I can pinpoint the age when I became woefully self-conscious about my appearance. I was in middle school, and Britney Spears had just burst onto the scene with “…Baby One More Time.” The sexy schoolgirl vibe in the music video was talked about just as much as the song, from Britney’s bouncy braids adorned with fluffy pink pom-poms to her midriff-baring ensembles that never would have been allowed in the hallways of my school. With my braces and belly fat, I began measuring myself against Britney and her pop star peers and found myself falling short.
When you feel like you don’t fit the standard of womanhood that the media chooses to promote as the ideal, you can either torture yourself trying to conform, or you can run in the complete opposite direction. For me, that was baggy, punky clothes, dramatic eye makeup, and — my personal favorite — doing fun things to my hair.
For whatever reason, doing new things to my hair has always been an instant panacea for any of my self-esteem issues. I’ve never aspired to have the long glossy looks seen on models in the pages of magazines because what’s the point? I’m never going to be those girls anyway, so I might as well be myself. I’m currently rocking the hairstyle that I always wanted and never thought I would have the chutzpah to pull off: a platinum-blonde pixie. My inspiration? Megan Rapinoe. (I really like these photos of her, mostly because I have this exact jersey of hers and people have legit thought I was her when I wear it haha.)*
The world of women’s soccer is one of the few places where I can see women who look like me being glorified for their talents and abilities by millions of viewers — women whose bodies are muscular and powerful instead of wispy and delicate (I run marathons, so my body is similar), and women whose hair is just as untraditionally awesome as I always aspire for mine to be.
Megan Rapinoe is one of my favorite soccer players in the world for a variety of reasons. Her bold and uncompromising opinions on equality match her play on the pitch — and so does her hair. I’ve always been obsessed with Megan’s short, shockingly white-blonde hair, mostly because it so immediately stands out from the crowd. You can’t hide with that hairstyle, and as an introvert whose natural inclination is far too often to blend into the background, it gave me an idea: perhaps if I too had that hairstyle, I’d be forced to step away from the shadows and into the light.
Eventually I took the plunge and did it myself. Normally I hate it when people tell me I look like someone else, because I value my individuality, but when people stop me to say I look like Megan Rapinoe . . . well, it’s impossible to not feel like a badass.
The 2019 World Cup is in full swing, and as of the time of writing, the United States have made it to the quarterfinals. Megan dyed her hair bright pink for the start of the tournament, and while it has since faded to a more dusky mauve color, it is no less eye-catching. As someone who had pink streaks in her hair last year — it’s a waste to not add fun colors to your hair when you’re a blonde —I love seeing her rock that style on the pitch. And in addition to Megan, there have been plenty of other players on the field whose hairstyles can best be described as #goals.
The South Africa team might have lost their first-ever World Cup match, but there’s no denying their entrance onto the sport’s biggest stage was joyful and bold, from the song and dance that accompanied their arrival at the arena to their energetic, never-give-up play on the field. Here is a YouTube clip of the entrance, though I wish it were higher quality:
Many of the Banyana Banyana rock short androgynous hairstyles that motivate me to experiment further with my own due to their aesthetic as well as their practicality. But two of my favorites are Janine van Wyk, the team’s captain and most-capped player, and Thembi Kgatlana, the reigning African Women’s Footballer of the Year who scored South Africa’s first-ever World Cup goal. Needless to say, both are rock stars whose play has helped move the women’s game forward by leaps and bounds in their country. And both women are currently sporting short punky hairstyles dyed green! As Janine herself recently said on her Instagram page, “Life is too short to have boring hair.” Girl, I wholeheartedly agree.
Italy shocked Australia in their first group stage match, winning 2–1 over a team that boasts one of the best strikers in the world in Sam Kerr. One Le Azzurre’s standout players for Italy is Manuela Giugliano, a petite 21-year-old midfielder with a beautiful auburn faux-hawk. Buzzed short on the sides but swooping long on top, like the crest of an exceedingly cool bird, her hair is just as fierce as she is. Italy haven’t been to a World Cup since 1999, and Manuela —who has been a fixture of the senior squad since the age of 17 — is a big reason why they’re back.
I recently learned that the nickname for the women’s national team from China is the Steel Roses — quite possibly the most badass sports nickname I’ve ever heard. (Can’t you just picture it airbrushed onto the back of a weathered denim jacket?) The team lives up to the fierce imagery elicited by the name; in their first match, against Germany (a team very close to this German-American’s heart), they held the team ranked second in the world to a single goal. The beating heart of this team? Wang Shuang, the Paris Saint-Germain forward with the practical yet stylish short shaggy haircut that she says, in a recent Players Tribune piece, earned her the nickname “Tomboy” as a young girl playing on an all-boys team.
Of course, this is only a small sample of the unique mix of style and athleticism we’ve seen at this year’s World Cup, including Shanice van Sanden of the Netherlands rocking a leopard-spotted buzz cut, Gaëlle Enganamouit of Cameroon’s floppy green fauxhawk, and so many more. These women show me that there are so many ways to be a woman that go far beyond the traditional idea of what is feminine and what is desirable. I admire them both for their incredible play on the pitch and their unabashed willingness to express themselves in ways that don’t always cater to societal norms. In a world where so many soccer federations would prefer to highlight women athletes who are girlish and unthreatening, these women are, in a word, defiant.
*Editor’s note: the individual adding this piece into the website legit thought Lee’s bio photo was Pinoe.