The Hair Experiment, The 1st Month
It’s been a month since I cut all my hair off, and it’s getting a little longer. I’m still getting compliments on it from friends I haven’t seen in a while (hello AWP). And today, on the train back to the Seattle airport to get back to Boston, something really nice happened. I had just gotten onto the train and was putting my headphones on when the man sitting across from me said “Excuse me…” I looked up at him, and in a super un-creepy way he said “You’re very beautiful.” I said thank you, and he smiled and went back to reading, and I put my headphones on and we didn’t interact again. It was nice, surprisingly un-invasive, and didn’t feel objectifying. He didn’t make me feel like there was any expectation attached to the compliment.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking, and talking to some of my gender-sensitive friends, about what differences I’ve noticed. Not as much in the way other people react to me, mostly I think because I’m less aware of the difference myself. But one unexpected thing: I’m showering a lot more, because I can. Turns out I like showering in the mornings, when it’s quick and easy. Before it took an extraordinarily long time to wash and style my hair. Now, I can do it all in under ten minutes. I feel somewhat bad about this, because I think in fact I’m using just as much water as I did before, rather than reducing in that way, but I am enjoying it immensely. Maybe I’ll let that keep happening for a little while.
Also turns out I’m wearing mascara more. I’m not exactly sure why this is. I’ve gone through phases of wearing some makeup, a lot of makeup (in the punk rock, big eyeshadow, kind of way), and no makeup (most recently). I still put some on every now and then, but mostly haven’t in years worn it with any regularity. But now that my hair is short, I feel like I need to feminize myself in some way, and mascara seems just about enough without requiring too much effort. And, as I mentioned before, I’m wearing earrings more. Probably also something to do with feminizing, but mostly I think it’s because you can see them now!
But I have also been wanting to wear skirts more, and have been more aware of my body in an interesting way. It’s almost as if my hair gave me some sort of protection – it made me read instantly as sexually-available-female. Even when I hadn’t washed it, styled it, had just thrown it back in a pony-tale (about 90% of the time), it was as though just possessing long hair was performing a kind of sexualized femininity. I’m not sure I would have said this before, I’m not sure I think this is true now, but that’s what it seems like at the moment.
Ok, but the other part of the experiment, where I stop shaving and all, is driving me a bit nuts. Not the legs but the armpits. It’s uncomfortable, I’m finding. Like, it catches and pulls sometimes, and that really hurts. And maybe this is my Hispanic and Russian heritage at work, but it’s really freaking annoying. It’s been a month, and it’s as long and thick as its ever been, so this might be literally growing pains. I’d like to give it another month just to see if I adjust physically. But I’m not sure I’ll adjust psychologically even so. I definitely feel sort of vulnerable. Even though it’s winter, and no one can tell, I feel like if I take off my sweater and am in a t-shirt, I’m exposed. I’m exposing something about myself that’s super abnormal. And coming from someone who has for the majority of her life been unapologetically abnormal in many ways, that it makes me uncomfortable says something.
What I think it says is how deeply I’ve internalized the super hypocritical double standard about body hair and gender. That far more than my long/short hair switch, this is something really different. It elicits a strong response, in me, and because I know it will in other people, I cringe in anticipation. Even one of my very progressive male friends, when I told him I’d stopped shaving (it was in context, not just a random announcement) immediately said “gross.” Didn’t even think about it. I laughed and asked why, and pointed out the double standard, and he at least got to the point where he said “to each their own, I guess…” as though before he determined it was OK I hadn’t been entitled to decide how I would groom myself. But I anticipate/fear this reaction in other people in part because I’m self-conscious all the time, and in part because I’ve had it myself.
When I was younger, and I would see girls with unshaved legs, I would silently judge them. Feminist-hippies. Going too far. I was a lot younger in many ways, and really didn’t understand at all the basis of my scorn. But now, experimenting with what is surprisingly perceived as a radical gesture of feminism, partly for those reasons and partly for others, it’s haunting me. As soon as it warms up, I fear seeing it in the eyes of strangers. I know I shouldn’t care what strangers think, or even friends whose sexist programming makes them react as though I’m doing something disgusting by doing exactly what men already do. We’ll see if I can get there. Or if the physical discomfort, combined with the emotional discomfort, is too much.
Part of me is already giving myself permission to shave. It’s about choices, and I have a right to make mine. I just want to fully understand why I’m making the ones that I am.