Technically I didn’t shave it, my partner did. (Don’t worry, it was a choice I made, not some cruel prank pulled on me in the middle of the night.) Women have been shaving their heads for various reasons for centuries, so this act is far from unique or revolutionary on a large scale, but it feels revolutionary in my one little life.
My reasons for doing this are boring, really. I was tired of my hair. It was bugging me. And it was everywhere. I have also uttered the phrase, “Ugh I’m going to shave my head,” hundreds of times over the years but never considered actually doing it until recently. I made a post on facebook about it, asking people to talk me out of it, and was surprised by how many people commented, not to talk me out of it as I had asked them to do (they never listen) but encouraging me to do it.
My niece texted, “Let’s do it together!”
Another friend advised, “I think everyone should shave their heads at least once in their lives. It’s so liberating.”
I responded to my niece, something like, “Eek! Let’s talk more about this later!”
We did not talk about it again until the next morning, when she sent me a photo of her newly shaved head and smiling face.
“I feel beautiful and happy,” she said. And I thought, That’s so cool and also, Shit. I have to do it now.
Doing new and unusual things with my hair is not new for me. I change my hair all the time. I haven’t seen my natural hair color in years. I’ve also had pixie cuts several times, so why did shaving my head feel so different?
Until my sophomore year in college (which was, like, 22 years ago) I had very long hair. It was kind of my defining characteristic. It was my veil and my security blanket. It was pretty, even when the rest of me was not. It was long through middle school, my two years of public high school in my hometown, and my next two years of high school, spent in a “therapeutic boarding school” called Mission Mountain School, in Montana. I went straight to college after graduating from MMS, and my hair stayed long through my freshman year, and half of my sophomore year. These years were not pretty for me, literally or figuratively. I had learned very well that being attractive as a woman was vital, but I, a woman who was supposed to live up to that standard, had acne. It was bad, I was doing everything I was supposed to do to get rid of it (to no avail), and my shame colored every part of my life. In my mind at the time there was absolutely no way to be attractive as a woman with acne. And what even is a woman if she is not attractive?
But I had my hair.
I also gained weight, like many people do when they enter college, but unlike most people I had come from a “therapeutic boarding school” that strictly monitored my food and water intake, and every single bite of food I ate had been prescribed and observed. We did not eat sugar, unless you count the jelly packets we used on pb & js. So when I got to college I ate a lot of sugar and got heavier. At the time, gaining weight was horrifying. I definitely could not be attractive if I were fat and had acne, I thought. I knew how the game worked. I felt incredibly ugly. I believed that I did not deserve to take up space.
But I had my hair.
I cried when I finally cut it. My roommate put it in a braid and the stylist snipped that long braid right off. I donated it to Locks of Love and then it was gone. The only part of me I had thought was pretty or feminine was gone. But although I cried, it was mostly a cathartic cry. I was so happy. I looked better, first of all. And felt lighter. Free. The haircut, which was a longish bob, was far more flattering than my long hair had been, and I know it’s a cliché but I felt liberated. I felt independent in a new way. It turned out I did not need my long hair to survive, to be worthy of friendship or romantic relationships. I did not need it to justify being an “ugly” girl and daring to exist.
Since then I have had many different haircuts, none of which have ever gotten longer than shoulder-length, and have generally been much shorter than that. I feel better with short hair. I feel stronger. More like me.
But shaving my head? There’s no way I could pull it off, I thought. It will draw attention to the things about my face that still make me feel ugly. The scarring of my skin, which is a daily reminder of the trauma of being a girl who was supposed to be pretty but had acne instead. (The word trauma may sound exaggerated here, but I promise you this is a type of trauma.) My nose, which I am perpetually self-conscious about. But these things are also precisely what makes this liberating. Because I did it anyway. Because I can look in the mirror and see someone who rejected the bullshit beauty standards society has demanded that I adhere to. That said, I will be wearing big earrings, red lipstick, and mascara more often than I have been because that’s what makes me feel confident with this new ‘do. And goddamn it, the whole point is that I get to decide.
You would never know it from observing 99% of women in any kind of media, but there aren’t any tests you have to pass to make a decision like this. The idea that only certain people can “pull it off,” meaning only certain people are allowed to shave their heads, is utter bullshit. If you want to do it, do it. Your worth is not dependent on your hair, the size and shape of your body, or your facial features. YOU, as you are, deserve to take up space in the world. I am saying this to you, but I am saying it to me too.
It’s telling that the scariest part of this for me was not about how I would feel, but how other people would feel. Typical woman stuff. We are trained to worry about other people’s feelings before considering our own.
We are quarantining with my parents, and I was worried about how they would react. Particularly my father. Because when I mentioned it the other day he responded with an appalled, “Shave your HEAD?” Because women don’t do that.
It would be nothing if we shaved my son’s head, but my daughter? That would cause an uproar. What strange rules people abide by.
But you know, fuck that, obviously. I wore a hat out of the room the first time I saw them to soften the blow. My dad hates it and that’s ok. That’s not my problem. And he doesn’t hate me, luckily. Who knows how other people (men) in my life will feel? And also, who the fuck cares? It’s funny, actually, how people feel they have a right to take other people’s hair choices personally. Like, why would anyone give a shit what I do with my hair, besides maybe my partner (who is 100% supportive and loves it)?
Why do people care what other people do when it comes to their appearance? I spent many years being ashamed of wearing a small amount of make-up, for example, because my friends in college did not wear any and some of them were, frankly, judgmental about it. Fuck that, and fuck that for so many reasons.
We all live in and take part in the patriarchy. It’s impossible to separate many of our choices from that reality. The truth is that I am still hung up on the desire to be pretty. It’s precisely because of that hang up that I feel proud of this one small act of resistance against patriarchal beauty standards. But goddamn it I’m still going to wear bright red lipstick because I get to make that decision.
You get to make that decision too.
We can shave our fucking heads if we want to.