Sunday, November 08, 2009

I Shaved My Head, But WHY????

Once upon a time, I shaved my head. Unlike my friend Lisa, who did this recently (and whom I called attention to, because she inspires me) in reaction to the fact that her hair was falling out (she is fighting cancer) ... unlike Lisa, I was not fighting an illness. I have known several females who have shaved their heads bald because they suffer from cancer or alopoecia or went through brain surgery ... a number of things that made it more or less necessary. Some have shaved their heads in support of these females. Socially, this seems to make it more acceptable. When the masses find that you have shaved your hair off because of something like those reasons, they feel much more comfortable (like that is a woman's job anyway, to make everyone around them comfortable ... ha). For better or worse, my story was not like that.

And yet, it wasn't meant to make a statement. It wasn't meant to be a rebellion against anything or anyone. I just didn't want the hair anymore. Doesn't anyone else ever feel that way? Also, in case anyone needs a mental picture of exactly what happened, I shaved it only to a # 2 razor cut (if you know clippers, this is one of the guards you can use to measure how short the hair will get). So my hair was not cut to the scalp, but it was very short. For a woman, it was extremely short. Okay, and it didn't help that the very first time I did it, I made one little mistake and took a knick out of the back of my head. Oops. I didn't want that kind of extra attention, but I had to suffer through it.

It all started sometime in the previous year or so. I had a long, dark, swinging ponytail. I wore my hair like that, in a ponytail or tightly-wound bun at least 6 days a week while I worked my job as a fast-food manager. My shifts were 9 hours long, and I had to have my hair up. It wasn't that I minded putting my hair up. I thought it looked alright, I got compliments sometimes -- wait, no, I really did not get compliments on my hair at that time; it was more that I got compliments on things my hair accentuated, like my eyes or long neck. Wrapping that thick-ass hair (and it IS thick) into a squishy bun was the best way I knew how to let it air-dry out of my way. I have never learned to do cool things with my long hair; or, whenever I think I have learned, my hair has not "held" the style I've worked so hard upon for very long. I don't know for sure whether it's me or the hair. And I'm not the kind of person who has the patience to spend more than a few minutes on something like hair.

To tell you about me, and the time I'll allow for appearance-related duties each day ... I remember being 14-years-old and making a decision. I was a very disciplined little girl, always creating schedules and routines for myself. My parents were not as strict with me as I was with me! Maybe they didn't have to be, because I did it for them. In the summertimes, it was like I knew already that I would fall into boredom and despair if I did not plan ahead. It just came naturally to me, no one told me to do it. I find that so peculiar now. But anyway, if you look at my notebooks and journals from that time, I would always have my days planned -- I mean, right down to each hour -- with things like working out, tennis lessons, and working on my annual newspaper, which was a project I did just for fun each summer. And I was happy that way! To this day, there is little more unsettling to me than a day that just stretches out before me with no real plan. Although I have to admit that in recent years, I haven't always been so disciplined, and that is part of my problems and issues now. But that's going to be another post!

So, I was careful and diligent about my time. I decided at 14 that of course I wanted to be clean and pretty and "done" when I arrived at school each day. I wore a little bit of makeup, and I had long hair (a bit past my shoulders) that was highlighted that year. However, I decided that with all the options available to teenage girls (and all of us women) for hair and make-up and styling and fashion, one could spend an infinite amount of time and energy each day preparing. And while nobody said this or taught this to me explicitly, it occurred to me that for me, there had to be a limit. For me, that limit was going to be one hour. I don't know how I reached this conclusion at that age. My own mother, who was my main make-up and hair influence leading up to that time, would probably not agree. I just thought that there were only so many hours in each day for all my interests and priorities and responsibilities, okay? And while I wanted to look good and meet high school boys and all that, I also wanted to play sports and study English literature, and sleep and read and write. So I decided that I would spend one hour each morning getting beautiful, and after that, I would leave it alone.

That worked great, actually! I knew everyday that I had put my best effort into all those little details that we girls like to pay attention to, knew that I had worked my hardest on matters of appearance. As my mother would say, I had "put my best foot forward." If I felt I had spent that one hour doing that, then I didn't fuss over these things or obsess about them throughout the day. As a teenager, this was truly a feat. Because it wasn't lost on me that worrying you had a fucked-up hair do or not the right makeup or whatever throughout an entire school day can be utterly demoralizing at that age.

But back to the year of the shaved head. I was working at the restaurant, going to college, and those tasks pretty much took up my time. I dated a lot, but my priority was not finding a husband or even getting a date for that weekend. If you know me, you know it really never has been about that. My priority if and when I had free time was to get ahold of friends and go out somewhere fun and relaxing. Most of my time was about work, making money and getting closer to that college degree. That doesn't mean, however, that I didn't appreciate anytime a guy would flirt with me. The restaurant drew mostly construction workers, middle-aged family men and families with children. It wasn't a great pool of single guys. The ones that did come in were definitely the type to go for a buxom, long-haired blond, 9 times out of 10, and a few of my co-workers fit that bill. In the flirting wars, they almost always outshone me.

