't a better inspection and warnings. Too many were encouraged to go and these weirdo glimpses into his mind on this and a million other things just wasn't challenged enough and over looked.

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