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I'm just a mid teenager who is trying to find out if the case of my mom disliking and controlling my preferences is common.

I'll start off with a simple example.

Lets say my mom likes a tidily combed formal hair like this.

I have no problem whatsoever with that hairstyle, but personally, I prefer a more messy and wavy fringe hair. Like this one I found using Google.

Unfortunately she always complains and gets annoyed whenever I dress a messy hairstyle. She hates uncombed hair, she thinks it's slobby, ratty, unstylish, annoying, ugly, etc.

I really wish my mom would just simply express her opinions, these phrases below wouldn't hurt me at all

Hey I dislike your hair, it's too short

The color of your pants are too bright

This shirt doesn't look good on you

I'm never the type of sensitive person who gets offended easily by opinions, I will be totally fine if someone simply dislikes my pants, I will simply ignore that opinion and be comfortable about myself.

But no, I'm frequently asked to comb my hair. Sometimes she gets a bit furious (forcefully combs my hair), not allowing me to eat until I tidy my hair, randomly yell at me due to getting irritated by my hair.

I'm not complaining about this all, I will be completely fine to follow the style that my mom likes and how she wants me to dress. I'm just really really puzzled on why some people can't accept other's preferences.

If I have an extreme uncommon style, if my hair is too long to the point that it covers my whole face, if my hair causes severe disadvantages, I would totally understand if my mom hates it. But my style is totally normal, it's just different from what she likes.

Is it actually normal/common for people to not accept peoples style like this? And how do I convince my mom that just because someone has different preferences as you, doesn't mean that they are abnormal.

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  • 8
    It's totally OK to complain, you know. We've all had people in our lives who annoy us, however much we may love them.
    – anongoodnurse
    Dec 31, 2021 at 23:43
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    Complaining about your children's style of hair or dress is a traditional activity since the invention of "teenagerness" in the 1950s.
    – pjc50
    Jan 1 at 11:42
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    @pjc50 in fact, the tradition is a WAY older. Quite a few Ancient Greece cases documented in literature.
    – fraxinus
    Jan 1 at 12:33
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    I'm in my early 60's and my mom still doesn't like the way I wore my hair when I was a teenager.
    – IconDaemon
    Jan 2 at 0:26
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    You already had good answers (and decent amount of downvotes on bad ones), so I'll just leave a comment, that yelling, using physical force and not allowing you to eat are highly abusive behaviors, and it would be good for your mental health to address those in some way. If you have access to a councelor/therapist at your school they could help you and give advice how to communicate with your mother.
    – Boat
    Jan 3 at 8:52

11 Answers 11

32

I don't agree with Joe, when he says it is the job of parents to set boundaries; it is too narrow. Good parents strive to equip their children with good life-skills that help them make the good choices, which will make them happy. I'm a grandparent BTW, so I've perhaps learned a broader perspective, now that my own children have grown up, largely ignoring my well-intentioned advice.

Teaching children to respect boundaries is only a minor part of what you need in adult life; it is important, but like you, I can't see that you hair-style matters much - just look at succesful people around the world. They come in weird and wonderful varieties - what makes them successful is clearly not the hair.

So why does your mum insist on this? My guess is that it is about fitting in: many people are anxious about standing out in society and giving the wrong impression - and on the other side of this, there are the immature leader-types, who have a desire to dominate, but lack the broad perspective, and dare one say it: wisdom, that comes with experience, so they focus on petty issues like how you look or what they call 'good manners'.

So what can you do? Perhaps the easiest is what you seem to suggest: shrug your shoulders for now and do what you have to do to avoid the arguments. Or you can fight back, if you feel it is too much. Both may give you valuable life skills; 'grin and bear it' can make you tolerant and good with other people, 'fighting your corner' could give you the skills and independence of a leader.

