a woman & her freshly-shaven head
How could I explain to them, that to be a woman is not simply to be seen in her body?
Two men snickered as I walked by. One young, one middle-aged. Both white.
Days before, I shaved my head for the second time (the first being last fall, when I wrote this piece).
Walking past these men, I wasn't surprised by their reaction.
To see a bald woman, let alone a bald woman with brown skin and fleshy features, is beyond the comfort zone of a white man entrenched in privilege (and possibly insecure about his masculinity).
To his gaze, such a woman — with her transgression of both whiteness and conventional feminine beauty — embodies too many emblems of "Other."
So they snickered. First the older man, then the younger. Unmoored by my appearance, they grasped for stability in some pretense of superiority as judges, as spectators. After all, if a woman is in the room, doesn't that turn the men who are present into judges of her beauty, or lack thereof?
As I walked past, the sounds of their derision cut a hole in me and sank deep, leaving me hollow and confused as to why it hurt so much.
When my parents learn I've shaved my head again, I fear they will be dismayed. They know how long and beautiful my hair used to be. Perhaps they believed I would grow it back.
Their dismay hurts differently than the derision of strangers — it's slow, gentle, somehow more devastating.
"You're so brave." "I wish I were as confident as you." "It's something every woman should do."
These are things I have been told by other women. The truth is, I shaved my head because my hair was thinning rapidly. Rather than boldly renouncing an emblem of femininity, I let go of what no longer seemed mine. I surrendered in hopes of finding something else to call my own. At great risk, I found it.
Where I work part-time at a bakery counter, every shift is an exercise in being seen.
Being seen goes from mundane to fraught when you are the only person of color in the room, when you are a woman, & when you have shaved your head.
Fortunately, most customers simply look at me for an extra half-second, before going on to place their order.
But as the world slowly reopens, and as I spend more time outside the social constraints of a business setting, something tells me I will receive many more reactions like the snickering of two men on the street.
Two summers ago, I received more catcalls from men on the streets than I could count. How could I explain to them — and to all the men who express derision towards my shaven head — that to be a woman is not simply to be seen in her body?
Only recently have I learned this myself.
The obsession with being seen in my body has poisoned my capacity to live in it. Consumed with the anxieties of being seen, I lost my roots in the simple truths of belonging in my body, taking care of it, and celebrating its sacredness as my home.
Recently, I came across these words by German Jewish philosopher Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. While many will resist her motion to define femininity with maternity, I can't deny the clarity these words have given me, as I've struggled bitterly to make sense of why the wounds of body dysmorphia go so deep:
"Women's soul is present and lives more intensely in all parts of the body, and it is inwardly affected by that which happens to the body... The task of assimilating in oneself a living being which is evolving and growing, of containing and nurturing it...[represents] such an intimate unity of the physical and spiritual that one is well able to understand that this unity imposes itself on the entire nature of woman." ~ Edith Stein, from Essays on Woman
If I had shaved my head to look "edgy," I would be miserable right now. After all, I'm not thin and/or white.
Instead, I'm a fleshy-featured, brown-skinned woman who embodies a femininity beyond the comfort of many to behold.
This is my truth.
And I am exhausted by cloaking myself in other people's truths about a woman's worth, for fear of being seen as I live out my own.
To live in my body — who knew it could feel so beautiful.