It’s been 6 months since I shaved my head.
Well technically about 20 boozy family and friends shaved it, but I consented. It feels a little silly to call my bald head ‘life changing’, but it has been. Friends and family close to me have shaved their heads for far more brave and sometimes unavoidable reasons. It’s not typically something done on purpose in the programming of a woman of the Western world. Even the idea of a pixie or bob is often followed with ‘but I could never be that brave/pull it off/have the confidence.’ As someone, and I imagine many others too who has been critically aware of their outward appearance and appearance according to others in the past, it was so liberating to say goodbye to that person as I embarked on a new adventure that went against the flow of pretty much everything I’ve been conditioned to believe about beauty, femininity and attractiveness. Not from anyone in particular, but the many institutions I’ve been exposed to growing up Gen Y in middle class Australia.
The shaving commenced over wine and amongst family and friends on June 23rd. The plan was to section my hair off into several ponytails to ensure the maximum length of hair was salvaged to donate to cancer patients then people would throw in $5 for a cut or $10 for a shave. Next thing I knew the wine had taken affect and my aunties were throwing in $50 each to carve hideous hair-dos into my mane. I went from 80’s glam to sex offender chic to Mr Burns suave all in a few minutes. The last locks dropped and my neck was shaved by my boyfriend for good measure, all live-streamed to my sister in the US via Skype. My hair was braided and put in an envelope for the Cancer Council, before and after photos were taken, Snapchat feeds updated and I spent the night rubbing my head in disbelief.
The aftershock set in the next day as I stepped out into Adelaide Winter in a beanie only to remove it to stares and questions. People I know were aware I was going to shave my head, but they and others were still shocked to see it in the flesh. Worst were the stares from strangers who seemed to pity me, be it because they thought I had lost my hair to illness or just because they pitied me for having such a rough head! The next day I landed in Cambodia, grateful for tropical weather that allowed me to ditch the beanie and embrace my sweat-free look. From my previous trips to Cambodia I knew that as a white, blue-eyed, 5’11 Aussie stares were quite common, but this time there was an added look of confusion upon the locals’ faces. Particularly when I would walk down the street to hear calls from behind of ‘tuk tuk sir? Sir? Sir? SIRRRR?!’ Only for me to turn around and their tune to change to ‘Oh, tuk tuk lady?’ I made a note to self to wear dresses whenever I wanted a break from being called sir.
Next I met the Khmer staff at the office who had never seen me before. The first thing the women commented on was my coveted white skin and blue eyes, only to then tell me I had edgy Korean rockstar hair! One said she wished she could have cool rockstar hair like me, but her Mum would kill her. It was then I learned that hair plays a huge role in one’s identity in Cambodia. Young men who grow their hair out long are seen as rebels, gangsters and disrespectful to their families. Women with long pretty hair are regarded as more beautiful and more desirable to future husbands. This explained the several little girls with shaved heads I had seen in villages before. I learned that parents shaved their heads at a young age to encourage the hair to grow back thicker, even doing the same to eyelashes with the same hope in mind! As someone who has taken hair vitamins and bought eyelash curlers that look like medieval torture devices, I couldn’t scoff at their logic.
Next I discovered Cambodia’s female monks or ‘Don Chee’. These older women act as a kind of nun that follows Buddhism. Like their male counterparts they shave their head and eyebrows, a white robe or outfit identifying them from the bright orange robes of monks. As I’d pass one walking or hitching a ride down the street in the back of a truck, we’d lock eyes longer than usual and share a knowing little smile. Perhaps I imagined it, or perhaps a Don Chee looks at everyone like that but these interactions always brightened my day. Better yet would be the reactions of shop vendors hassling me to buy a fancy hair clip only to be lost for words when I removed my hat. No customer here.
As a layer of newborn-esque fuzz began to appear on my head, I would have days I wouldn’t describe as being down about my lack of hair, just missing the kind of confidence I never knew a good head of hair really gave me. I mentally rejected these feelings pretty soon after they appeared, reminding myself that there’s a completely man-made reason behind confidence in socially constructed femininity, and it’s the same kind of man-made confidence or happiness that makes more and more girls go under the knife or starve their bodies. I would pat my back for sticking it to the first-world-problems man and then get on with what I’d set out to do!
Fortunately I had a very noble and humbling reason for shaving my head to smack me back down to earth. The $10,869.25 raised by the shave relieved two beautiful yet vulnerable families in Cambodia of debt slavery and human trafficking by giving them a new home that can never again be taken from them by a loan shark. Anytime I was in shock at the rough head staring back at me in the mirror I just thought of them and the things that these families do just to survive to which a few bad hair days pale in comparison.
Weeks turned into months and soon enough I had an identifiable hair do! The pixie. Alas I had no idea how to style it and even if I did I basically only had two available looks: hat and no hat. Tuk tuk drivers started to call me lady again and I started to resemble my mother after looking scarily similar to my Dad. I learned how dark my hair truly is and it felt healthy and thick to run my hands through. Then came time for me to get my first hair cut, as inevitably I was beginning to sport a mullet. I accidentally picked a salon with no English speakers, and so resorted to showing my hairdresser Pinterest images of Anne Hathaway post-Les Miserables and enforcing that the mullet was well and truly tamed. For my next haircut I found a somewhat English speaking hairdresser who once again contained my mullet whilst ensuring my top layers would continue to grow out.
That brings me to this point in time, where I’m probably due for another mullet trim, sitting by the beach with 4 days worth of salt water and sand in my hair creating natural volume to boot. You could say my mullet is looking more 80’s than 90’s because of it. But I’m feeling happier within myself than I probably ever have before. There have been plenty of factors that have brought me to this point of contentment, but the bald experience has been the biggest for my sense of self-image. I’ve grown my thoughts and confirmed from experience what it really means to be a woman, what society tends to say it is to be a woman, and how to still be happy with myself whilst living within that society. Soon I’ll have a bob, and then a lob, and then I’ll probably miss the days of walking around with an egg head knowing that my confidence has come from the best place it can: within.