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    "...what they call 'good manners'." I was amused here, because it is considered good manners not to comment on the appearance of others.
    – anongoodnurse
    Jan 1 at 16:39
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    @GuntramBlohm - No, I'm pretty sure that doesn't fall under good manners, at least not in the US. That may fall under norms, but norms and (actual) manners are two different things. Manners are meant to protect others from embarrassment or other ill feelings. Like, when eating, wiping your mouth before you drink. That comes from pre-medieval times when people shared cups, so when someone else took a drink, they didn't get bits of chewed food as well. However awful someone's hair looks, one shouldn't comment on it.
    – anongoodnurse
    Jan 2 at 0:36
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    @nick012000: One could easily argue that messy hair could well be a product of someone caring more about their job, and putting their energy into their actual work instead of into trivial things like whether their hair's neatly braided.
    – Vikki
    Jan 2 at 15:52
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    I'd go easier on the mom. There is a price to be paid for "sticking out". There is also a price to be paid to always mimic your surroundings. As a mom or a pop, it is your job to expose the child to the right amount of misery and hardship to develop a conscionable personality with a rational understanding of the world and the people in it. Some draw the line tight, some loose, many do it without thinking, but fortunately few do it by randomness. I'd mine the motivation behind the mother's attitude. Jan 3 at 9:41
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    I wonder how many of the upvoters here, particularly those suggesting the kid needs to "stick out less", have children in the 10-15 age range. At least where I live, it's more common for children to have "messy" hair (not meaning they don't care about their hair, but that it's not all going one direction) than not...
    – Joe
    Jan 3 at 16:51
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If I were answering this question to your mother, who asked what she should do with her son who wears his hair messy, I would say:

It is a parent’s job to set boundaries for their children. Those boundaries tell their children what is okay or not okay, for various reasons, to keep them safe and to give them the best chance to succeed in life.

It’s important as the child ages, though, to remove those boundaries. You do that both because they’re not as necessary - a ten year old can go some distance alone from home safely, and come back; a fifteen year old can go to the mall alone - and because giving them room to make more decisions helps develop their ability to do so. As they age, they are more able to understand the consequences of their decisions.

So the question is whether this boundary - having neat hair - is both (a) necessary for their safety or success and (b) sufficiently consequential that they cannot make the decision themselves and learn from the consequences. Each parent has to make that decision for themselves; but realize that if you do make this decision for them at fifteen, you’re setting them up to potentially change at 18 and have more serious consequences than at fifteen.

For me: I let my kids choose their hairstyle, mussed included, but require haircuts on a periodic basis. That’s the limit that I think is important - both to get in the habit and to feel comfortable with them. I also think it’s important to let them choose as much of their appearance as possible - within social limits, but their social limits not my generation’s. Personal appearance is so defining of a person’s self that taking away control should only be done in extremes, in my opinion. But again, that’s a parental decision ultimately - just be aware of the consequences for that decision.

That’s the part I would use to convince her though - that your appearance is one of the few things you can control about your life.

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    For about a year my brother had a foot high, frequently spiked, mohawk. My Mom's reply to all the busy bodies who couldn't believe she was letting him get away with it was: "It's just hair, not drugs. If he wants to rebel, this is a harmless way to let him do it." About a year later he decided to cut it off, and has worn his hair in somewhat more conventional styles ever since. Jan 1 at 21:07
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    Thank you so much for your answer, I absolutely agree with this as well. Especially this sentence "but realize that if you do make this decision for them at fifteen, you’re setting them up to potentially change at 18 and have more serious consequences than at fifteen." No matter how many times I tried to tell my mom that hairstyle or dress is a personal choice, and she should respect any style as long as it is not harmful or anything, she just doesn't listen. But I'll try to discuss this with her again and hopefully she is willing to listen. Once again, thank you so much for your answer Jan 2 at 4:46
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    @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight: Excellent defense by your mom. If only all young people would spike their hair instead of their drinks. We would all have a much safer saner society. =)
    – user21820
    Jan 3 at 16:29
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You could analyze this with the tools in Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape. Here's an oversimplification: Young people form a sub-tribe and therefore need to distinguish themselves visually from those outside the sub-tribe. And the parent wants the young person to visually belong to the general tribe.

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I agree with j4nd3r53n on the plausible motivation for parents to want their children to have some particular kind of hairstyle. There is, however, a potentially better resolution than to "shrug your shoulders" or "fight back". Namely, you can try to directly address and eliminate the real source of conflict. This would entail having a discussion with your mother on her needs and your needs with respect to your hairstyle. Note the focus on needs, not mere liking.

