Sunday, November 08, 2009

Part II - The Reaction

In my last post, I related my personal experience of how and why and when I shaved my hair into a buzz-cut, a style I am currently sporting again (albeit a tiny bit longer these days). I did it on a week night, and I was thrilled. I spent that night enjoying the look and feel of my new, spiky, short, light hair. My head felt unbelievabley light-weight. It was insane how many times I was surprised to find no hair swinging or falling against my back. I never got used to it, it seemed.

That year, although I was not altogether unprepared for it, I found out that our heads really do release half or more of our body heat! This is wonderful in the hot summers; a simple splash of ice cold water on my un-mussable hair makes a world of difference. But in winter time, I had never before been so cold! I'm one of those always-cold girls anyway, so I had to think fast of a solution. That was the first year I shopped for new and stylin' hats to wear. It was a lot of trial and error. Sometimes the hats were too itchy (I cannot wear wool at all, not even for a second!), some too childish despite looking "cute" at the store, some too big for my (another new discovery) smaller-than-average adult head. But I found what I liked and what flattered me eventually. It was a new piece of my wardrobe in a way, something new to try out. It is still amazing to me how much difference a warm hat makes when I am cold!

But what you really want to know is whether my worst fears came true ... whether no boys ever like me again ... right!? Well, they did. But some didn't. I wore a hat to work that next morning, for my very first unveiling. It would be in front of the owner of my workplace, a man who had become a second father to me, a member of my second family. I saw him everyday, he had been with me and there for me through some very intimate times, and he had brought out my leadership skills before I even knew I had them. But I knew that he was among the most conservative people in my world. Regarding politics and clothing and just ways of living life in general, the man was Conservative. Our conversations had revealed that his taste in lifestyle was making money, having a wife who mainly stayed home and raised the children and prepared food and laundry for the family, and who looked, well, traditional: longish hair, preppy, etc. Now don't get me wrong, all of you who might sway toward the same preferences. There is nothing wrong with wanting and having these things or this lifestyle. It just isn't quite the same as what I personally strive for. But I don't see myself or my views as better or worse, merely different. My boss was pretty much the same. I had worked for him for years at that point, and he respected me. He accepted me as being "different" to his way of thinking. We teased each other about our differences but worked well as a team. It was like that.

Nevertheless, I was nervous as I approached the door of the restaurant where he was already inside working. I came in, and he greeted me, barely looking up, working on something at his desk as I recall. I remember blurting out, "I need to get this over with and show you what I did." I admit that I was feeling less "liberated" and "excited" and more fearful and like a little kid, wondering whether she would be grounded for something. But feigning the confidence that had deserted me, I whipped off my winter hat: Ta-da! I think I could have predicted his reaction.

"Oh. My. Frickin'. God!" He stood up and began walking slowly around me, peering at each side and angle of my head. "What the hell did you do that for?" But he was smiling. He was surprised but not shocked. Not disgusted. In our relationship, he was usually at least amused by my constant changes of hair color and style or whatever. And that was fine with me. He came from a different walk of life, completely. And like I said, we teased each other but respected one another's opinions. The rest of the business day went along alright, with other emmployees exclaiming when they saw me and asking whether there was a specific reason I had done this. At least half of the people who spoke to me about it said they liked it! My boss kept up the peering and laughing and staring. It was difficult to get used to, for me too.

I could tell, as those first days went on, that people were most disturbed by the fact that they wanted to know what this meant. My own mother took time out to ask me whether I had done this because of any sort of emotional upheaval or upset. She said if I truly just liked it and wanted my hair gone, then she supported whatever. But she wanted to know that I wasn't suffering silently through something and acting out with this drastic change. Oh my! I assured her that it was the former, and that was true.

I can't say that it came as a surprise to me that I became my own walking, living, breathing social experiment. Contrary to what some people think, I never did this to get attention or in order to become such an experiment. I did it for the reasons already explained. I accepted whatever "consequences" came of my choice to do what made me feel the best. The main social consequence was that people always want to talk to me about my haircut. Whether they are curious, admiring, aghast, disgusted, or attracted, they want to tell me about it. A lot of girls I know who have extreme haircuts or shaved heads claim that they find this behavior rude, that they are offended at people's willingness to say whatever they think. That view never occurs to me really. I mean, if you do something that is not average or right in the middle of what is normal, I just think you can expect people to be curious. And their reasons for being curious might be any of the ones I listed. It doesn't usually bother me.

