What Happens When A Girl Shaves Her Head
When I was 21, a junior in college, my then-boyfriend and I shaved our heads. I shaved my shoulder-length hair Sinead O’ Connor-Natalie Portman-in-V-for-Vendetta bald. As to the why, well, if we were to ask my friends and relatives, here is why I did it:
- To be different
- Because my boyfriend told me to
- Because I was on drugs (sort of true if marijuana counts)
- Because I was in a cult (my Mom’s theory)
- Because I was a punk rocker (a cousin’s take)
The truth is that one not-so-spectacular day my then-boyfriend and I were studying at a cafe. This conversation followed:
Me: I always wondered why girls can’t shave their heads. I used to shave my high school boyfriend’s head and would love to do that myself. It looks low maintenance.
Then-boyfriend: Why can’t you?
Me: I don’t know, why can’t I? Let’s shave our heads.
So we went to his apartment and shaved our heads. Did I think this was extreme? Yes, actually, and back then, I was okay with extremities. (For I felt that within myself there was a giant, empty vase and in order to fully live, to fully know, I needed to do as much as possible to fill that vase with as many experiences as I could — whether good or bad. So I said yes more than no.) I was also very political and rebellious at that time as most young college students are and had begun to think of myself as a feminist. I didn’t wear makeup, deodorant, or shave consistently. Hair was just hair. It would grow back.
I figured I’d get some grief from a few people, maybe even stares, but for the most part everything would go on as before. I was wrong. What followed was a highly emotional, exposed, wrenching period for me. My mother became hysterical and convinced I was on drugs or in a cult. She cancelled my 21st birthday party. My friends insisted my then-boyfriend had brainwashed me and that I had done it to make him love me. Strangers routinely walked up to me wanting to know what sort of statement I was looking to make or if I had cancer. Men no longer leered or hit on me but would simply stare or openly mock. After years of trying to be pretty, wanting boys to think me desirable, I became a kind of asexual curiosity.
I had not prepared myself for the reactions and did not handle them well. I cried more than I had before or since, even in public, and I, as a rule, do not express emotion in public. It became an alienating and depressing time in my life. I was angry and sad that something so small (Hair! And my hair grows really fast!) could cause those who loved me to behave so meanly. I was still me — a bald me, but still basically myself. And I was ashamed, embarrassed about my looks — after all, I reasoned, I must have looked pretty f—ing bad for people to get so upset about it. I realized then (and this was a disappointing realization) that when we don’t toe the line of femininity, don’t dress and behave the way we are expected to, we become outcasts, freaks.
But throughout the shame I was made to feel, I stubbornly refused to cover up. There were no wigs or scarves. No attempts to hide my baldness. I wore a soft beanie the then-boyfriend gave me on very cold days, but for the most part brandished my bare head like a weapon. No matter what I wouldn’t hide from what I’d done.
And after a few months, the hair, as it is wont to do, grew back. I kept it close-cropped for a while. The longer it got, the more my identity as a woman became acknowledged. I was told I looked like an edgy model or Demi Moore in GI Jane. Men began to see me. When it grew out a little more, I got a job as a hostess at a fancy Japanese restaurant. The pixie cut became stylish instead of crazy. And my mom eventually came around. But did I?
Well, I let my hair grow long again and started wearing makeup. I found that it was okay to be pretty, in fact, I felt I had earned the right. That was 10 years ago. I’m now married and a mother and like most women my age, I have long hair, wear make up, get manicures and even love shopping. Time has tempered the rebellious, extreme part of me. But that shaved-headed girl is always inside, looking out, knowing that our identity is a haircut away from being taken. One day, when anyone least expects it, I may get bored of looking like everyone else and do it again. I won’t cry this time.
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Even as I write this now I am debating whether or not to erase it all together.
When I say I’m in love with you, I mean I love the story I can tell to my next lover, about my ex-lover, about how beautiful things were, how intense, how storybook, what a couple we were, and how you gradually, inexplicably, painfully, bit by bit, disappeared.
“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
I was 24 and, while not gay, ever since college I had been getting more attention from gay men than from heterosexual women.