I started this post at least half a dozen times to describe how I was coping with a huge mistake. But I’ve taken a week to live with the mistake before blabbing about it and now my message has changed. But you should see the thinly veiled horror when people look at me. No one will say anything but they don’t have to use words; their faces tell me everything. The way their mouths tighten, they way they flinch and quickly avert their eyes, the rush of forced politeness to cover; the discomfort I am causing my fellow man and woman is obvious.
At first glance it’s just a horrible haircut. Ghastly. And it is so short it can’t be fixed. It can only be covered. My stylist and I did not communicate well. And then there’s the fact that I can’t adequately monitor the cut in progress. I do not wear my glasses while my hair is being cut. The chair sits at least six feet away from the mirror. I couldn’t tell it was getting out of hand. All I wanted was a trim. I didn’t know until it was over and I slid my glasses back onto my face that I looked like a military recruit. Or a monk. We used to call this look mannish. Now we call it androgynous, but whatever it is called it is too extreme to be considered trendy or stylish. It is just shockingly short. For the first two days I gasped every time caught my reflection.
Think too short. It is even shorter than that. When I turn my head to the side I can see skin where hair should be. You’re still not thinking short enough. Here, like this →
This is not a photo of me but now you have an idea. This is a model. Her photo graced an article in The New York Times Style Magazine titled The Implications of Very Short Hair. The point of the article is to coach women NOT to get their hair cut this short even if they see it on runway models or actors playing the parts of people who’ve done so for good reason. And this coaching is supported by the guidance that very few people look good this way. I don’t possess the triad of features prerequisite to being worthy of this haircut as specified in the article: flawless skin, a platonic jawline (what the hell does that mean?), and an attenuated neck. But in addition to the helpful photo the article does point out that a crop this close to the skull “can have the effect of being at once somewhat hideous and oddly radicalizing.”
Yes. Nailed it. Hideous and oddly radicalized. That’s exactly how I now feel, which is an upgrade from a week ago. A week ago I was traumatized. I held my head and moaned. I apologized to my reflection. I stroked the sides of my naked head with genuine sorrow. I accepted the blame for it, of course. Thinking back over the details of my instructions to the stylist, I realize in hindsight which words were misconstrued. I should have been more detailed and specific. He thought he was doing what he thought I asked him to do. I didn’t have my glasses on when he asked me if it was too short. I thought I was telling him truthfully that it looked great because I thought it did.
As for damage control, this hair-don’t was not recoverable in the short term. I’d be looking at a good three months before I could even think about a restyle. So I reasoned the best way to cope with this disaster was to wear a hat for the entire month of December. In a month I’d have a half-inch of growth. I’d just keep it covered until then. I’d say it was some kind of challenge if people asked me about it. Or a social experiment. Or a 30-day participation lark like No Shave November or Veganuary.
I got the haircut on Friday. On Saturday I wore a hat. On Sunday I wore a hat. On Monday I wore a hat. On Tuesday I wore a hat. I even bought some new hats to rotate in with my existing collection since I’d have to go a full month. I planned to supplement with headwraps and scarves and the like. No one would see my head until the New Year. I’d make it fun. No matter that with no hair peeking out I looked like a cancer patient with a hat on. It was better than the alternative, I surmised.
But on Wednesday I caved. This hiding under a hat business felt too much like shame. I decided I would rather deal with the exposure than walk around in shame. I went to work without the hat. I got the reactions I described above. I decided NOT to talk about it. No one had the balls to ask me about it, so I didn’t bring it up. I could plainly see their discomfort and revulsion but I did not mention my hair, head, or sudden lack of a hat. I didn’t offer any explanation at all. Thursday I wore my head uncovered. Friday one of my new hats came but I didn’t wear it. I tried it on and took it right back off. I put on my boldest red lipstick instead. With jeans — casual Friday — because fuck it.
Because something shattered within. Something fell away. And I believe it took this extreme hair accident to cause the break. My hair was short before. You saw it just a few days ago in my Work Release post. It’s not like I made a huge jump from long to short. But from short to gone? Yes. And after the shock of it wore off, epiphany. I am now hyper-aware of the rest of me. And I am now hyper-aware with the rest of me. With my hair gone — even short hair — GONE, it’s as if I fully and finally moved into the rest of my body.
My occupation of my physical presence feels more complete and interactive. I am newly comprehensive. I now embody all of my body. My awareness is no longer in my head. I’m feeling and reacting and relating to the world with all of me, not just my head. The kindness toward my skin and flesh I once considered a practice has morphed into tenderness. I danced through my yoga practice this morning. My bath was full-on worship. My fingers keep seeking contact with my contours when I’m watching television or reading or meditating. And my attitude about it all is as articulated above, radicalized.
Radically altered but also radically charged with -isms. With daring. With rebellion. With resistance. I’d say that when the image of femininity was shorn away from my head a more potent form synthesized within my tissues. I feel even more feminine than before because I can feel more of the feminine than before. I feel galvanized by it. There’s been an energetic shift. A spiritual shift. What’s the opposite of baptism? Distillation, maybe? Emancipation? There’s a feminine energy within that is not dependent on a feminine image. Hair and makeup and clothing provide a feminine presentation of a human body but there is a feminine essence flowing far below the level of visual image. I let hair, makeup and fashion visually articulate my femininity to world and called it done. I wasn’t tapping that deeper essence. Or even touching it.
The most marvelous part is that I feel no need to compensate. None. I have no obligation to overly feminize my appearance to offset the lack of hair. Now I understand why novitiates shave their heads. It’s a cleanse. A stripping away. A clearing away of the bullshit. And when the familiar, the socially safe, the acceptable constructs of identity are gone, there’s your authentic being, the divine design of you, front and center. Instead of rendering me more vulnerable I feel more integrated with my energetic self, which is a stronger feeling. We’ve begun to overuse the terms aligned and empowered so I hesitate to apply them. It’s as if I’m finally all joined-up inside. I swear I even move differently than before.
Now I’m so glad it happened. I’m glad it’s not attractive by beauty standards. I’m glad it challenges other people. I have to find a way to relate to the world without the automatic approval an acceptable image previously allowed me. I have to use something other than the way I look and/or operate in spite of how I now look. New skills. New practice. New perspective as a radicalized human in ultra-normal Mercyburg. New neural pathways in the brain. New aspects of wellness. From a simple haircut. Quite literally the simplest of haircuts. Changed everything.