Tell me...how many women in your life have wanted to change something about their appearance? Do they follow through? Have you noticed the difference in how long it takes someone to advocate for their wants versus the length of time required for the doubt to creep in? After all, what will people say about preferences and modifications that don't have any lasting effect on them?
I never thought I'd get to a place where I would need to ask these questions. Not because of any political or religious preferences that would sway me one way or another, but because I've never stopped to consider that a choice I made (about my body) would have an effect on some random person walking through the street. Perhaps it's a degree of privilege worth exploring.
The Issue At Hand
I was born with thick, dark, wavy hair. I've been destroying brushes, snapping ties, and busting clips for as long as I can remember. My hair is a lot. It's long and heavy. It causes headaches, disrupts my vision, and the shedding...ugh! If you live with a thick, abrasive mane that does what it wants, you have my condolences (or congratulations, depending on your preference). Perhaps my journey's been sullied from all the "Did you brush your hair today, honey?" and "are you sure?" memories that haunt my conscience.
I hate my hair.
There has never been a time in my life when I've enjoyed taking care of it. As a teen, I was really into make-up and would occasionally get dressed up for photos and outings. Even then, when I cared and was dedicated, my hair wouldn't do anything. It rejected dye, defeated straighteners, and absorbed products like a castaway would ravish fruit from a tree. All was for naught, and it didn't take long for me to abandon my dream of taming the beast.
My hair was officially free to do whatever it wanted, and I quickly forgot about my attempts at world peace. Unfortunately, the grievances weren't as easy to forget. The judgemental looks and snide remarks evolved into an infinite echo chamber about hairbrushes, specifically: which ones to buy for my hair type, how to use them, where to find them, and other unsolicited advice from people whose hair couldn't be further from my own.
I broke so many hairbrushes that I started looking into subscription boxes. I took enough over-the-counters that I became the go-to person for pain relief at outings and work events. It was ridiculous. Enough was enough. I wanted to be done.
Planning and Preparation
Toward the end of April 2022, I asked myself a question that had never occurred to me before. What if I just got rid of it? To this day, I can't decide what surprised me more: the fact that I was seriously considering it, or that the question took so long to form. I wrote it off as a nice alternative to reality and went on my way.
In June, I was faced with the same question again. I'd just gone through another stack of hair ties and was becoming fed up with the constant contact of hair against the back of my neck. Was it worth restocking a bunch of products I was just going to lose, break, or give away? What other option did I have? You could just get rid of it, not as much upkeep for a bare scalp.
By the time July came to a close, I'd made up my mind. I wanted to get rid of it. However, I wasn't anywhere near prepared. I'd had long hair my entire life. It'd never been shorter than shoulder-length. I relied on it as a shield when I didn't want to talk to people in public. It was great for pretending I had earbuds in and avoiding eye contact. To this day I maintain the one thing it was good for was keeping my sanity intact while I ventured through the great unknown. Of course, these were easy fixes.
I bought wireless earbuds and glasses, then began lugging books around as an extra layer of protection. With my new defenses securely in place, I browsed the internet for inspiration. Once confident, I devised a plan. I'd start with chin-length hair and sit with it for one month. Afterward, if I was ready and committed, I'd go as far as I dared.
By the end of August, my plan was in full swing. I'd chopped off my locks, layered what was left, and hoped for the best.
I loved it. It was lighter, carefree, and easy to maintain. Plus, my usual amount of shampoo and conditioner lasted forever. I was ecstatic and ready to move forward.
The month came and went. At the end of September, I pulled our clippers from the closet and got to work. My original plan wasn't necessarily to go bald. I wanted most of my hair out of the way: no more infuriating brushes against my neck, limited to no products, and, most importantly, no more headaches.
The first cut was quite simple. Using the second smallest guard, I removed most of the hair. I left the spot at the very top to allow for some of that protection I was reluctant to let go of. Even though it was only a small amount, I wasn't ready to part with it quite yet.
I made it one day. It was an amazing day, nonetheless. The wind against my bare scalp took some getting used to, but I absolutely loved everything about being bald. Despite the positive changes taking place, there was some...awkwardness. Allow me to explain.
