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What I Gained When I Lost All My Hair

Two days before I shaved my head, I got a haircut I loved – a slightly less edgy version of those pre-hipster, post-emo asymmetrical cuts that were cool for a hot second from 2005 to 2007. Fittingly, it was 2006, and I sported that haircut for just about 48 hours.

Why bother to get my hair done the same week I planned to get rid of it altogether? Well, I wasn’t planning to shave my head at all. In fact, I didn’t know I was going to do it until I was sitting in the barber’s chair, razor to my head, an inverted mohawk shaved into the center of my pre-hipster, post-emo asymmetrical locks… in front of a cheering crowd of at least 100 onlookers.

It was April of my junior year of college, and I was the Greek beat writer for my campus newspaper, responsible for reporting on sorority and fraternity life (yes, that was a real position). On a sunny Thursday, Lambda Chi Alpha hosted a fundraiser in the quad – an effort to raise money for the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute by breaking the world record of “Most Heads Shaved.” The fraternity brothers had four hours to break the previous record of 228 heads shaved.

They set up shop in the quad with local barbers who’d donated their time to take razors to the heads of as many people as wanted to participate. I had no intention of being among them, but when the fundraiser organizer asked whether I’d join in the head-shaving party, I joked, “If you can find 10 girls to shave their heads, I will, too.” Impossible, right?

But he did. And so… I did. I could’ve ducked out of that bet, I know, but I was at a point in my life when I’d recently been accused of a lot of things – including dishonesty & an inability to keep my word – and I couldn’t bring myself to let them be true. What better time to practice promise-keeping than when it’s for cancer research?

I was the eleventh and final girl to participate. We broke the world record that day, shaving 272 heads and raising thousands of dollars for the Cleveland Clinic. And when it was all over – the TV crews gone, the barbers’ chairs removed, the hair swept up from the quad – I was faced with a crazy new reality: I was bald.

My then-boyfriend offered to help me shop for fun, inexpensive wigs, but I couldn’t bring myself to wear them. Instead, I tried to own my new baldness and waited (impatiently) for it to grow out. To my surprise, I found that sometimes, my hair (or lack thereof) actually made me feel beautiful, not self-conscious. My new ‘do was quirky, funky, and unexpected, definitely a conversation-starter, and I used it as an excuse for me to experiment with my style. I was already bald; why not try out bolder clothing, jewelry, and makeup, too? I found myself pushing my comfort limits and wearing things I might not have had the courage to try otherwise.

kate b

Still, I was shocked at the way others reacted to my shaved head. People who had known me forever – even people who were friends with my boyfriend! – started asking prying, nonsensical questions: “Are you a lesbian now?” a few asked, as though sexuality and hairstyle were so intrinsically intertwined that they couldn’t imagine why a straight woman would choose to sport such a stereotypically unfeminine cut.

In many ways, my new ‘do gave me perspective on femininity – society’s concept of it and my own. At the time, I was working at the front desk of a community gym, where the reactions were the most hurtful. Dressed in my uniform – a blue polo and khakis – many patrons couldn’t tell I was female, despite the fact that I continued to wear eyeliner, earrings, and a nametag emblazoned “HI, I’M KATE.” The first time someone called me “Sir,” I had to take a minute alone to stop myself from crying. It was as though I’d lost my societal lady-cred. If I didn’t have hair anymore, I wasn’t pretty anymore, and if I wasn’t pretty anymore, I wasn’t a woman anymore.

In an attempt to distinguish myself as female, I found myself wearing more pink than ever (I hate pink!) – and then getting angry with myself for caring what other people thought, for bowing to societal standards of beauty and femininity. I promised myself that once my hair had grown out, I wouldn’t associate with anyone who expressed disdain or disgust at having learned that I’d once been bald. Even if I looked conventionally pretty again, I was committed to remembering what it felt like to be seen as ugly and weird.

I wish I could say I didn’t regret a second of it, that I was self-confident enough to look in the mirror every morning & say, “You’re beautiful!” even on the days when I felt like a societal abomination of womanhood. Too often, though, I just felt like the bald girl, & then the girl with a bad faux hawk, & then the girl with a Spock-like ‘do bordering on a ’90s bowl cut. Still, I don’t regret it. My hair is long now, but having gone through the brief experience of life as a bald woman taught me to have greater compassion for others and not to judge appearances – others and my own – on such harsh, stereotypical standards.

I’m proud of myself for shaving my head. It remains the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done. It was for a cause that matters deeply to me. I stayed true to my word. I learned a lot about myself & about society, about standards of beauty & femininity & bucking them. I focused on my personality instead of my hair. And whenever a celebrity takes to the razor (I’’m lookin’ at you, Britney and Natalie), I can say, “I did it first.”


You can read more from Kate Bigam on her blog.

Featured image via Shutterstock

  • Angi Watson Dudas

    You really rocked it and you made great point on society’s view of femininity .

  • Jennifer Stewart Corle

    I did that in 1991 – without a bet or fundraiser. I just did it. One of the hottest guys in the dorm told me, “I dig bald chicks.” It made me melt a bit.

  • Charlotte Doolaege

    I honestly think you looked drop dead gorgeous being bald :) Of course that’s beside the point: it’s nobody’s place to judge anyone for the way they look or choose to present themselves. Your femininity should never be defined by your hairstyle.

  • Lauren-ashley Oliver

    I recently shaved my hair off for the sole reason I felt like it. It was nearly to my bum. Shaving it all was so freeing. I honestly wish I had done it sooner. I do have days that I feel more inclined to wear dresses or lipstick, way more often than I did when I had more traditionally feminine hair. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Because I feel like at the same time I’ve had more days that I don’t wear makeup at all than I did with long hair.

  • Bronwen Greenfield

    I honestly think every woman should shave her head once (or at the very least try a pixie), even though I know most won’t even consider it. When I did it, I was in a vurnerable place, and it weirdly made me feel more broken and helped me heal at the same time. I had already rocked a pixie for a year at the time, so my hair wasn’t my crutch anymore, but it was a whole other level of reactions and stereotypes. Despite all that, it forced me to really see myself in a new way. I could choose to embrace that or bitch about it til my hair grew back. It was a good lesson about what’s really important.

  • Carolina Carson

    LOVE! I can’t say that I am as ballsy as you, I only cut 12 inches off to donate to Locks of Love, and am currently rocking a pixie cut, but I understand where you are coming from. For whatever reason, long hair, in addition to a plethora of other physical qualities, are what seem to define femininity. When I chopped my long locks I received similar reactions. People, especially males, were aghast that I took scissors to my hair. I’ve had my moments where I’ve felt less attractive and have sincerely questioned my choices. But, for the most part, I have felt empowered, beautiful, edgier, and more confident. I think that for me, and probably a lot of other women out there, things like long hair, become a security blanket that is all too easy to hide behind. It is conventionally attractive to have long hair, but I discovered my own inner beauty and confidence when I cut it off.

  • Becky Young

    I shaved my head for years . no biggie . at all .

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