For example, you can tell her that if she feels uncomfortable with you having an untidy (to her) look, then you can comb your hair whenever you go out with her, but you would like to have your hair the way you prefer it when you are by yourself. This is merely one of many possible compromises, but it gives an idea of how there can be targeted solutions.

Just shrugging your shoulders would likely give the wrong signal that you can be controlled. On the other hand, just fighting back and doing only what you want would likely give the wrong signal that you are rebellious. If your parents love you and you love your parents, then it is best to avoid wrong signals that could arise due to a lack of communication of personal preferences and motivations.

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    This is a really thoughtful approach, so +1. This is about feelings, though. Wants, likes, and dislikes are feelings, and unless both parties really care about the other's feelings, this would not work. Rebelliousness is also extremely common during the teen years, and most adolescents lack the self-insight or the vocabulary to express their deep feelings about self-determination. That doesn't mean it's not worth trying. I hope this answer gets the consideration it deserves. It's a wonderful approach all around.
    – anongoodnurse
    Jan 2 at 16:42
  • @anongoodnurse: Well, the asker here sounds like a thoughtful person, so that's why I suggest it. =)
    – user21820
    Jan 2 at 21:00
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    I really would accept this answer as well if I can accept 2 answers. I never really thought of this tbh, thank you so much for this answer :D Jan 3 at 8:09
  • @Stackexhcange_user: You're welcome! Hope this issue will be resolved to your and your mother's satisfaction! =)
    – user21820
    Jan 3 at 11:18
  • (About accepting answers, you should just pick the answer you feel is best for you. Public opinion is supposed to be captured by the votes, but the accept-mark is entirely yours to decide.)
    – user21820
    Jan 3 at 11:18
1

Firstly, I'd just like to say that you handled your thoughts maturely and are approaching this parenting subject with curiosity and a questioning mindset.

I like to think of myself as chaotic neutral, so part of me wants to say shave your head and see if she still asks you to comb your hair. As a parent myself, I think a level of independence and self-expression is appropriate for all of my children. Have you perhaps spoken to her and expressed the same thoughts that you have here? Like really had an adult conversation with her about it? I find that when my kids approach me with a serious thought or question, I am receptive to their argument.

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  • I've never really had any serious conversation with her. I really wish she would actually take time to process my thoughts and be more receptive about my ideas. She sometimes view herself as the more superior person, if you know what I mean, those kind of "I am older = I am more experienced = I am smarter" mindset. So she never wants to lose arguments with me, you know, those type of "all kids should listen to their parents to be successful, period", "kids shouldn't fight their parents" mindset. But thankfully I never felt any emotional abuse so I wouldn't say she is narcissistic. Jan 3 at 8:29
  • I really like this advice and would encourage you (the OP) to try to have serious conversations with your mom. It is important. (Conversations of all kinds, not only conflicts.) Parents tend to lag behind in the perception of their quickly-developing children and a friendly reminder that you are not 10 any more but 13 (or whatever) may be in order. Jan 3 at 21:35
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My mom dislikes my hairstyle, is this normal?

Not only normal, but apparently necessary in most families and societies.

The real, evolutionary, reason is that between the ages of 10 and 20, children gradually separate from their parents, and this process involves finding points of disagreement between parents and children, as children assert their own autonomy and authority.

If asked, your mom would probably rationalise her views with one of a number of standard viewpoints. She thinks you should be 'tidy' for school or future work. She doesn't want to be 'shown up' by you, or have her peers think that she is a neglectful parent as evidenced by your non-standard appearance. It may be that she thinks you show an uncaring attitude to the love and care she's given you up to now.

It's good that this point of disagreement is relatively inconsequential in practical terms, you can fight over this while still being housed, fed and funded. Try not to burn any of your bridges.

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Yes, it is normal and common, and it is caused by the generation gap between you and your mother. A lot of mothers nag, as a lot of fathers do. Parents nagging their children is a tale as old as time; that is what parents tend to do. She is still having sentiments from her youth, where neatly licked and tidied up hairstyles were trendy; however, the "messy" hairstyle you provided an example of is still perfectly acceptable in my opinion. It does not even look unprofessional, it does not look greasy like it hasn't been washed for a month. And if it wasn't your hair, it would be something else instead. However, please note that it is not an ill will from your mother -- quite the opposite. She certainly deeply cares about you and your well-being, and probably tends to overdo with her care, rather than risk not doing enough.

