Women’s Beauty Standards & Buzz Cuts
June 24, 2019
“You Have a Great Head Shape”
I’ve always admired women with shaved heads. There’s a mesmerizing boldness and self-confidence about them that up until recently, felt impossibly out of my own reach. For most of my life, that admiration remained subdued by fear. Residing in the back of my mind only as something I “might do under the right circumstances”, such as shaving my head in solidarity with a loved one going through chemo, buzzing all of my hair off never dared to surface as a legitimate style option. As I’m sure you can imagine, I was worried about what people would think. But even worse: I was worried I would really hate myself with no hair.
All that is to say that my insecurities never revolved around my hair. If anything, it was a major safety net for my self-esteem. Even when I felt the worst about my body, I could rely on the fact that I had kickass hair. It became a tool for expressing my individuality and at the same time served well as a major crutch for my identity and confidence.
Beauty standards are tricky. When I really started to feel confident about my body and self for the first time in my life, I was successfully following a strength training program and eating in a way that I was seeing results I’d never achieved before. I lost some weight, but it was my body composition (muscle to body fat ratio) that really transformed how I looked. I started getting attention from guys in a way I never had before and my confidence flew through the roof. I felt invincible. When I inevitably discovered that being a girl who is down for pretty much anything amplifies that attention tenfold, I got hooked on what could have easily become a lethally poisonous dose of self sabotage.
Running high on the newfound independence of being a single adult and apparently “hot” for the first time ever, I convinced myself that my invincible display of confidence was legitimate and longstanding.
That’s not to say I wasn’t confident… I sure was. It was just an ignorant, new confidence. I was so concerned with whether or not people were attracted to me. I would make eyes at everyone I walked past just to see what would happen. I complicated nearly every friendship I developed during that time, in large part due to the fact that overt sexuality is definitely a primary component of the whole Cool Girl M.O.
And while the point of this story is to sort of dismantle the false sense of self I constructed around my desirability, I do feel it’s worth noting that there is nothing inherently wrong with liking attention. I truly adored most of the people I had relations with through the early years of my adulthood and I believe each of them played a part in my own self discovery.
I don’t live in regret or resentment. But part of my growth now is recognizing the ways I blatantly lied to myself in the past in an effort to avoid the pain and discomfort necessary to achieve true self love and reliance. I had absolutely achieved something great with my health and fitness, which also ultimately steered me in the direction of my career and passion, but I was naive to believe that confidence doesn’t ebb and flow like everything else in life. I really thought I’d just Figured It Out and that it would be smooth sailing from there.
Over the course of the next few years I would discover that to obviously not be true. As the excitement and novelty of attention began to wane and my not-so-private life caught up with me, the attention seeking behavior that once thrilled me so much started to feel phony and desperate. I finally craved emotional intimacy over being physical after years of fortifying the insurmountable barriers I’d constructed around my true, vulnerable self. Walls so thick that even I forgot who hid within them.
This is where the hair comes back in. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always loved experimenting with different colors and styles, just not typically in ways that challenged conventional beauty expectations all that dramatically. I relied heavily on my long, dark, thick hair for sex appeal and notability. When I first shaved the side into an “undercut”, it was just edgy enough to draw even more attention than before while still being well within the bounds of acceptable societal beauty standards.
I eventually kept pushing further though, my evolving haircut getting shorter and shorter as a mostly subconscious physical reflection of the internal journey I was going through. I would say that while I definitely used my hair to express myself, I didn’t necessarily consciously correlate the changes I was experiencing inside with the changes I made to my hair; it’s more that they happened in tandem. Depression, heartbreak, shame, betrayal, severe loneliness fed by an insatiable desire to connect… it got dark there for a while. I didn’t like myself all that much and the less I sought out attention, the less I received. It required me to call myself out on my own bullshit as I began to realize just how much of a facade I’d created of my perceived self confidence.
Meanwhile, my physical fitness fluctuated with my mental health and forced me to put all the self love and acceptance I’d been preaching to the test. It’s easy to be confident when you’re receiving compliments all day long. Easy to feel worth something when we allow worth to be skin deep. There is nothing easy about unconditional self love. Not with all the messages on beauty standards we are bombarded with every single day.
Even as I sit here and write this, I catch myself thoughtlessly grabbing handfuls of my own body where there is “extra” flesh, noting the stretch marks and the cellulite. Something subconscious in me persists that this is not how my body should be, no matter how often I consciously affirm the opposite message. If I know anything now, it’s that life is cyclical and that is something we can always count on. No matter my actual physical fitness or body fat percentage, there will always be days that I feel like a straight up sex goddess and others that I feel like a beached whale.
So by the time I decided to really shave all my hair off six months ago, it felt like a final step in what had been a long journey of self discovery and appreciation. It was the Boss Challenge in letting go of my attachment to my appearance and the way I let it inform how I valued myself. By then I wasn’t nearly as worried about not liking myself without hair. We’d been through a lot (we as in, me and myself) and while the idea still scared me, it was now in a way that I wanted to prove something to myself. I knew that fear was pointing me at exactly what I needed to do next.
I had no idea the ways buzzing my hair would actually affect my life. I was past the point of being worried about whether people would find me attractive, but there was still a part of me that felt I may have to overcompensate with makeup and earrings every day in order to still present appropriately. With no hair as a security blanket, it pretty much feels as close to being naked in public as you can get without actually taking your clothes off.
Following my path paid off though, of course, and as soon as I made the cut a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. It suddenly no longer mattered how my hair compared to anyone else’s because I have no hair to compare. While not a technically permanent decision, its certain irreversibility freed me in a way that I never expected: it made me realize how much time I’ve spent subconsciously thinking about what my hair looks like on a minute to minute basis. I was always adjusting, fiddling and securing it before, constantly at least somewhat aware of what I looked like at any given moment. But with a shaved head, I have one look. My hair does one thing and I never have to question if it’s out of place. And I have all kinds of new time to think up ways to smash the patriarchy. Score.
Of course the irony in all of this is the endless attention I inevitably receive for having a shaved head. Some people really do stare at me like I’m naked! I get compliments everywhere I go. It weirdly feels like I’m getting a fresh chance to appreciate attention in a healthy capacity. I’m able to observe the comments people make about my appearance now without letting them inform how I feel about myself.
Everyone asks me why I did it, and if you’ve read this far then you know that is not a short answer. It’s always interesting to me the tone people take when they ask, though. Some are inspired and “jealous” even, the admirers, like I was. Most people are very sweet and lovely in their comments. I’m sure for a lot of people it’s just an easy way to make conversation. There’ve been a couple over-steppers, invasive questions and mildly creepy comments, but the large majority are favorable and flattering commentary.
One comment that I get above all others always makes me chuckle. When I decided to write this piece, it was initially inspired by the fact that I now constantly receive this new “compliment” that I’ve come to realize is only reserved for bald people and babies: you have a great head shape.