shear will

Sick of hid­ing be­hind her hair, this writer de­cided to shave it all off and let her true self shine through.

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

When I first raised the elec­tric trim­mer to my head, I felt sick. My armpits prick­led with sweat and my hands grew damp at the panic of mak­ing a change so big that I knew I’d scarcely recog­nise my­self after­wards. I held the shaver in front of my hair­line and hov­ered it there for a mo­ment, its vi­bra­tions shud­der­ing down my arm and through ev­ery mus­cle of my tensed, ner­vous body. My girl­friend held her breath as I made a de­ci­sive move for my hair and smoothly carved a clean path straight down the cen­tre of my scalp. I had to shoot straight for the heart of it or I knew I’d never fol­low through. The long curls slid onto the bath­room floor, first in blonde ringlets, then, as I worked through the back of my hair, in dark, mat­ted tan­gles.

I’ve al­ways been my hair. I was born with a full head of brown curls clus­tered on my head. When I was young and cute, still dress­ing in ging­ham dresses and vel­cro shoes, my face was framed by soft, golden fil­a­ments, twisted into loose bar­rel curls. As I got older, grow­ing out of my gir­lie smocks and into my baggy shorts and heavy Dr Martens boots, my hair grew thicker and coarser, and I cut it into a short “boy” style. It matched the way I scuffed my school shoes along the pave­ment, and played foot­ball, and swung on the mon­key bars. I re­fused to brush it. A boy in my class, who called me “Bog Brush Tan­doh” for the two years I knew him, once broke a ruler over my head and ob­served that one of the shat­tered halves had dis­ap­peared com­pletely. It was gen­er­ally ac­cepted by the class that the miss­ing part of the ruler was prob­a­bly still some­where in my hair.

As a teenager, my hair got longer and greasier, and I be­came em­bar­rassed by its messi­ness. This was the age of Jen­nifer Anis­ton-in­spired sleek, straight­ened tresses, and sweep­ing “emo” fringes. There wasn’t a place in this shiny, horsey-maned world for a mixe­drace girl with frizzy, curly hair. I tried straight­en­ing it a few times, but it would hang from ei­ther side of my part like two sheets of card­board, then start to kink and curl back into its usual un­ruli­ness. It smelled of burn­ing for days. My hair was as dam­aged, con­fused and poorly styled as I was. I be­gan to come to terms with my hair as I en­tered my twen­ties, buoyed by the sight of Harry Styles’ sim­i­larly lank locks, but still there were times when I’d avoid eye con­tact with dog walk­ers who’d look back and forth be­tween me and their labradoo­dles or cocker spaniels with a wry smile.

I’ve been weirdly and an­tag­o­nis­ti­cally at one with this messy, dif­fi­cult tan­gle of hair for as long as I can re­mem­ber. It was a big deal to get rid of it, and so you’d imag­ine that it’d be some­thing I’d think long and hard about, some­thing I’d be able to ac­cord some well-thought­through fem­i­nist ra­tio­nale. But I can’t. The de­ci­sion to shave of my hair crys­tallised at home in my bath­room about 15 min­utes be­fore I picked up the trim­mer. That was the im­pul­sive, de­ci­sive tip­ping point – there, in my bath­room, on a bor­ing Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

And yet, even though I never had some grand agenda for my hair­cut, I quickly re­alised I was be­ing naive in think­ing that shav­ing my head was a to­tally apo­lit­i­cal act. After I’d fin­ished, I posted a selfie of my new egg head to Instagram with the words “You wish” un­der­neath, and within hours that pic­ture had been seen, liked, dis­liked and com­mented upon by thou­sands. Some spec­u­lated whether I was hav­ing

a break­down, while oth­ers lamented the loss of my more “fem­i­nine” curls. Many loved it, and plenty de­clared it a bold, fem­i­nist state­ment. Be­fore long, there were hashed-to­gether news sto­ries about my hair­cut, fol­lowed by peo­ple de­cry­ing the demise of jour­nal­ism. It was sug­gested that this was my Brit­n­ey­circa-2007 mo­ment. I was baf­fled. It was just a hair­cut.

