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.