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.
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