My father jokes endlessly about his lack of hair, so when I texted him this photo a week ago, the caption was obvious: “Look, daddy—we’re twins!”
Last year, everyone on campus knew me by sight as “that girl with dreadlocks.” I guess now I’m “that bald girl.” It’s surprising how much of your identity is wrapped up in your hair. Surprising how you don’t notice till it’s gone.
Before the clippers hit my head, it seemed like a grand adventure—I would do something different and discover whether or not anyone can really look like Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta. But as a friend guided the vibrating clippers across my head in that first irrevocable pass, I squinched my eyes shut and squeaked, “What if I have an ugly head?”
A year ago, I bribed my housemates with cookies to help comb my hair into dreadlocks. When they said, “What if we ruin your hair?” I replied that I would cut it off. “It’s hair,” I reminded them. “It comes back.”
A week ago, when I bribed a friend with tea to shave my hair off, I realised I had no backup plan.
I found out how much I hide behind my hair.
When I dreadlocked it, I discovered the dubious joys of a hairstyle that people feel free to mention. Like a dog or a baby, somehow dreadlocks open you up to the scrutiny and criticism of strangers. People passing in Starbucks or on the sidewalk would ask how long I’d had locks or how hard they were to maintain. They’d ask to touch them.
Now, as I ran a hand over my newly-shorn scalp, I saw my face in the mirror. My eyes, my nose, my mouth. My sort of sticky-outy ears. Nothing to soften them. Just my face.
I couldn’t maintain eye contact with the stranger in the mirror.
The freedom to comment on my dreadlocks didn’t extend to my shaved head. Even friends looked and then looked away. Strangers avoided meeting my eyes.
Last year, everyone asked why I locked my hair; last week, nobody asked why I shaved my head.
I haven’t sorted out reasons. I’m still processing how I feel about the uncomfortable glances and the squirming refusals of some friends to feel my scalp when other friends say, “Touch her head!” I have guesses but no answers as to why my head is somehow different from my hair.
What I do know is that having no hair is scary.
Those first few days, I wore the kind of makeup I usually reserve for fancy-shmancy events. I’ve been choosing my clothes and jewellery with extreme care. It’s taken me a week (and a quarter inch of fuzzy new hair) to get comfortable enough with my own face to let it stand on its own without brushing on bronzer and adding sparkly shadows around my eyes. It turns out I know my hair better than I know my face—I’m surprised every time I see my own features in a mirror or a window.
I won’t be shaving my head clean every week or anything like that, but having a chance to get to know myself without something that I’ve literally and figuratively hidden behind for most of my life…I think it’s a valuable experience. In some odd, undefinable way, I think I’m better for having tried this.
But I can’t lie—I’m looking forward to having hair again.