However, it is not entirely altruistic on her part, as she certainly also deeply cares about her own perceived social status. And you are, by proxy, affecting her perceived social status with your appearance: no mother wants her perceived social status lowered by having her children appear neglected and not taken care of. She could be afraid that "messy" hairstyle may give an impression of her not caring about you enough, which could imply something about her not being a good mother.

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Prelude

Given what it means to grow up (try things out and find your own way of doing things) and how societies make progress (mostly by old people dying and younger people doing things differently) and how groups like a clique of friends, a subculture, a generation etc. establish an identity (namely through noticeable differences in appearance, behavior and music), one could say with only the tiniest amount of exaggeration:

If your mom always liked your hairstyle I'd be concerned about you or your mom. ;-)

(A bit of an exaggeration because there are teenagers and parents who like each other's haircuts that are perfectly fine.)

Context

Let's start with the observation that hairstyle sends strong social messages and has most likely done so since the dawn of mankind. Hair is directly attached to our bodies which makes it a part of ourselves; that sets it apart from clothing and gives it more and more immediate significance. A non-standard hairstyle sends the message that a person does not belong to the establishment, both in the negative sense (they aren't one of us) and in a positive sense (I am different). Witches, the prototypical outsiders, are often depicted with wild hair, as in this copper engraving from Albrecht Dürer:

Consequently, controlling somebody's hairstyle is a proxy for controlling that person altogether. Many organizations like the military, clergy or fraternities require their members to wear a certain hairstyle; obtaining it is a rite de passage, as in the opening of Kubrick's movie Full Metal Jacket. Forcing it on somebody can be a violation of the fundamental right of control over your own body.

The flip side is that asserting or maintaining your own haircut is an assertion of control over yourself and your identity. That is the reason why it is so important.

Forced or voluntary: The hairstyle sends an easily recognizable message of social belonging that helps us assess people. With the hairstyle you desire, an observer can tell that you are neither a hippie nor a marine nor a (white, I presume) Rastafarian from a mile away.

I'm establishing this context to show that discussions about hairstyle do not occur in a vacuum; the choice of haircut navigates a messy confluence of history, non-verbal communication, social norms and power.

What can you do

I have made it a rule as a parent to only fight with my son about things that are objectively important; style is not one of them. (In fact, there are preciously few at all.) This rule is probably also applicable in the reverse direction: If it is no big deal for you to accommodate other people (including your parents) then do so, and fight only where it is important. Not playing power games is less exhausting and also lets other people know that when you fight the subject matters, not the fight. This principle is not universal because always doing what other people prefer is not a healthy way of living. But it would apply to the special occasions discussed in the next paragraph.

Because your mom may ask you to tidy up your appearance, including your hair, especially for certain occasions that are important to her: A formal event, her friends coming over etc. Your perceived untidy appearance may make her feel genuinely embarrassed. That is a valid reason that you should consider. In those cases it is not primarily about you in the sense that she tries to dictate your choices; it is rather about her, and making her more comfortable in those specific situations is a nice thing to do and may lead to a more agreeable relationship. Of course you can still wear a disagreeable haircut as a protest and in order to present yourself as more than an appendix to your parents. This desire is also a valid motive, mirroring your mom's desire to avoid embarrassment. It is a social message: You are old enough and independent enough to make your own choices. That you make your mom uncomfortable is the cost this protest carries.

The pros and cons here seem to point to a natural compromise that both parties can live with: Tidy your hair up for special occasions but assert authority over your appearance during other times. And because your desired haircut seems perfectly acceptable to me, chances are your mom is more afraid of other peoples' reactions than is warranted and may become more relaxed when she realizes that other people don't find it terrible at all.

0

I would invite you too look a bit deeper, why does your parent do this? Why does it matter? What does it mean in terms of your choices and identity? What is a preference and should you have a right too one? Why when and how should your parent tell you what too do? What is their authority based on, and does it exist in the first place? What is authority and when is it valid?

