part three of my media attention is out. this will be the end of it – i feel a little strange about all of it, really. this time my dad's coworkers asked him whether i was in a magazine...
it has been six months since i chopped off my hair. as you might remember, i pondered the idea for a while, evaluating the pros and cons, and then just went for it. i was aware of some of the consequences associated with becoming a bald woman. some i wasn't.
the most curious type of attention arrived in the form of two identical interview requests from magazines. both journalists wanted to write a story about two different types of women: the involuntarily and the voluntarily bald. they both started from the biblical (?) reference of hair "crowning" a woman and our personal views on the statement.
i agreed to do one and turned the other one down – i think i've had enough of media attention and i do not wish to become the spokesperson for voluntarily bald women – and it was published in print here last week.
i wanted to do the interview because i found the juxtaposition of two bald women interesting. the idea that femininity was tied to the amount of hair on one's head is obviously entirely implausible to me. therefore, i have pondered why it is such a common statement among involuntarily bald women to say (or does someone say it for them, i dunno...) that losing their hair feels like the grandest insult on their femininity. honestly, i have never understood it.
nevertheless, i can appreciate that the loss of control over one's appearance when seriously ill must be a debilitating feeling. as women we have learned to consider our hair a matter within our control. while we might not be entirely happy with what we begin with – and most seem not to be – we work with what's given to our best advantage. the presumption makes weeping after a disastrous hairdresser visit understandable.
it seems not to be an issue of the hair in itself, but the inability to decide. thus, i don't think losing hair equals losing femininity but as a telltale sign of illness it is the final straw in the loss of self-sufficiency. the ultimate horror hairdresser visit that you cannot undo. therefore, the comparison of our stories is not about hair, but of authority; my action is a display of an individual taking charge, theirs is the complete opposite. if we take certain assumptions about people as self-guiding and independent as given, the difference is clear: i start from my own decision, theirs is about coming to terms with the inability to decide and, hence, is necessarily a more operose and profound process.
all pics by jukka rapo.
as far as my own experiences with daily interaction go, here's a recap. i knew people would give me a second look when i pass them by. i wasn't quite prepared for the direct staring and ogling. i assume much of it is to determine whether i was sick (should they feel sorry for me or not) or just someone who defies the common aesthetic.
i knew people would assume it was alright to touch me without permission – somehow the urge to fondle a shaved head seems almost universal, and most ask permission only nanoseconds before their hand is already on me which does not exactly count as asking in my books. it's similar to what some pregnant women talk about walking around with a round belly: it "invites" touching and is considered an accepted invasion of personal space.
it has been interesting to note that after a few drinks people become quite curious to understand my motivation and quite keen to reveal their own views about my choice.
i have been asked whether i wanted to prove a point: a feminist rebellion of a sort. i could probably dwell on the matter endlessly, but here the differentiation between my own motive and how i am read by others becomes most clear. as an aesthetic choice i definitely am proving a point – that i can feel comfortably beautiful without hair – but really, that's it. some people play with lipstick, i change my hair. my motivation is nothing grander.
nonetheless, i do understand that aesthetics are not insular and my action can be read as a political statement. and that's fine by me, as well, but i personally do not feel i am rebelling or doing anything exceptional. i guess it means my view on gender expectations has surpassed the need for a woman to have hair – probably one of the most insignificant ideals worthy of holding close in this matrix of gendered signifiers of ours. sadly, i am also very aware it is not so for the majority of people.
many focus on my tattoo, but some do not notice it at all. understandably i am asked about the pain, but hardly anyone considers the decorative aspect of inked orchids except for a very sophisticated male customer at bloomingdales soho who after finding out the origin of my tattoo started a conversation about how finland is supposedly one of the best places to live on earth...
my relationship has been a keen worry for some: how did we survive the loss of hair? well, fine. seriously, people...
strangely i have received more extravagant compliments than usually: i have been dubbed "the perfect woman" on more than one occasion – which is definitely not something i am used to. my choice has been described as "so fashion" and "incredibly beautiful". there is almost a fetish-like concupiscence in the air sometimes which is both amusing and distressing.
usually the positive comments refer to bravery: for most people shaving your hair seems like a very gutsy thing to do. as i am fairly well aware of what it means to carry a signifier of social insubordination on a daily basis, i must confess i can imagine many worse stigmata than a voluntarily shaved head. there is bravery and bravery, and seriously, hair grows back really, really soon.
the weirdest comments come down to claiming that it is easy for me to do this because my head is perfectly shaped and have such a delicately beautiful face. now come on, i am not by any means conventionally beautiful and even adding 'un-' to the 'conventionally' is pushing it. my head shape is fine, but delicate is kinda far except if you're describing my lips.
on the other hand, i have been asked for the reason i voluntarily went uglier and less feminine than before – especially because i still wear heels and dresses. my bald head has been interpreted as an attempt to deprettify myself and the question was posed in an accusative fashion, almost as if my expression of femininity was an insult towards all womankind. the paradoxical way i build my personal style around clear signifiers of both the feminine and masculine proves too much for some to understand.
tangentially the hostility of some women towards my choice as playing with a serious issue – i.e. cancer – never ceases to surprise me. i guess our public discourse on illness is limited to stories of resilience and sorrow, and many have only a few methods to deal with sights that remind them of their own vulnerability.
another point where my motives and outside reactions do not match entirely is the way such a strong look distinguishes me: people always remember me nowadays and recognize me without trouble. since i have the worst memory of faces (i must suffer from some kind of prosopagnosia) there's been aplenty of awkward moments. leaving a mental imprint on people is both a blessing and a curse because you're being screened for better and for worse. i have started to grasp the way minor celebrities must feel because people recognize them so easily.
overall and although i did not intend this to happen, i have bewildered many people and challenged their views on what a normal member of society should look like: for someone gainfully employed, even successful, well educated, active and happily involved in a relationship my look seems inconsistent. since i cannot be easily boxed as a member of some subculture, i have been told that people see me as a freak – something i somehow have trouble to grasp – and have been informed that many people hesitate approaching me in my perplexity. i have noted repeatedly that people seem genuinely surprised to find me "nice" and friendly – a bald woman is one scary sight, you know...
finally and despite probably sounding slightly annoyed above, i love my bald and it has become the ultimate accessory: i never lack the necessary edge i want in my look although it is quite easy overdo. the edge also becomes burden because whether i am aware of the details of it or not, people are quick to judge me by my appearance. what i see in the mirror does not correspond to what i am seen as, and while my observation provides nothing novel on the incompatibility of self-image and peer evaluation, it reminds me of the subtlety of signals we send.
do the thoughts written above sound familiar to you? what do you think when you see a bald woman?