But it’s never just a hair­cut. Least of all when that hair­cut goes against the grain of the pli­ant, fem­i­nine gen­der pre­sen­ta­tion that’s ex­pected of women. Least of all when the price paid for be­ing an “ac­cept­able” LGBT per­son is to mould your­self to the dom­i­nant aes­thetic, and not to wear your strange, won­der­ful em­blems of gen­der non-con­form­ity on your sleeve. Least of all when you pass up the soft, light-brown curls that af­ford you a priv­i­leged po­si­tion as a white-pass­ing per­son, and lay bare the high curve of your fore­head and the slope of your nose – the mark­ers of your West African roots.

When I took the shaver to my head and sheared of the gold-streaked curls I’d grown up with, I was cast­ing off a soft­ness that was both pow­er­ful and de­bil­i­tat­ing. My hair had al­lowed me to carry on feel­ing con­ven­tion­ally fem­i­nine, ne­go­ti­at­ing a place within a same-sex re­la­tion­ship that turned my het­eronor­ma­tive world view on its head. It was a flam­boy­ant, femme head of curls, and that soft­ness and fem­i­nin­ity gave me a lot of strength. It fit­ted, some­how.

And yet there was an­other side of me – the side that en­joys dress­ing like a camp man and wear­ing shirts that skim clean over the shal­low curve of my breasts – whose boldness was smoth­ered by that head of hair. I wanted to shrug off the shy­ness I’d car­ried with me my whole life, and to stand up tall and un­em­bar­rassed, as the kind of butch, kind of femme, kind of camp, kind of strait­laced per­son I am. I’d spent a life­time pulling my hair over my face, lurk­ing be­hind the fa­cade of fem­i­nine straight­ness that it gave me and hid­ing in plain sight. I knew that for the boldness I had in­side to shine through, I needed a change. I needed to step out with my face, my vul­ner­a­bil­ity and my queerness on show. I needed to shave my head.

Some­times even the most mun­dane de­ci­sions be­come mark­ers of your whole iden­tity. I couldn’t have pre­dicted that when I de­cided to get rid of my heavy mop of hair I’d be re­cast­ing my gen­der, sex­u­al­ity and racial iden­tity in a whole new light. On an­other per­son, this hair­cut might make them more shy, or feel straighter, qui­eter or less se­cure about the way their gen­der man­i­fests. Th­ese things are as unique as we are. For me, shav­ing my head has made me feel both more mas­cu­line and more fem­i­nine. It has given me the con­fi­dence of Am­ber Rose, and the nerdy boy­ish­ness of a Don­nie Darko-era Jake Gyl­len­haal. It’s forced me to be braver in the many small in­ter­ac­tions I used to dread ev­ery day. I feel as though I’ve stripped my­self of the weight of my past, con­flicted self and stepped into a more self-as­sured skin, where my sex­u­al­ity is coded in new, ex­cit­ing ways.

It hasn’t all been smooth sail­ing. I’m more ner­vous now about hold­ing my girl­friend’s hand in pub­lic for fear that the in­ti­macy cou­pled with my hair­cut will coax out peo­ple’s big­otries. And for the first two weeks, I felt naked, like a strange new beast. Ev­ery time I caught sight of my­self in the mir­ror, my chest tight­ened. I found my­self cry­ing more of­ten than usual. But the mag­i­cal thing about do­ing some­thing as big and scary as this is that it in­fuses ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence there­after with a sense of the brav­ery you had in the mo­ment. I was un­sure straight after the cut, but the au­dac­ity of it was enough to make me com­mit to a new, sure-footed pos­i­tiv­ity. This wasn’t the hair­cut of some­one who’d apol­o­gise for their ex­is­tence or shy away from at­ten­tion. It was the hair­cut of a per­son who’d post a selfie to Instagram with the cap­tion, “You wish.” You wish you had the nerve to do this. It was a rare streak of ar­ro­gant de­fi­ance, and it felt good.

I love my new, fluffy head now. I of­ten get asked whether I’m go­ing to keep my hair like this for­ever, but I just don’t know. Maybe I’ll grow my hair out again, maybe I won’t. Ei­ther way, I can’t help but see ev­ery­thing in a new light now I’ve taken this mas­sive leap of faith. I can sur­vive with­out my hel­met of hair – I’m not Sam­son, nor am I one with the ma­jes­tic mass of curls that crown me. Long hair, short hair, no hair, mul­let, what­ever hair tops my head, which­ever path I choose, I’ll still love One Direc­tion and Ally Mcbeal, I will still bite my nails and tweet too much, I’ll still be mixed race, lanky, sweet-toothed and queer. I’ll still be me.

CLOSE SHAVE Ruby Tan­doh is fi­nally free of her curls

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.