On the spur of the moment, I recently decided to shave my head. Not for charity, or for health or climate reasons, although it is a lot cooler to be bald, I must say. Just on a whim. In actual fact I think I’ve been manipulated to this point by my husband, who was sick of getting a face full of hair every time he hugged me. He has been egging me on to this for years, but I never thought I would actually go through with it.
I’ve now been bald for 4 days, and I must say it has been a fascinating experience. I have always been a little curious to know what I would look like bald, but more than that I was fascinated to see how people would react. Girls don’t usually run around with shaven heads without good reason, and while I have lots of reasons, they’re all closer to whimsy than good, sound reasons.
Here is one thing that I have discovered as a result: my identity is independent of my hair. Now that doesn’t sound terribly surprising – had you asked me before I shaved my head, I’d have said that of course I believed that. But it turns out that what we say we believe, what we think we believe, and what we actually believe are 3 different sets, possibly overlapping, but far from identical.
When I shaved my head, I felt radically different, and I was afraid that people would treat me radically differently. Every time I looked in the mirror, a stranger looked back at me. For the first few hours I was completely freaked out. After that, every time I was due to encounter a new group of people who hadn’t seen it yet, I became quite tense. My identity felt as though it was bound up in the hair I had thoughtlessly discarded.
Interestingly, when I warned my 6 year old daughter of what I was about to do, she said exactly that: “It feels as though mummy is going to go away and not come back.” To her, unfettered by politically correct thoughts of not judging people by their appearances, and knowing the person within, etc etc, I was about to depart in a drastic way from the mother she thought she knew.
In practice, when she woke to a bald mum, she refused to look at me for 5 minutes, demanded I wear a hat for about 20 minutes after that, and after that was fine with it. Now she takes delight in feeling the fuzzy stubble, although she still occasionally complains that I look like a boy. At 6 there is an intensely pink/blue divide. (Speaking of which, I must digress to point out that in the early 1900s, pink was for boys, because it was such a strong colour, and blue was for girls because it was so delicate.)
Reactions so far have been fascinating. My parents, in-laws and sisters have initially been completely freaked out by the very idea. My work colleagues and friends have been surprisingly supportive (although my goodness, has it started people talking! I’m not paranoid, it’s just that everyone is talking about me!). Even relative strangers have been interested and supportive when I’ve been out in public. A few don’t mention it, possibly careful where they tread, in case it is illness such as cancer that has left me this way, but more than I expected have asked me about it directly.
It’s interesting – we’re not usually a very direct culture, I’d have said. There seem to be so many no go areas, things we don’t mention or comment on. Perhaps it’s because I have been openly acknowledging people’s reactions, but most people do ask, and so far very few have totally freaked out – at least, not to my face.
Mostly I forget that I’m bald and just get on with life, only remembering when I put my hat on or take it off, see my reflection somewhere, or watch someone react to their first sight of my slightly fuzzy scalp. My hair isn’t me. My appearance isn’t me either. Maybe after a few weeks of this I might actually believe that, and not just think I do.