I understood that this was more about the type of person in our "audience" than it was about me, my personality or my looks. It also sucked to wear the uniform I had to wear as a manager there. And despite the fact that I sometimes was bothered by this, it was never at the forefront of my mind or on my list of Important Issues in My Life. I was tired of my hair. I was just plain sick of how long it took to dry, how difficult it was to make it look pretty when it was down, to keep it from engulfing or competing with my rather dramatic facial features (large eyes, big smile, European nose). It has the rather-unfortunate (in my opinion) combination of being both fine and thick. The individual strands of hair are fine and in the winter become staticky and flyaway-y. Yet the sheer amount of hair on my head is thick and heavy when it's long. I felt by the time I had reached my 20's that I was always fighting it. That hour I had allocated for getting ready each morning? I had begun to spend the majority of it fighting and wrestling with my hair. I resented this fact, wishing I could experiment with new make-up looks, drawing attention to my eyes, which usually get me the most compliments. And after I had fought my hair, it almost always came to pass that I didn't like how it looked. So what was the point of all of it?

That was the beginning of the end. One day it just crossed my mind: what if I just cut it all off? I mean, people say this all the time, but they don't usually mean it. Well, I thought about what it would mean to say it and do it. To cut it all OFF. It could be liberating for all the reasons I listed above; I would be free of all the trouble and annoyance my hair caused me. My next thought was, would it be worth it? I mean, really, the social consequences felt like they would be mighty. I have always suspected that this is because I live in the midwest. I don't think that anyone would look twice at me in New York City, for example, as a woman with a shaved head. But in the heartland, where people hold to traditional values and many people still rock their sweatshirts with applique seasonal designs on the front, and stretchy blue jeans, out to dinner ... well, you get the idea. Then, throw in the group that surrounded me, the construction worker dudes and guys from the bank and a few cops who at that time had only one woman on their department. I didn't see how shaving my head would appeal to them.

The more I thought about it, the more desirable it seemed TO ME. And the more I realized that my one sticking point was just that: the social upheaval that I was afraid would come of my actions, especially from men. Now, I have been fortunate to have great women around me, women as friends and family, about whom I never really worried. If anything, they were the ones who spurred me on, before I even showed anyone. I knew my girl group would love and support me no matter what I ever did with my hair. My girls always supported acts of courage and bucking the status quo, whether it was in society or at work or just in one's choice of clothes and hair.

I had to admit it. The only thing that was holding me back was my fear that BOYS WON'T LIKE ME ANYMORE. And guess what. When I realized that was my one sticking point, the ONLY thing keeping me from doing something I wanted to do, something that might be really liberating and fun ... and that was easily changeable, as my hair would begin growing back the minute I stopped shaving it ... I began to be angry and disgusted with MYSELF. So I thought more and more, it's either me or them ... I was going to live and make my decisions based on what THEY might think and how they will react OR I was going to live for me. The choice was obvious. I never make choices for anyone else if it stands in opposition to what I know is good for me, will make me happy.

So I made my decision. One night, when I had plenty of time and solitude, I chopped my ponytail off. I then carefully cut all but little, short tufts of hair off my head. There was no stopping. I plugged in the clippers, and I copped Sinead O'Connor's style. It was deliciously terrifying! I took my time, going over and over my head to get all those plucky hairs exactly the same length. I marveled while discovering the shape and length of my long neck. I could see the shape of my skull. I learned that I had to shave closer on the ridge which did not heal quite right on the top middle of my head (they were still using foreceps on babies when I was born). It was awesome. I was happy with my decision.

Everyone wants to touch a bald or shaved-short head, and I was no exception. It felt so funny to me, and it was fun to touch! You know that phenomenon of how, when you put your hair into a ponytail for several hours, you take it down and that spot where it was pulled kind of aches?? Well, my entire head felt that way for nearly two weeks!! I have since spoken to some guys who said they had this same experience. It's like the follicles are used to being pulled a different direction by the long hair, and suddenly they are not being pulled by the now-lightweight hair. So it kind of ached and itched. There were all sorts of little and new things like that with my new haircut.

Since then, I have re-grown my hair, but not as long as it was before the shave. It seems to grow pretty damn fast. I wonder sometimes if I will ever be able to grow it to ponytail length or whether that ship has sailed for me. People say that sometimes you reach a point where your hair will no longer grow past a certain length. I'm not sure I will ever have the patience to find out. Once I had cut that hair off, I really haven't ever wanted it back for very long. As many readers know, I usually keep it some version of short or shorter these days, stopping sometimes to grow it for awhile.

In Part 2 of this post (coming later or tomorrow!), I will tell you the story of the way society and my world in particular reacted and still reacts today. As for me, I have never been happier or felt more ... ME. I spend my "free" time in the mornings experimenting (like I had always wanted) with different eye make up, from golds to green and purple, or just some black-rimmed cat-eyes. With very short hair, I don't like to leave the house without ANY make-up. After all, my goal was never to look like a boy. I pay more attention to my wardrobe most of the time too; and I use my time (and money!) freed up from fussing with hair to do that as well. Every now and then, I do go to my stylist and have her trim my hair into a professional shape and cut, to make sure it's done properly. But most of the time, I just use my own clippers (I've invested in a reasonably good pair) to do this cut; it's nearly foolproof and I've gotten very practiced now. Today before I jump in the shower I am taking my hair back to a # 3, something I haven't done in awhile; that is part of what spurred me on to writing this post. I'm taking my look back (almost) to where it began. You can touch it if you want.


TOM said...

1st thing I think of is Sinead O'Connor, 2nd is when I shave my head completely bald and how nice the water felt on my head when I stood in the shower, 3rd thing is I wonder when we will get to see the sexy new hairdo!

Kari said...

I was also thinking of when you came over and shaved Greg's head for the first time! He still remembers that too!