I would invite you to question your parent and discuss with them rationally, if they can not be reasoned with (that is not, they disagree with you, but that they are not acting rationally, and or are not protecting you) if its extreme enough, you rebel might want to consider rebelling here is what I mean:

Rebellion based on vein things is a sign of immaturity. Well thought out and deep philosophical principles and actions taken appropriately in accordance with your well founded & reasoned fundamental ethics & principles (when you feel someone is contradicting them) is. e.g "I smoke to piss my parents off because I don't like what they are doing" is a sign of immaturity. "I have reasoned through the consequences of this situation and done my due diligence, I feel I have made this decision with a similar or greater degree of reason than my parent, yet they block me and propose irrational reasons why I should not take this course of action. I do not feel they have ground to stand on if I make this decision for myself (or they simply "don't like it"), and it does not involve vanity, therefore I will proceed anyway and will not accept punishment and ignore any punishment as much as is reasonable because it is not founded on reasonable or ethical grounds" is valid.

Reasonable ways of ignoring or not accepting the punishment:

  1. Doing what you would do if the punishment's was not given (no more -- no less) while continuing to restate your reasons until they can make a coherent argument (if they do, I believe the punishment's can be at least reduced on the argument that neither of you thought of that before). A side affect is often, if you are not being arrogant, this can demonstrate your competence, but no one is immune of competence but a mistake, be sure to remind your parent of this. If not done in secret, sometimes parents just need to see this kind of thing to alleviate their anxiety. That said, don't do anything stupid or dangerous. Again, I am speaking about decisions that involve ethics, or opportunities that you may want to pursue, hobbies, defining your identity, etc. There is so much potential at your age, I suggest you look into getting head start, for example: at your age I really wanted to take college classes, or be involved with college programs, but my parent (and at the time I thought the state, this may have been the case without my parent's help at least) would not cooperate, and circumstances prevented me from pursuing this (I couldn't drive, I was not allowed to drive by the state due too my age, and my parent made it too difficult for me to get to where I wanted too go by other means [because of irrational fears that I wont go into]).
  2. Acting in a way that is consistent with the boundaries of the punishment's, but continuing to do what you want to do, an example of this would be a person who was sentenced to jail, they felt the punishment is unjust, so they refuse to leave their cell, and opted to write a book in the cell, they made it their own they "wanted" to be in the cell (rather than give people the satisfaction of complying with the authorities punishment). An example of this when I was young was I felt it was not right to force people to remain on school properties in order to continue to exercise their right to a free and public education (though I thought suspension was okay). In order to avoid this I was sure to comply with school rules that were consistent with my ethics (and most were, I did not usually have any desired to do most of the dumb things a lot of other people my age wanted to do). Be careful with this one, it can become very limiting or enabling or destroy or erode your principles and self-confidence.
  3. Turn the other cheek: If there truly nothing you can do within reason, you can comply with the punishment but state that it is unjust but continue to maintain your argument. Do not let the fact that you disagree with your parent let the punishment continue indefinitely though.
  4. If your parent uses force (such as them force combing your hair) either directly or by proxy, if you can get away from it (within reason) or prevent it from being used you should. Never use force. Force is often the irrational persons attempt to substitute for rationality & truth.

Remember to always be respectful, as you would any other person but more so because they are your parents, and you should love them, and they should love you. Be open minded, and be prepared to admit you are wrong -- that's part of the deal: as they should admit when they are wrong.

Your parent should be open to dialog with you, meaningfully listen too you, and respect your rationally based disagreements, if they consider questions asked as respectfully as possible to be "disrespectful", ask yourself, is truth ever "disrespectful" or should it be hidden.

Some signs your parent is not being rational:

  1. When you have clearly thought something out more than them, and they refuse to think further on the subject (and they are not hiding something)
  2. They go around in circles
  3. They are highly emotional about the subject
  4. Their "reasons" come down to emotions or unjust (not all) of societies expectations/social pressures
  5. Arguments from authority

There are more, but be sure too look for these in yourself too

To be clear, I do think generally you should listen too your parents, if you can reason about what they say and think about it critically, you should be free to disagree with them.

