Thought Catalog

What Happens When A Girl Shaves Her Head

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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.

Then-boyfriend: Okay.

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. TC mark

image – Joe Sotelo

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    • http://gravatar.com/gabydunn Gaby Dunn

      I loved this. Super fascinating look at what happens when you don’t toe the “feminine” line. The reactions from men are especially revealing. Really made me think.

    • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/06/what-happens-when-a-girl-shaves-her-head/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

      […] Thought Catalog » Life Add a comment […]

    • http://amykitt.blogspot.com Amy Kitt

      I’ve always been tempted to shave my head, because here in Florida any amount of hair becomes a hot, sticky mess in no time at all. I’ve always held off, though – less afraid of losing my femininity, more afraid of looking like a cancer patient. I don’t mind being unfeminine, I just don’t want to have to spend hours a day warding off false sympathy.

    • letgohey

      When I was 21, me and three of my male friends shaved our heads for the reasons somewhat similar to what you said. But I never got upset because of it – nobody ever asked me about cancer or anything and the best thing was when a couple of times I walked into a coffee shop and got comments like “I think your skull is very sexy”. Maybe I was too busy with my own thoughts at the moment to notice anything negative and make a good point about femininity, like you just did.

    • http://starfishdiaries.tumblr.com yelle

      I had cut my hair short today. It was up to my waist before I cut it and now it’s up to my shoulders. I had it grown long since October of 2010 because of an extreme rebonding accident which caused my hair to become brittle and break up to the scalp. My hair grew back but it still wasn’t long enough. The top half of it was curly (my real hair) and the bottom half was straight from rebonding. So you can only imagine it’s not a pretty sight.

      So today, I felt the urge to cut the bottom part. I had cut it myself in the shower because, well, because I just wanted to. Holding the scissors was very liberating, it made me want to go on and on and not stop cutting. I felt good right after, I dried my hair, didn’t even take time to comb it because it was curly and I thought it looked better that way. But when I showed it to my brother and my nephews, they didn’t like it that much. And I couldn’t understand why they’d prefer my weird-looking hair before over my decent but short curly hair now.

      I still think it’s much better anyway.

      • Guest

        Good for you :)

    • http://robvincent.net Rob T Firefly

      Some people do dig the shaven-headed look on a woman.

    • http://thepoetryoftheearth.wordpress.com earthfae

      *Hugs*

      I am sorry for what you went through, it is intersting how such simple deviantaion from the norm can cause such a reaction.

      In most cultures a woman’s hair is given strong signifigance in both folktale, religion and law. Seriously up until the last few centuries most woman’s hair was covered like in the Middle east. Some think this is because strong hair is a sign of fertaility to women

    • A-W

      I was really with you until your last paragraph. Women can’t be pretty with shaven heads? They must wear make up/ get manicures/love shopping to BE feminine and therefore “pretty” Why not to feel? I’m sorry this haircut was so rough on you, but your view of beauty is very narrow-minded, don’t project it on the rest of us.

      and everyone else doesn’t look like you, rebellion is actually very common.

    • Brita

      This article is kind of ridiculous. I really think you’re overreacting. I’ve known a few girls over the years who have gone either bald or really short, and no one gives a flying fuck. Seriously, calm down. And I’m disappointed that you started to wear makeup…Why should makeup make you feel prettier or more feminine?

    • http://twitter.com/CatWitches Sophie Cat (@CatWitches)

      Im 16 and this article really spoke to me. Ive always fantasized about shaving my hair off, like that girl in empire records (its a great movie scene). The day after christmas i cut my elbow length hair up to my chin in my family bathroom and dyed it red, and the feeling of seeing hair fall and scissors snip is incredible..You feel independant and fearless afterwards.

      And “I realized then 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.” reminded me of a quote from The virgin suicides “We felt the imprisonment of being a girl..”

    • LuckyStars

      Wow. I’m a female who shaved my head when I was 16 and, other than a few shocked looks from people who knew me, I did not experience any of this kind of backlash. I actually found I got more male attention than ever – a lot of comments about how awesome it looked, and a lot of requests to touch my head. I’m not questioning your experiences, but maybe it had less to do with society and more to do with the narrow-mindedness of your mother and the friends you’d chosen.

    • Kima5489

      I would have asked one or two questions. I might have asked what led you to cut your hair because I’m curious like that. The question I would have definitely asked is “Do you like it?” Then I would have went on my merry way. I generally ask people if they like their hair after a big change. I know how nerve wracking it is when you want to do something different and are afraid how people will perceive you. I’ve wanted to dye my hair for a while now. I think August is going to be that month…

    • Sarah

      “like most women my age, I have long hair, wear make up, get manicures and even love shopping.”

      Nice generalization. You’re oh so uber-feminine, you go girl!!

      Ugh.

    • Bas

      I thought this was going to be more positive and empowering… I’m not judging your experience. It is valid and certainly something that can and does happen to some women who do drastic things to their hair.

      But, as a woman who has rocked a pixie for 5 years, and as a woman who has shaved her head several times, I can’t say that the experience is universal, nor does having longer hair make me feel prettier or more feminine. I’m sorry you were treated poorly with your radical haircut, but I resent the assumption that short hair + no makeup = social oddity + not pretty. I feel more beautiful with short hair than I ever was with long hair.