After a lifetime of constantly shoving hair out of my face, I'd developed a sort of defect. When pensive, frustrated, or bored, I'd take a hand and plow it through my hair. Multiple times a day, every day. And wow, what a strange sensation to go from a mass of thick waves to stubble in one foul sweep.
I wasn't a fan. So, the day after sweeping all my hair into the trash, I got rid of the top bit and knocked the length down to the smallest guard in my kit.
A Penny For Your Silence
It's worth stating that I'm not a very transparent person. I come from a background of abuse, trauma, and psychological difficulties that make it difficult for me to trust and communicate the way society expects. That said, I didn't tell anyone about the plan to alleviate my lifelong struggle(s).
When my younger sister visited me later that day (or possibly the day after), I mentioned briefly via text that I was "bald now". It did little to deter her shock. It may also be wise to share that I'm known for my sarcasm, dry humor, and wit; a combination that urges most to misconstrue any contributions (to discussion) as flippancy. Perhaps she just didn't believe me.
In any event, she waltzed into my home office to find me bald. Credit where credit is due, the visual inspired a slight pause before her lips curved into a wide grin. "I love it.". Ever the supporter, that one.
The rest of the world wasn't as kind.
As I mentioned, this was a big change. No one in my circle has hair quite like mine and no one in my circle has ever committed to a buzz cut. I never thought I'd commit to a buzz cut. It was a whole new vision of myself, one that left me a little insecure in every new environment I walked into. I felt this way because the change was significant.
Overall, I remained happy, confident, and relieved that I'd taken this risk and done something for myself. And when I returned to society, it wasn't long at all before I was missing the comfort of my own home. People can be incredibly judgemental and cruel (however unintentional it may be).
Some of the more shocking instances were as follows: a family member using a homophobic slur to describe my appearance, multiple coworkers joking about experiencing a mental health crisis and/or a variety of psychological illnesses, and a few (older) acquaintances asking me if I wanted to be a boy. All in all, I was very disappointed with their responses. The whole thing left me feeling tired and more than a little on edge.
As time went on and the initial shock wore off, people learned to be more accepting. There were still way too many comments about the LGBQ+ community and "today's youth" (which rarely ended well for either party). As problematic and infuriating as that was, it still wasn't as bad as the realization that not one of these people approached with the intention to start a genuine discussion.
One by one, time after time, they would make up their minds from afar (based entirely on their predetermined, personal bias). Then, as if possessed by the incurable desire to regurgitate an unwarranted opinion, they would approach and proudly declare their judgment. One haircut, and suddenly everyone (with the exception of myself, obviously) is an expert on my life.
In the midst of this chaos, there were a few good things that happened. For starters, everything with me improved and then I started being approached by the youth. One young mom called out to me from a drive through window. She shared that she'd been thinking about doing a dramatic undercut but was too concerned with what people would think/say. She was in her mid-twenties, single mom, multiple jobs, and wanted to know how I'd gathered the courage.
Another woman, in her thirties, approached with a full-bodied hug and enough concern to start a go-fund-me page. She wanted me to know I could survive "this cancer", because even without knowing me personally she could just sense that I was a fighter. She added later that I shouldn't worry because multiple people had survived before me, and she was sure I'd be one of them.
Later, a high school kid at a convenience store asked how I'd gotten lice. Which was actually quite funny because with the type of hair I had, you get lice quite often. My mother used to joke "all anyone has to do is say the word, and you have it". It was (oddly) nice to converse about it without all the anxiety.
Out of all of the experiences I've had over the past 6.5-7 months, I think the thing that stands out the most is the way people communicate with eachother. Why do we make up our minds before seeking the truth? How much more colorful would our lives be if we silenced our inner critics?
All the social commentary aside, this experience has been incredible. I harbor no regrets. This was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Even now, as my hair continues to grow in new and intriguing ways, I find it fruitful. Full disclosure, I have decided to let it grow back out to about jaw-length. I think I'll embrace a shaggy bob for a while, then see where things go.
If you're thinking about dramatic changes to your appearance, please know that the only opinion worth taking into consideration is your own.