How it feels to sacrifice your hair
Let me preface this piece with a disclaimer: I did not shave my head in a statement of defiance and with a wish for self-determination, exploration. I am not that woman. And not because being that woman is bad, in fact it’s the opposite. I am not that woman because I would not have that courage. I didn’t do this out of bravery, I did it out of necessity. Shaving my head was a way of raising money for a loved one with health issues. But I wish I could have been that woman, the one who says ‘fuck you!’ to the gender normative, societal stereotypes of traditional femininity. I’m just one girl who shaved her head and wanted to write a piece about her experience with it.
The day I shaved my head (18/05/2016) I woke up with a mixed sense of excitement and apprehension in my gut. This could be really cool, I thought, but what if I look like a mole rat? In the days and weeks coming up to Head Shave Day, I’d received a lot of support and a lot of people had tried to talk me out of it. It went from ‘that’s an amazing thing to do, props to you for having the balls to do it’ to ‘Mash, you realise you’ll never get laid again right?’ Friends and strangers all had opinions on what I was about to do and as much as I like to tell myself I don’t give a shit what anyone says, we’re all prone to that little white lie, of course I do. And in this case, this was something that was going to affect me for a long time. There was no backing out of it though, I’d promised to shave my head to a lot of people so now it was just a matter of fighting off the negative reactions in the run-up to actually losing my hair.
I’m not going to lie to anyone and say that hair doesn’t matter to me. In fact, I’ve always used hair as a measure of attractiveness, the longer, thicker, glossier the hair the more attractive I’d find myself. Hell, hair even matters to me in the opposite sex so of course my own hair would make up a huge part of my self-worth. In the moment, the decision to shave my hair was an easy one; the moment it had become final I began to have doubts. I didn’t know what I’d look like; I didn’t know how I’d manage to pull it off; I didn’t even know what my head shape looked like. All of a sudden I became blind to my future, albeit a small part, but one that mattered a great deal to me. Save makeup, hair is one of the easiest ways to self-express and I had willingly given that up. And that’s not to say I want to trivialise the cause I did it for. If that’s the criticism I’ll get then your delusions will pass right by me. I don’t regret shaving my head and I’d do it one hundred times over if it meant I could help someone I love. But my own self-confidence took a huge hit when I woke up the next morning, barefaced and bare-headed. The day of the shave I was exhilarated, running on adrenaline and a couple (maybe a bit more than that) beers. My head wasn’t a strange shape! It didn’t look that bad! I’d done it! It was only the day after that I looked at myself in the mirror and thought ‘fuck. I’ve done it. How long will it take to grow back?’
I want to touch on the comment made by a male friend of mine that I mentioned earlier. It was a couple weeks before the headshave and we were out for a friend’s birthday, a little bit intoxicated and having a lot of fun. I asked him if he’d support my fundraiser, saying I’d shave my head at the end of it. I guess in my drunken state it didn’t register that his reply mentioned nothing of the fundraiser and just focused on the fact that my physical appearance would be ruined. ‘Mash, you’ll never get laid again’. It’s funny to think how much importance we place on such a simple thing as hair, and especially as women. Bald men are seen as the most masculine, the most testosterone-heavy of the male species. Yet men with long hair have all of a sudden become iconically sexy. I don’t see that with girls. Just last weekend I was standing outside of my work, on my break, when I customer made her way outside. Her first question to me was ‘are you gay?’ which bewildered me because for a moment I couldn’t figure out what about me would make her question my sexuality so outwardly. ‘No’ I replied, at the exact moment I realised it was the shaved head. ‘Well you’re beautiful’ she continued, ‘at first I thought you were gay but I think you’re beautiful’. Short hair on a girl or a woman is so often associated with masculinity. But why? There’s nothing wrong with being gay or masculine but why does a mere hairstyle put you into a categorized box?
I’ve noticed that the attention I now get as a shaved-headed girl has shifted, the men that would be more likely to approach me back when I had a full head of hair won’t glance twice at me now, whereas men who are older, or guys who are on the … ‘edgier’ side seem to take a lot more interest. That’s not to say I’ve become a sex-magnet for the unconventional man but it’s been interesting to observe the general public’s reaction to a simple haircut. Or, not so simple if you’ve heard my internal monologue, but you get the idea.
My hair’s grown a bit since I shaved it, not enough to count for the casual onlooker, but enough to be noticed by those who know me. It still catches me off guard every once in awhile; I still go to tighten the ponytail that’s no longer there when I’m absentmindedly doing something. I feel lighter, but my scalp burns easily. Showering has become a breeze but it’s hard to portray my own femininity. I’ve been referred to with male pronouns accidentally before they stammered over a quick correction. It’s taken its toll on my identity; as superficial and trivial as it may seem, saying goodbye to my hair has taken it out of me self-confidence wise. Anyone who's known me a couple years would know me as a confident couldn’t-care-less about the opinions of others kind of girl. But for my best friends who’ve seen me grow up, this wasn’t always the case and I feel like I’m fighting against that part of me now. Shaving my head was both a beautiful thing that I’ll never regret and a self-sacrifice that I’ll resent until my hair grows back.
It’s going to be a journey.
MASHA is a Russian-born, British-bred English student at the University of York. In her spare time, she likes to sleep and avoid all responsibilities. She is a big lover of food and likes to brag about her ability to burn pasta. With future plans still undecided, her path in life is not walked but rather stumbled through, learning along the way.