It is hard to find solace in a cold, overly-mirrored room that’s bursting with small talk and the smell of wet, dead hair. Lots of hair. There is nowhere to hide in a hair salon or barbershop, the places where our hair goes to die. Should we look up and dare to lock eyes with ourselves in the mirror? Is the path to safety hidden in one of the billowing folds of our one-size-fits-all smocks? These moments of confusion, even fear—wherein we question everything about our decision to cut away at our precious hairy manes—are products of societal expectations of women. We are to cherish, primp, and grow out our hair so it is the best replication of Shampoo Commercial Blake Lively or Sofia Vergara. Which, seeing as there can only be one Blake and Sofia, this is quite the impossible task.
The only reason masculinity and femininity are associated with hair length is because we’ve made it so. As with all gender norms, the policing of women’s hair is irrational and emotionally charged. We see contestants on America’s Next Top Model wailing in salon chairs as their hair is chopped off, piling up in a circle around their feet. What a cruel fate for their femininity! For long hair is womanly and beautiful—the perfect gender definer. To take that away is to alter the world’s perception of a woman’s gender.
Despite the gendered hair propaganda surrounding us, there are still women who dare to bare the head beneath their hair. Sara Barber, ’19, saw shaving her head as an opportunity for enhanced self-love. “When I decided to shave my head, I was just walking down Harvard Avenue in Allston. My friend asked me, ‘Do you want to shave your head? I’ll pay.’ I thought, why not get a free haircut? So three years after I first contemplated shaving my head, I was finally brave enough to do it.”
Working up the courage to defy societal beauty standards undoubtedly takes time, not to mention an increased understanding as to why such courage is necessary. Why are we, as women, trained to be so emotionally attached to our hair? “Hair is a shield to defend yourself from people. Without it you have to embrace who you are and what you look like, not what people expect you to look like,” Barber says.
Barber also knows from firsthand experience the surprisingly political nature of a woman’s haircut. After going from a longer hairstyle to a shaved head, people—both those close to her and strangers—made assumptions about her identity. “My dad told me [shaving my head] made too big of a political statement,” Barber says. She had made the cut after some years of debate because Barber had reached a place of content and self-acceptance. What about that is so political? Apparently, our hair’s very sexual and gender-based nature. Many people assume a woman with a shaved head is more masculine than feminine, or gay—both stereotypes that are often untrue.
“My grandma, who goes to church every Sunday, called me when she saw my shaved head. One of my grandma’s friends from church had asked her if I was gay,” Barber says. She pauses for a beat before breaking into a beautiful grin and adding, “I said, ‘Yeah, grandma, I’m queer as hell.’” Barber acknowledges that hair doesn’t define who we are, but is fully aware of its power to change perceptions. Whether they are the perceptions others have of us or how we look at ourselves, the styling of our hair has an impact. In fact, another woman was inspired by Barber’s cut. “I told her why I shaved my head and the next day she sent me pictures of her own shaved head.”
Like Barber’s acquaintance, many of us find courage in others—and with those who are inspired, come the inspirations. Xia Rondeau ’17, is a muse for those of us seeking such innovation. When she made the decision to shave her head, Rondeau did so in a quest for personal solace and art—two things that are hard to find in the four white walls of your local Supercuts. “I shaved my head in a room with two of my best friends in the world, and they helped me film it,” Rondeau says.
Rondeau speaks of a sense of freedom when her hair had been at its shortest prior to being shaved. It was on Halloween, a night where everyone around her was finding comfort in confused, costumed conformity. She experienced a euphoria unique to when a woman cuts her hair. “It was like a switch turned on. I felt completely different, and looking back I realized that if having short hair felt that good, shaving my head would feel really really good,” she says.
On the night of shaving her hair, some months after the initial short haircut, Rondeau contemplated art and gender—both individually and in tandem—with her two closest confidants. “When I had long hair it felt like a masquerade of femininity. I didn’t feel like the woman I wanted to be. So when I was shaving my head I wanted it to feel like a release. [My friends] wanted to capture that release for me,” Rondeau says. It was a success as individuals and artists. Rondeau was thrilled with her newfound femininity and her friends saw the beauty in her confidence.
Despite the obvious comfort that comes with many women’s decisions to shave their heads, the cut continues to raise questions for others. They insist women are losing their femininity by shaving their heads. Yet Barber, Rondeau, and many others have never felt more womanly—or alive—than once they have shaved their heads. “I did this to redefine what it means to be feminine, and it felt good to my soul,” says Rondeau.
And what the naysayers don’t seem to understand is that bald women of the world can no longer sense the negativity around them. They are too damn happy feeling free.
Art by: Taylor Roberts