written by Alexys Flavelle
I was watching Hannah Gadsby’s incredible Netflix special, Nanette.
She was making several astute observations about the gendered expectations that are placed on us from birth, and touched on the absurdity of placing bows on bald baby girls’ heads.
“I don’t assume bald babies are boys. I assume they are angry feminists, and I treat them with respect!”
As a self-proclaimed Angry FeministTM who had recently shaved her head, I cried with laughter.
Then, I just cried.
You see, for the multitude of reasons I chose to shave my head (or rather, ask my partner to do it for me), not one of them was to make a statement.
I’ll spare you the details of my gradually mounting hair loss, the doctor’s visits, the medications, the vague diagnoses - that’s a story for another time, and if you’re reading this, I expect you are all too familiar. Those experiences are still valid and important, but today, I’m going to be talking about something else.
If you had told me five years ago that I was going to shave my head, I probably would have shrugged, said ‘good for me,’ and moved on with my life.
Hell, when I was in college, I shaved both sides of my head and wore the remainder in poofy, cascading burgundy waves down to my boobs. It looked dope.
But I didn’t shave my head to look dope.
I shaved my head because I was already past the point where I felt more comfortable going outside in wigs, and I didn’t like the ordeal of stuffing what little hair I had under them. I was hoping it would help me keep cool, get a closer fit, and be less itchy.
And frankly, I was sick of obsessing over trying to get my hair back - something that was clearly a losing battle. I did it to take control back from an uncontrollable situation. I don’t regret it for a second, but, it had consequences that I definitely wasn’t expecting.
For one, I was bearing my bald/thin spots for all to see.
When the hair I have gets longer than a couple of millimeters, it becomes glaringly obvious that it’s on its way out. Weirdly, I found that kind of validating.
Also, for the record, my wigs are significantly more comfortable on a shaved head; however, because I have a very sensitive, inflamed scalp, I find I get a lot more irritation and tenderness from wearing them, so it’s definitely not any less itchy.
What really threw me for a loop, though, was how badly it shook my self-confidence.
I’ve always done crazy shit with my hair. Besides the aforementioned My Little Pony fohawk, I’ve been dyeing it crazy colours for a decade.
When I wanted it short, I hacked it off myself at three in the morning. When I wanted it blonde, I bleached the shit out of it in my mom’s bathroom. This is just more of the same, right?
All of a sudden, I was embarrassed of my appearance.
I was bashful about anyone, even my partner, seeing me without hair. I was nervous about telling my family.
In the beginning, I was rushing to put on a wig before going out to walk my dog. I would spend entire interactions with people just wondering if they clocked my wig, not allowing myself to engage fully with the conversation.
So what changed? Well, for one, I’m not in art school anymore.
I have a mortgage, and bills to pay, and pets to feed, so I’d been making the conscious effort to wear a wig to job interviews and whenever I’d be meeting someone new.
Heaven forfend that they assume I’m making a statement with my bald head.
It would be easy to brush off wearing hair as a simple necessity to get by, another expectation for women laid out by our society. I’m just trying to avoid ridicule. But, when I decided to show up for work without a wig on, everyone was incredibly supportive.
“You shaved your head! I love it!” (I had been mostly incognito with wearing hair until this point.)
“You look awesome!” “You pull it off so well!” “You look like a badass!”
And you know what? I do. I can accept that I look pretty badass without hair. I can admit that it was nice feeling the air on my scalp again, not having hair fall in my face all day, not having that itchy spot develop on the tops of my ears. So what’s the big deal?
Well, it turns out that it’s all back to me and my hang ups. That old chestnut.
The truth is: I don’t feel pretty without hair. I don’t feel sexy without hair. Sure, I look pretty cool, and I can vibe with that some days, but I feel bizarre wearing a dress with a shaved head. I feel standoffish, undesirable.
Then the Angry FeministTM in me crops up again. You don’t owe anyone pretty. You don’t owe anyone sexy. Your worth as a person isn’t dictated by who finds you fuckable.
And she’s right, as always.
But what if I want to feel pretty? What if I want to feel sexy?
Not to get too personal, but my libido absolutely tanked after shaving my head. All I could think about was, does he find me less attractive now? I couldn’t lose myself in the moment anymore, because in the back of my mind, I’d be thinking about what I look like with my cue ball head.
A lot of these feelings are subconsciously reinforced, in my opinion, by how we talk about women who shave their heads.
They’re badasses, they’re awesome, they’re pulling it off.
Always aspirational, but not nearly as often desirable.
I really struggle to feel desirable even now, despite having an amazing, supportive long-term partner who I know loves me.
I don’t have time to unpack the ingrained, deep-seated life experiences and learned behaviours that are at the root of these feelings. At least, not here, in this article.
It’s getting to the part where a reader starts wondering when I’m going to get to the point, and I promise, it’s coming. Just humour me a little bit longer.
I’m slowly working my way up to wearing my bald head out more.
I’ve done it a few times at work, feeling less and less self-conscious every time. I don’t wear my wig to walk the dog anymore, because I don’t really want to.
That’s really what is helping me get through the daily grind: It’s my hair, and my body, and I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to.
It’s been difficult to reconcile my feelings about my hair loss with my feminist viewpoints; I often find myself getting frustrated with how slowly I’m processing everything, and how contradictory some of my emotions are to my beliefs.
But at the end of the day, those feelings are still valid, because I still feel them.
And it’s okay for me to mourn my hair, and want to have it back. It’s also okay to wear wigs if I want to, when I want to, and it’s okay to have several conflicting reasons for doing so.
Feminism is about empowering women to choose what they think is best for them.
It’s about championing human rights and human decency in order to make a better world. It’s not for beating yourself up with, or trying to dictate how you cope with a difficult situation.
(It’s worth noting here that I am acutely aware of the questionable ethics regarding the hair trade. That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited for Re: Silk or Lace, so people can give their hair a second life!)
I’m working my way towards uncoupling my subconscious ideals about femininity from my hair. From what I’ve learned through therapy, it’s important to meet yourself where you are, with patience and kindness.
For me, it’s important that I’m not hiding anymore.
I’m leaning in to using my hair, or lack thereof, as an avenue of self-expression. In a way, it feels like taking back an aspect of my personality that I lost when I was focused on hiding behind toppers and hair powder.
If I want to have long, flowing princess hair that I can play with and style, I wear a wig. If I don’t feel like it, I don’t.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have low days, or wish things were different, but I’m making the effort to turn wearing hair (or choosing not to) into a radical act of self-love.
I am an Angry Feminist, and you damn well better respect me, wig or no wig.
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I appreciate the raw honesty! I’ve had moments where I felt undesirable without my hair, but could never communicate it the way you just did. Thanks for sharing :)
Honestly, best article I’ve read in awhile. I wish I could jump in as I’m tired of stuffing what little hair I have in a wig. Hopefully I’ll get there one day where I just take the plunge and get rid of it.
Love it! I’d like to shave my head one day, not ready for that just yet but I’m hopeful I can be a badass one day! You’re awesome! ❤️