So what about the men? The main thing that women say to me (and it was the same for most of the other females I talked to while researching for this little story) is that they wish they could "pull it off" or "have the guts" or something to that effect. I always am encouraging, telling them how happy I was to try it; but of course, you have to feel like I did or it can be quite traumatic. GUYS, on the other hand, come with all sorts of opinions. I guess it shouldn't be a shock to find that it's often a cultural thing. For example, I rarely meet a black man who does not really like my cut. Black guys in clubs have stopped me to tell me it's "clever" and "sharp" and "hot." None have ever stopped to share their opinion if it was negative. And that brings me to something that really bothered me at first: black women are often seen rocking nearly-bald heads. I know that the whole issue of hair with black women is a huge, expensive, sensitive ordeal, and I'm not trying to pretend I know about that (although I'm excited to go see Chris Rock's documentary, "Good Hair"); so I am guessing that when a black woman grows weary of all that maintenance, that might be a major reason for cutting it all off. But whatever the reason, having extremely short hair, whether it's natural and close-cropped or dyed a shade of blond or whatever style ... that's accepted in our society. When I say it's accepted, I mean, nobody thinks a black woman with a shaved head is punk or counter-culture or rebellious, do they? It's just a style. But when I rock my shaved head, it's like I am explaining here: a bevy of opinions come out, and they run the gamut. And like some of the females interviewed say, people feel they have a RIGHT to some crazy opinions. I struggled with that race issue at first. I couldn't understand why I was being looked at if another girl right next to me with the same exact haircut but a different color skin was being considered "normal." Going into race / society issues is something that I will delve into more deeply another time, because it deserves an entire blog post. But that was one interesting thing and one that I admit puzzled and frustrated me.

Back to MEN. On the flipside of getting a lot of acceptance from black guys, I found that almost NO Latino men had appreciation for my cut. I have quite a few friends of this ethnicity, so we felt free to talk to one another in a real way. They told me basically that they just thought women should have long, luscious hair and in that way be different from men. All the guys I spoke to told me they loved having their hands and fingers in some long, female hair. It was sexy, they said. Fair enough. As for white guys, well, they always say something different. It just depends, in my experience. And of course, to all of these rules, there are exceptions, and I'm sure that if I conducted this "experiment" in another part of the world, I would find altogether different trends. But I was here, in the Chicago suburbs, in the late '90's, and these were the reactions.

I can't say they have changed very much. There aren't as many references to Sinead O'Connor, as she doesn't seem to be as famous anymore. I saw her in a magazine recently, though, and she indeed still has her hair like this. I think I'm more comfortable than some women would be with this haircut, because I have some prominent facial features that are easily made even more noticeable with a little more makeup and less hair. My best feature was never my hair. Nothing wrong with it really, but I also was never attached to it. A close female friend recently told me that she feels her own best feature is her hair; and it IS beautiful. I can imagine someone who feels that way would have a much different experience if forced to lose her hair.

For me, it was not traumatic, but it WAS interesting to notice all the ways that I, as a woman had come to rely on my hair. I mean, we flirt with our hair, we have habits of twirling and fiddling with it, we use it to draw attention away from a tired or un-made-up face. I noticed that a lot of times guys will see long, beautiful hair and approach a woman or whistle at a woman or whatever before even getting a very good look at her face. I began to look at the chicks who were considered classically hot and wonder where they would fall on the hotness scale without their hair. It seemed the ways and meanings that we as a society attach to hair were never-ending. I felt it too; it took some plain old getting-used-to for me to be comfortable without my ponytail.

People look at me. They stare at me a lot more than when I had long hair. Even when they don't say anything, I know that it is because they have an opinion about my head. And of course, people offer their thoughts, more than they did when I had a more traditional 'do. But they are mostly friendly. And maybe I have grown more comfortable in myself, or maybe society has shifted a little bit ... I can't be sure. But recently it hasn't seemed like such a big deal. I have some tattoos, and when they are visible, THOSE are what seem to draw more controversy. And no, I generally do not get hooted and hollered at when walking down the city streets by men I don't know. Drunken bar guys do not approach me as often as they do my longer-haired companions. But I have found that I don't miss that kind of attention too much. It kind of weeds out that type of dude. I mean, for me anyway, I am not so much interested in starting a relationship with a drunk guy whistling in my general direction. It's fun to be flirted with, and I still get that in the right places, but I have just found that there are some kinds of attention I don't need.

If I ever change my mind, there are some very fancy wigs available these days!

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