i walked to the downtown library today. it’s a gigantic, mall-size orpheum of books, if you can imagine that. there are seven different floors and each floor has 2-3 subcategories. it is truly a sanctuary for literary folk. i skimmed through many books on fashion, sewing, designing, and the art of body decoration, but i ended up running into a cultural investigation appropriately entitled “Hair”. since hair has played a huge role in my identity, i obviously had to read it. i’m only 10 pages in and i’m already enraptured. it’s already begun to make me think about my own experience growing up with my hair defining a huge portion of my existence.
growing up as a woman without hair was never easy and i would be lying if i said that it’s gotten easier. it continues to be my pink elephant, worst enemy, and any slew of other phrases that capture feelings of shame, hatred, and embarrassment. making friends as a child was difficult, especially as a chubby, bald girl. i would wear pink, put bows on my head, wear headbands; my parents even got my ears pierced shortly after i was born so that there was no way i would be mistaken for a little boy. all of these innately feminine things gave me a strong sense of myself as a girl, but there was still something missing. i would watch other little girls play, their ponytails swaying from side to side, and be envious. i would watch their mother’s comb their perfect straight hair longingly and delicately, wishing my mother could do the same. i would go home and wear a blanket on top of my head, pretending i had long hair and i was a beautiful mermaid, i would think: this is what is must feel like to have long hair.
when i was old enough to wear wigs, my mother encouraged me to try them. i thought they were great fun, but when entering wig shops i would always feel a sense of shame since most women thought that i had cancer. i learned that not having hair was something i should feel ashamed of. i would go to school with my wig on and still be made fun of, since everyone knew that i didn’t have hair. boys would always try to pull my wig off at recess and in the hallways. they would make a great game out of it. i did not think that it was funny.
i tried hairpieces from the Hair Club for Men. they were made of human hair and were glued directly to your scalp allowing you to shower, swim, and sleep in them. it was like having real long hair. i was finally able to see what it felt like. for the most part i liked it, though the process of taking it off my head every month to get properly cleaned hurt more than words can describe. my hair technician was a woman named Angel and i adored her. she never told me that i should be ashamed, hair or no hair.
sophmore year of high school came, and i decided i was sick of hiding. i had spent the last five years going through an identity crisis and was ready to just say fuck it. i had Angel shave my head entirely. what little hair i did have came off and i started going to school that way. bald. i got stares, dirty looks, taunting, words of encouragement, and high fives. everyone knew who i was. i made my own clothing, got even more piercings in my ears, and acted the part of a rebel.
in college i favored head scarves and various hats when i didn’t sport a troll-like, wispy do’. i got my nose pierced, got a tattoo, and generally did my own thing. i liked getting lost in books, in my own words. i had lots of friends. i was still chubby, still bald, and still unsure of what “feminine” was to me. i would read books on feminism, study other cultures where hair wasn’t important to women, surround myself with artists and musicians, people that appreciated the differences in others.
i am 25 years old. i have a shaved head and about 15 different wigs. i have just recently realized what a terribly difficult dynamic i have forged in myself by being somebody different everyday. one day i have a brown pixie cut, the next long, black locks with blunt-cut bangs. i don’t allow people to know ME anymore. and i’m not sure i even know me anymore. i don’t think i’ve ever fully realized how much of an impact your hairstyle has on your development of self until now. i need to look back, and start over. i need to understand my own femininity and not allow my hair to be the basis of that. i am lucky that in this day and age, women with short hair are not looked upon as oddly as they were twenty years ago. i am lucky that my good friends and my family know who i am regardless of what wig i am wearing and they love me.
now i just really need to start loving myself.