I want to shave my head so desperately it aches.
Not in an after-school-special, sobbing-in-the mirror way. I can only imagine myself giggling as lumps of hair fall away from my scalp. (If you, on the other hand, need a disgustingly melancholy tune for that fantasy soft-focus shot—I’m your girl.)
Not a half-hearted undercut or Mia in Rosemary’s Baby. I want Grace or Sinead or Natalie after V. Guard #2, so short you can sort-of see the skin of my skull.
Not because I want to get in touch with my butch side.
Not because my hair is so fried with bleach that it is beyond repair. Or that I am growing out a perm, or shearing my dreadlocks.
Not because I have cancer. Not because I’m becoming a skinhead.
I’m just sick of having hair. I think I’ve always been sick of having hair.
I love other people’s hair. I love the way my mother’s hair smells after she’s shampooed it with Aussie. I love watching little girls get cornrows on Bronx stoops. I love hair that looks dip-dyed in hard candy, rich ginger tresses, impossible afros, twenties bobs.
I’ve tried to love my own. For ten years of ballet training, I spent fifty minutes every morning coaxing my hair into an acceptable bun. Fifty minutes of “No Tears” detangler, enough hairspray for it’s own hole in the Ozone Layer, globs of hair gel that turned white and crusty as it dried. At Devachan Salon I tried embracing my natural, mulatto curl. For several hundred dollars I listened while a gay, white dude told me to love the skin I’m in as he doled out another fifty dollars of Devacurl product.
A dude who styled Brooks Brothers catalogues and weaves for Beyonce was the first to relax my hair. I remember being thirteen and picking yellow, brown, and blackened scabs off my virgin scalp. A Columbian woman transitioned me to Keratin beneath the faucet of her Queens kitchen sink. She held a wet washcloth over my face to keep my eyes and throat from burning, but they always did. In Washington Heights I got blowouts that felt like a lit match and gasoline. My hair has been long below my shoulder blades and clipped into a bloated pixie.
It is a cold war battle, impossible to win. A war I don’t bother to fight anymore. At most, I wash my hair once a week. As it’s still soaking wet—for about six hours—it gets slathered with good-smelling oils from Mexican botanicas. When it gets too matted and gross to wear loose, I jam it into a lazy bun at the root of my neck.
I don’t have any mirrors in my bedroom. At my job there are huge mirrors everywhere, which is mostly distracting-bad. On a slow day at work I pulled back at my knot of hair until I could pretend I was bald. The shape of my head isn’t bad. Sometimes skulls have strange shapes. The fotanelle of an infant can stay soft for over a year after birth, so soft that you can purposefully warp the head of a newborn. Mine is round, rather graceful, not too big.
I could rock a buzz cut. I could adore a buzz cut. I could be entirely physically and emotionally liberated. I could save hours—hundreds of them—every year of my life. I could ignore rain and humidity, sink into swimming pools with relish, shower impulsively. The hats I could wear every winter, the strange Halloween wigs, every possibility rushes to me in the easiest way.
My friends and family do not feel the same way. Every suggestion they make I have already tried. Every reasonable, American explanation for being a bald woman does not apply. Most of the affirmative high-fives I’ve received after making this pitch have been from other women of color or “edgy” fashion types, but not always. My black grandmother loves my hair when it is straight like a white girl’s. She says it “cascades.” A coworker with aggressively dyed hair told me I would look like a fat baby with a bald head, no matter how great my bone structure is.
Boys and bois shave their heads every day. It’s an encouraged behavior. It is a ritual for joining the armed forces, welcomed with sighs of relief after particularly strange hairdos or bald spots. It is practical and aggressive. Why not me?
I don’t think it’s as easy an answer as feminism, patriarchy, blah, blah, blah. Nor do I chalk it up to race or the perception of bald women as sick and dying. A few closing anecdotes come to mind:
1) America’s Next Top Model. Here.
2) Once I was in a portrait drawing class. The instructor asked us to replicate the faces we had just drawn, only without any hair. Most of the attempts at male faces were successful, but every female looked the same. It was as if when their hair disappeared, so did every remarkable feature of their face. The artists were women and men, and we all made the same mistake.
Photo of Sinead O’Connor by Andrew Catlin