    • Tess

      This article should not be called “What happens when a girl shaves her head” but “what happened when THIS girl shaved her head”.
      I also shaved my head a couple years ago and had a completely different experience… i still think it was one of the most liberating things i’ve done, and the period that ensued afterwards was one of the most free of my life.

    • becky

      Interesting what happened to you… The college around here that I will be attending, if you shave your head no one cares…just makes you gay, some will say, or a woman with a shaved head.

    • Hye Jeong

      Currently rocking a shaved do right now. And I’ve never been hit on by more men in my life. Needless to say, i was very confused, because I didn’t really shave my head to up my “come hither-ness.” When I asked a male friend about this development, he said that the look automatically makes me look like someone who is “free and confident, unashamed, unafraid” and “who wouldn’t want to be with someone like that.”

      I honestly think, as others have stated, that your outlook is very important. Maybe you feel most confident with longer hair. That’s fine. Maybe, like me, you feel more or most confident with shorter or shaved styles. Just do you boo. :)

    • Wesley

      Wow. It amazes me how judgmental people are. Hair is such a minor thing. Why can’t people learn to accept others regardless of physical characteristics?

    • Sam

      Best I’ve read on here.

    • http://twitter.com/lizzbdotcom Lizz B. (@lizzbdotcom)

      Perhaps everyone on here is forgetting that the author’s experience likely happened a while ago…?

      The trend amongst many young women of shaving a portion of the head (usually one side) took our culture by storm recently. This fact, among many countless other things, might make people more open to the idea and less [openly] judgmental. – That and your geographic location.

      This is ultimately not about YOUR experience, but rather the author’s. She never said “YOU GUISE, THIS IS WHAT EVERY-SINGLE-WOMAN-EVAR, EXPERIENCES WHEN SHAVING HER HEAD AND ITS A WAR ON WOMEN!” So climb down for your tall, head in the clouds existence, for just a moment, and consider the fact that this is also “only the internet.” – Don’t take things so godsdamn seriously all the time.

      Thanks.

    • http://elrevolucionista.wordpress.com elrevolucionista

      I’m a male. While in high school and early in college, I shaved my head for periods of time. No biggie. I liked it, did not like getting sun burnt though. One time when I was older, I got a really, really short haircut. I got some dirty looks, people reacted differently to me because I looked, in my opinion, very aggressive. My point is: it is not a matter of gender, at least not entirely, is about social conventions, and no matter how progressive an environment you think you are in, if you break these conventions you are going to get different reactions.

    • Chase

      I’m a guy. I get a lot of the same things when I paint my nails. Guys, girls, they both look at you funny. They forcefully grab your hands and inspect them. My friends demanded, persistently demanded explanation. It is something that I think looks cool; I don’t have nor feel obligated to give any other explanation. I don’t plan on discontinuing the practice, but I am really annoyed and made self-conscious by people’s responses. I’m glad to see that some of you ladies in the comments have found acceptance in your hair choices, hopefully someday there’s acceptance to be had for my choices.

    • AJ

      OK, I would like to say THANK YOU for writing this piece. I am female and at age 19 I shaved my head because I WAS a cancer patient. Months (I would say up to a year) following remission, with very short hair that was growing, I continually got TONS of snarky remarks — about my sexuality, about how it’s such a shame this whole “donating hair to cancer” fad is catching on (they literally thought I had donated my hair as a wig), etc. Mostly people asked why I cut my hair (I often said “Oh it was a hot summer”) and people looked disappointed, bummed out that I had opted for this hair style. Many people told me how much prettier I looked with it longer. I am genuinely thankful to the author of this piece for writing this, North America needs to learn to STFU and quit asking invasive questions, and just accept people for how they look. So thank you.

    • TJ

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I find the best way people connect and learn is to hear about the lives of others.

      I’m definitely one of those 21 year old women who decided that shaving the sides of my hair off was a good idea. I didn’t shave all the hair off, my hair is more of a fo-hawk, floppy beast of a thing. In my experience, it was hard when I first made the transition. It’s strange to go from a mere face in the sea of faces, to being the one that everyone stares at. Although I am a lesbian and like the alternative styles that we women-loving-women have, it can be very daunting to try to pull off that kind of hairstyle.

      I was with you until I started to feel the vibe that your whole beauty related directly to your outside appearance. I don’t know, maybe society rules a lot of your personal perspectives and how you value and view beauty. For me, I could not give 2 f*cks about what men do or don’t think of me (it’s flattering when anyone tells me I have awesome hair, men included). It’s sad to me that people pressured you: your mother, friends, men in general. Our society has some pretty strict regulations on what is normal, not normal, extreme, and not extreme. Makes you think…

      Thank you for sharing your identity with us. Hopefully the rest of us can do the same.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.newjay John Newjay

      Starting in the 1970’s a few to models shaved their heads as a statement of edgy-ness. I remember this vividly, growing up in Brazil, and they were known as “As Carecas” or the bald girls. At that time, in the mainstream, a woman showing a shaved head in public would have caused the reactions described by Ms Phillips. The loss of identity and individuality is precisely the reason that prisoners get their heads shaven upon entering prison, holocaust victims had their heads shaven upon arrival at concentration camps, and new soldiers have their heads shaven upon entering boot camp. Today’s society is freer and more accepting than any time in recent history towards different visual styles, and her experience would certainly have been different had she lived through it today. Interesting essay!

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