Why I Shave My Head
One of my first acts of rebellion was to cut off all of my hair.
In the first grade, I made the bold decision that I didn’t really want ass-length ringlets anymore and opted instead for a clean bob, much to my father’s disappointment.
It seems to me that this early act of will was the first of many attempts to define myself outside of the image of a pretty little girl. Not only was it important to me to be able to define myself in my own image, instead of the one that was being imposed on me, but I also wanted to send a message that I was not to be ruled.
My family dynamic was old-school. My mother stayed home as a housewife, to raise the kids, make the food and to basically wait on my father. He spent his days ‘slogging his guts out’, as he called it. So, I suppose the arrangement worked for them at the time. Unfortunately, at around the age of 11 or so, my father became disabled after a motorcycle accident and after that, things were different.
Fortunately or unfortunately for me, my mother was secret feminist. I had been firmly instructed on my rights as a human being from the age of 3. She didn’t gel with my father’s anger and since he was rather difficult to reason with, she armed me with the knowledge and confidence to defend myself and to stand up for what I believe in.
My mother’s choices aside, it became an important part of my character to be able to cultivate a level of strength, forbearance and bravery in order to stand up to my father a 6’4, 200 some ‘odd pound frontiersman with one of the loudest voices I have ever heard. It was especially important when he became handicapped, because he was around ALL THE TIME.
With my mom experiencing severe depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it became increasingly important for me to pick up the slack in raising myself. I learned to cook and started to keep more and more to myself. I began to consider myself my own guardian, signing permission forms and homework slips (as instructed by my parents, who were too overwhelmed by life and their own disabilities to keep up with the minutiae of everyday life).
Around this same time, I began to really push at my limits with them. They couldn’t muster enough interest in the things that I was doing and I felt less and less inclined to seek their validation. Since even before the accident, we were lucky to see my parents at dinner time. They were so overwhelmed by the tragedy of their lives, there didn’t seem to be any room for the additional issues of a maladjusted preteen.
I didn’t really fit in with my peers at school either. With my over sized clothing and hair cropped nearly to my skull, I wasn’t the prototype of a catholic school girl, especially in a small town where any little difference will stick out like a sore thumb.
The other girls didn’t know what to do with me. I suspect that they were actually afraid me. After dealing with my father’s intimidation, the worst that they could dish out seemed rather banal in comparison. The physical intimidation that came from the boys was something I understood a little better. It was the kind of thing that I had been fighting against for most of my life. I understood the mentality and how to deal with it. I had no fear of physical violence. After facing threats of being snapped in half by what at the time was an actual giant, the thought of being punched in the face didn’t rattle me all that much.
So when they stole my hat, or crumpled my drawings in my face or any other annoying little provocation, I showed the same stoic but thinly veiled rage that kept my father at bay. I was crazy too. I had a lot of suppressed anger and I think that I was looking for an excuse to funnel it at someone. It scared me sometimes, how angry I would become and I tried my hardest to protect the people around me from something that I recognized as dangerous.
As a woman, there’s no easy outlet for anger. As the perennial peacemakers, it would be unseemly to indulge in such outwardly confrontational behaviors.
Fortunately for me, I did figure out that most bullies aren’t spiritually strong enough to actually destroy you. There are some people who will stop at nothing to stomp out the defiance in another person’s eyes, but most just want the thrill of intimidation and aren’t actually strong enough to conquer another person’s spirit.
No, I met those people later.
Being the kind of girl that I am, I don’t get a lot of the protections that other girls do. Cutting my hair off makes me prone to gangs of suburban thugs and random drunken dudes on the street. Because I have made the choice to shave my head, sometimes people believe that it gives them the right to scrutinize me, outwardly criticizing my personal choices as though they have any say over what I do with my own body.
The thing is, I don’t like to be dismissed as silly. My wedding fantasy was always about me riding into the middle of a field stark naked on a cow, in front of friends and family. I bring my boyfriends flowers. I ask guys on dates. I will compete intellectually with nearly anyone/everyone with ferocity. I will also wrestle, quite willingly when challenged (and I like to win).
I am small but mighty.
I don’t like when men feel like they can try to win me. I’m not won over by displays of machismo, or wealth. I am impressed by a largeness of soul, a kind of fellow warrior trying to carve a place for him/herself in the vast wilderness of being. I want someone to come up to me and address me as an equal. I am also just as interested in getting laid as any man would be and I respect a man’s sexual depth as much as my own.
I want to be appreciated for the things that I have worked hard to achieve, not the things that I was given naturally. I want to be told that I am tough, and smart and strong. I don’t want to be told that I am beautiful. It’s nice, but I don’t really have any control over that, so you might as well tell thank God or science or whatever it was that made me the way that I am.
I would like a soul mate. I would like someone who can look at me for who I am and what I have been through and be impressed. I would like to inspire and be inspired by someone who is incredible to me, even perhaps to me alone. I would like to share myself in the most profound ways possible.
I want to be touched and loved and appreciated, but not because I match up with an expectation that a person might have in their head. There are a lot of people out there who would be happy to do that. For a lot of people, it’s easier to fit in and it makes them feel comfortable. I support people’s choices and often have felt jealous of those who were given a more stable foundation in life and who found it easier to be happy and carefree.
The thing is, I have lived the life that I have lived. I don’t have a choice to be any other way than what I am. I am the sum of my experiences and my choices and this is how I have learned to become comfortable with myself.
It’s funny, because I actually consider myself quite feminine. I guess that just means something different to me. It’s scary sometimes to be the way that I am. It scares me because I face a lot of criticism, intimidation, and sometimes violence. It’s scary because I don’t blend in easily and sometimes people feel the need to pick at me when I make them uncomfortable.
It feels good, though, because it is amazing to be myself. I love how strong I feel when I refuse to compromise my true identity and no matter how hard things have been for me, I wouldn’t change a thing.
And though it may sound intense, that is why I cut my hair.
Some articles of interest about women and their hair:
The Bald Truth – Guardian, Feb 2007
– An article suggesting the many different motivations women might have for cutting off their hair, both in popular culture and historically.
When She Cuts Her Hair, Look Out – And They Lived Happily Ever After
– This article seems to exemplify popular thought on a woman’s choice to cut her hair, mostly as some sort of punishment for men. A fairly conservative examination of the emotions women have about their hair.
Why Can’t Middle Aged Women Have Long Hair – New York Time, Oct 2010
– Another perspective on hair and how middle aged women and beyond are expected to keep their hair short. It’s interesting to think about how women at different stages of their lives are fighting different forms of expectations. Defiance in this area takes on a very different form