50 Stories, Week 41: A Close Shave

It has been one full year since I shaved my head. Clearly I was prescient in knowing that the whole world was about to implode so I thought I’d make a drastic move in anticipation. 

Over the summer, about six months in, I still had people asking me But WHY? Why did you do it? Are you sure you’re ok? Because they cut their hair really short one time when they were going through a bad breakup, so clearly, something must be wrong. Also, they associate my shaved head with cancer and didn’t want to wonder. It was strange to get looks of pity at times – people must have thought I was going through chemo treatments. I am of the age where that isn’t an unreasonable assumption. Occasionally, I would feel badly about their sad looks toward me (though most people I know who have or had cancer do not want our pity.) 

If a man shaves his head out of nowhere, the first thought isn’t usually cancer. Or a really bad breakup. It’s probably that his hair is thinning/balding and finally realized this is a better look than a combover. Or maybe he’s raising money for charity or doing it in solidarity. Or he did it on a dare. But because women are supposed to look a certain way (which way again? I am starting to forget,) the immediate assumption is that something is definitely wrong. People were worried. And maybe unintentionally a little judgey. I realize so many of us are attached to our hair, it is a literal extension of ourselves. But what happens when we want to reinvent or rebirth ourselves? Shed the old way of thinking, and a trim or new cut just doesn’t, well… cut it?

We don’t ask everyone who gets their first tattoo if there’s something wrong, do we? Or when someone buys a motorcycle or makes some other so-called midlife crisis purchase, we accept it or laugh it off. Even celebrate it. Unfortunately, this wasn’t my experience with the head shave. My husband, in particular, had a very difficult time accepting his new reality. The husband of a wife with no hair on purpose. While it may have felt abrupt for him, I’d been wondering out loud about doing it for years. I felt like I gave him ample warning. It’s only hair, after all, not my identity. 

I think instead of there being something wrong with me, maybe there was something right with me. Maybe I was tired of spending my energy thinking about the color and length and style of my hair. Maybe I was bored of the mental gymnastics of figuring out when to schedule my next appointment with my colorist to perfectly line up with an event I was going to or a trip I was taking. More importantly, maybe I was tired of wondering if I still looked younger than my years – as if that was the bar with which to judge my value. 

Freedom is now my barometer. And oh, how shaving your head feels free! When you have no hair, you feel everything, all at once. When a light wind wafted, my scalp tingled like I had someone’s fingertips running up my spine. When it began to grow in, a millimeter of hair would change direction in the breeze and I was completely invigorated. It has grown out fast and greyish and uneven and I love it. Oddly, I’m grateful for our pandemic time because it hasn’t occurred to me to get a haircut. Though lately, I’m considering a longer style with bangs because I like how they frame my face. Soon enough I will remember the upkeep and probably start the cycle again. But this time, it will be for me and no one else.

p.s. just so you know, I’m never giving up the selfie.

Aging Pandemic Perspective Self-Care Women

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