In November 2016 I shaved my head.
No I am not mentally unstable, I do not have cancer (both of which I am extremely grateful for) I am not a lesbian, I am not making an overtly political statement (well maybe I am) and it was not for a film role. I ‘Braved the Shave’ for Macmillan and the wonderful work that they do, because my brother in law was fighting testicular cancer at the time and my sister said she was going to do it. Patrick is making a good recovery, which might not have been possible if it were not found and treated quickly, so first things first, check all your bits. Now.
A year later, with the same cut, I wanted to record and share some of my experience. Like most people hair is part of my identity – I have been experimental with it over the years, I was totally ready for ‘Braving’ the shave, but it turns out a lot of people still aren’t:
‘Don’t worry it will grow back’
‘Lucky it is winter so you can keep your hat on’
‘What has the future mother of my grandchildren done to her hair’…
‘Has it not grown back?’ (nine months after I originally ‘Braved the shave’)
'Hello young man'. Sigh.
‘We don’t cut women’s hair’
Being turned away by a female barber was the most unexpected and shocking moment for me. Despite not mentioning ‘MAN’ on the front of the establishment, it seemed this woman was unable to perform the most basic haircut, because I do not have a penis. Moments like these leave an uncomfortable feeling, pressure conform, they take your appearance out of your control.
Call me naïve, but I find these reactions surprising. It’s 2016/2017 – why, if a woman shaves her head must there be something deeply wrong? How could a haircut be something to be ashamed of, or worse – not acceptable. Apart from being a rebel and wanting to readjust people’s perceptions of what it looks like to be an independent woman, it was taking me no time at all to get ready in the morning. It seems hair is still intertwined with outdated stereotypes, identify and cultural expectations. Different religions treat hair differently – sacred or a symbol of an individual’s alliance or status, applying to men and women. Cut it short, keep it covered all the time or cover your head in certain places or ceremonies. It’s not just religion either, different types of hair need different treatments and care, which become part of a rhythm of life. Surely these differences are to be celebrated and accepted with space for however you want to wear your hair.
People often reach for entrenched out of date cultural touchstones in conversation, after all regurgitated stock phrases are much easier than trying to process and articulate complex emotions. However for people to be so unaware of the potential offence and damage caused by what might be thought of as a throw away comment was concerning. Then there was the media’s reaction to Kirstin Stewart, Katy Perry and Cara Delevingne when they shaved their hair – pretty confusing: ‘When a woman shaves her hair off it can send a powerful message’ or perhaps she just wanted to try a new haircut? And a personal fav ‘ “Shaving my head led to my first orgasm’ writers on their lives in hair’ – WHAT…? Sensationalised, clickbait, freak show. We deserve better. Luckily Cara’s own thoughts were available on Instagram: ‘It’s exhausting to be told what beauty should look like. I am tired of society defining beauty for us’. Yaaas Cara! Only to be followed by an article explaining she was in fact doing this for a film role, ‘Cara Delevingne explains why she really shaved her head’ – don’t worry guys Cara didn’t go mad, she is doing this for her craft, obviously no one would chose to endure this look. Not so many column inches on men’s hair I notice… David Beckham’s trendsetting, Elton John’s toupee, Prince William’s receding hairline, but not a whole story speculating why any man decided to shave their head. Put these things together and add in an ever safe, mass produced, homogenised, polarised society we have a worrying movement of society – backwards.
I am no stranger to the clippers, but when they went over the top and front, that is the humbling moment of truth. I am not known for my ‘girliness’, if I took this visual prop away, would people think I was not feminine? Would this make them question my agenda? Did this matter? No. But it was not an easy thing to adjust to. It surprised me that it made me question everything I thought was my identity. After the prep I put in, the truth is that when the eyebrows grew back and the fake eyelashes fell off It wasn’t the short hair that made me feel not ‘me’, but all the extra other ‘feminine’ things I had done to try and make me feel less ‘masculine’. My amazing hairdresser did the honours for me, she was so supportive despite the fact she was essentially erasing all her hard work! Mostly the reaction was a lot of love and support from friends and family, work and home. I was blown away, so many generous people not just with their money for such a great cause but with their kind words.
'If not now, then when?.. And if not me, then who?' As if by magic just as I decided to set this article free, Rihanna & N.E.R.D drop the video for their new single Lemon... Such a positive celebration of individuality, sprit and joy – even with a shaved head. The timing couldn't have been more perfect – it opens with 'The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off'.
It’s been an insightful and inspiring journey of getting to know what made me ‘me’ and accepting what I wasn’t – still learning. It’s also given me a deeper understanding of the struggles we all have, when it comes to how we look. If you are female, white, straight, healthy and happy and you cut your hair off, some people are going to struggle with it. But it is a strange and powerful opportunity to ask people to look at things from another perspective, is there more we could all do to dismantle this and look beyond physical appearance? Surely that would be better for everyone? Any haircut or style should be acceptable. Empathy is the antidote to prejudice.
I choose my short hair proudly, in support and solidarity with others who maybe have not chosen theirs, and those who did, in the hope that one day a woman with short hair is seen as less of a tragedy and more of a celebration.
Also, I just fucking like it.
Find out how you could also Brave the Shave, or donate here: bravetheshave.macmillan.org.uk