If you cant do these things, I would listen too your parents (barring abuse/a toxic relationship).

TL;DR

I invite you too examine things from a rational perspective, do critical thinking, and dig into philosophical thought (look at this too), why does something like this bother you, perhaps there are bigger underlying/overarching themes that bother you or ideas you should think about :)

I don't say this to be degrading in any way, its entirely possible you understand these things, and you are free to reject this free advice.

IMO, I agree with @Boat , as a 26 year old non-parent, your parents use of force and their emotional frustration is concerning too me.

And remember philosophy can be very practical, I think a good start for ethics is the basic idea of object, informed consent, and circumstance can be applied to a lot of ethical systems, the idea of figuring someone's moral culpability or classifying acts via "a [good or evil] act with full informed consent of the will with no mitigating circumstances" is a good concept in general I think. You may want to consider this idea when evaluating your own actions and those of your parents.

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-1

By constantly complaining about your looks (or other irrelevant things), it seems to me that your mother might sees you as an extension of her own ego and/or is trying to keep you down.

This behavior can often be seen in narcissistic parents. You might want to look into this topic and make sure that this is not the case. If you find more evidence that your mother might be a narcisstic person please contact someone who you trust and can ask for help.

All the best for you and your relationship with your mother.

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  • This is really more of a comment than an answer. Maybe you want to flesh it out to be more detailed and helpful to the OP?
    – anongoodnurse
    Jan 2 at 21:12
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    Thank you so much for your concern, thank goodness my relationship with my parents are good, all of us love each other equally. It's just that sometimes they have different mindsets as me which sparks some arguments. But other than that, I have a harmonious relationship with my mom and dad. Thank you for your concern :D Jan 3 at 6:16
-4

Listen to your mother.

Untidy hair is highly unprofessional. If you want to get a white-collar job in an office, learning how to properly groom yourself is an extremely important skill for you to learn, and even if you're aiming for a blue-collar job working a trade, the best-earning jobs involve you running your own business, and you need to look suitably professional to your clients.

Even if your dream is to work a service-sector job in a retail outlet or restaurant, 90% of the time you still need to look professional, since you're representing the business to its customers, and unless the business has an "untidy" brand like some clothing companies, they won't be interested in hiring someone whose appearance detracts from the image they want to portray.

So, in conclusion, I would definitely say that your mother is right, and you should listen to her. Brushing your hair takes like 30 seconds - and failing to do so sends the message that you're an unprofessional slob who doesn't care about their appearance. Furthermore, it says that if you don't care about your appearance, you also by logical extension don't care about the job you're there to get, since you don't care about what they think about you.

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    I highly disagree with this post. There are indeed times where you have to be professional, I know for sure that dressing a messy hairstyle or wearing a pajama to a job interview is not accepted. However.... there are times where you can dress more freely, life is not only about getting a job, there are times where I have fun, hang out with my friends, and dress how I wanted to Jan 2 at 14:04
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    "unprofessional slob who doesn't care about their appearance". I don't care about my appearance? absolutely false. In fact, I do care a lot about my appearance, which is why I dress the hairstyle that I prefer and the hairstyle that I think is the best for me. Jan 2 at 14:08
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    Who, as a teenager, wants to get a white collar job in an office?!? Or a retail position, or as a waiter? Frankly, I don't remember what I wanted to do at that age (probably just get my driver's license so I could hang with friends), but those jobs would have sounded dead-awful to me.
    – anongoodnurse
    Jan 2 at 16:47
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    That "messy" picture looks neater than my normal hairstyle and I have no problems holding down an office job. Seems highly location-specific whether all office jobs want people to look "professional", and what that means for the specific area.
    – Erik
    Jan 2 at 19:02
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    The drawbacks of this answer stem from unwarranted assumptions, namely, (1) that choosing an "unprofessional" hairstyle contradicts "learning how to properly groom yourself" (the question does not imply that they are poor at grooming if they choose to do so), (2) assuming that the look/dress-code requirements of a particular job place any restrictions on how the person looks years before appying to that job, which is obviously false; (3) presuming that a "professional" look is appropriate for every environment, while in some cases that look would show a lack of care about their appearance.
    – Peteris
    Jan 3 at 17:15

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