some thoughts on femininity
Usually, I maintain a strict divide between this blog and my personal writing. Today, one spills into the other so this is some raw writing I did for myself this morning (though I will probably edit it zealously over the next week or two):
Did a little something today. I own up to the rashness of this decision. Yet I couldn’t have done this if the idea hadn’t planted roots in my mind since I was almost 17, when I learned my hair was thinning rapidly. Now I am almost 23, and I have run to embrace the specter that shook me to tears 6 years ago: the reality of falling short of yet another aspect of conventional feminine beauty: long, beautiful hair.
One year ago, I performed an original spoken word poem that bridged my struggles with cultural identity with my quickly-thinning hair. Afterwards, I chuckled at how it was the first time that it felt acceptable, appropriate, to expose my growing bald spots; the one time I didn’t feel obliged to hide these unwelcome patches of scalp, because an entire audience of strangers would hear about my baldness on my own terms.
At the time, my hair was the longest it had been since high school. At 17, I cut my long hair and got a bob. It was freeing. There was no need to perform my helplessly inadequate version of conventional femininity — the one my female peers were performing, boasting a full head of lush, healthy hair.
Earlier this year, I relived the leap from long hair to short hair, and it had a lot to do with personal struggles unrelated to beauty: among others, grappling with the uncertainty and risk of preparing to finish college and build my own career as a freelance musician.
This past summer, my hair grew longer and I got another haircut — this time, the shortest my hair had ever been. As this second bob grew longer again, I felt reluctant to rinse and repeat (even though I had done so for years across high school and college).
Even if I kept my hair short, it was always an incomplete (and therefore inadequate) version of conventional feminine beauty — literally incomplete, evidenced by the patches of scalp.
Over the past few months, the idea of shaving my head — renouncing the entire paradigm that to be feminine is to have a full head of healthy, beautiful hair — would return to my mind with increasing frequency.
Across a variety of situations, I would see other women with buzz cuts and admire their look with something akin to envy. “That’s exactly what I’ve wanted to do for 6 years.” “It must feel so freeing.”
With the support of some friends, I decided to buy a pair of clippers a couple days ago, not fully knowing if I would follow through with it. Until yesterday, it was a vague idea that could wait another week or two, at least.
Yesterday, the gradual shift that was years in the process came to fruition: if this idea has survived six years in my head, chances are, it will persist. Unless I “did it,” the question would continue to take up space in the back of my mind, “What if?” It seemed little more than a waiting game, which seemed unnecessary to prolong.
So I waited until I got a decent night of sleep, then rose early and “did it.”
There is nothing boisterous about the joy I feel in having made such a bold move; rather, it is a gentle motion of satisfaction, born from recognizing the possibility that has lived in my mind for so long. A subtle wave of relief, to notice my bald spots have now merged seamlessly with the rest of my head.
Beyond my struggle with rapidly losing hair since 17, this action fits within the larger picture of my almost-lifelong struggle with body dysmorphia.
When it comes to femininity — or the air we breathe which dictates what a woman must look like, how she must speak, think, and act in order to be "properly" a woman — I have battle intensely with the standards upholding conventional feminine beauty. In addition to my hair, so much about my body — in fact, almost everything — seemed to fall bitterly short. I became aware of this before I turned 8. When I was 13, awareness flared and sprouted into deeply-rooted self-loathing.
In college, I began to find words for my struggle, to identify sources of the wound, and to seek entry into an abundance of pathways to healing.
To say that I am still in the early stages of healing feels barely adequate — I can imagine, and have imagined, navigating this rugged terrain for the rest of my life. Constantly up, up, and up, only to spiral downwards for a time. But then, up again. For the rest of my life, I can imagine growing in a way too deeply-rooted, too complex and fundamental to who I am, to be linear.
Having “done it,” I cast off another dimension of my submission to conventional feminine beauty. Not because there is anything inherently evil within it, but because the world poisoned my relationship with conventional feminine beauty, so that I would repeatedly and only ever fall short. In other words, that I would never and could never be enough.
I am aware that some will conflate being a woman who has a buzz cut with identifying as queer. Personally, I identify as a straight woman. However, I recognize an element of queerness simply within my urge to discover and embody an alternative truth of what it means to be a woman, one radically different from the norm.
To my housemates, I hope the buzzing didn’t awake and disturb you this morning. If you’re wondering why I hadn’t mentioned this before, it is in part because you all have busy lives :)
To my family, I fear telling you about this because I am all-too-familiar with the lovely burden of being a daughter: the expectation to uphold traditional definitions of beauty. To sustain with my body the conventional narrative of femininity that has existed for generations within our bloodline. To honor the female version of our family’s beauty by maintaining an image that preserves it in its most recognizeable form: long, black hair.
None of these ideals have ever been expressed directly, yet I know them — you know them — for they are the air we have breathed since we were born. If this offends you, please know I meant no offense. Please know this action brings me great joy. Relief. Abandonment. Trust that I will continue to grow and heal into the strong, deeply-rooted, compassionate woman you dreamed I could be.