I’ve shaved my head three times in my life, each time in mourning. The most recent was during the divorce, and it’s taken a while for it to grow back. Now it’s at the point where it’s beginning to be an annoyance while down, and each time I shake it away from my face or tuck it away I feel a sudden, amazed burst of gratitude. Some days the gratefulness is sharper than others.
Every major life change deserves a major hair change, and it doesn’t get more severe than shaving the entire mop off. I don’t feel like myself without long hair or big earrings, so part of getting sheared was acknowledging that my identity was changing. I felt, on some level, that it also removed me from certain social obligations. It probably didn’t, but that perception helped me retreat and put up a defense wall against the outside world.
It’s traditional in a lot of societies to cut your hair in mourning, and there’s also a significant proportion of the world where a woman must cover her hair. Men are generally not under the same stricture. The head-fur is braided, looped, colored, teased, elaborately piled or ironed flat. Hairstyles invite judgment, can place you as part of a certain ethnic group, can define you.
I was the only blonde in my immediate family, and of course there was a barrage of blonde jokes. I could still probably recite most of them in my sleep, a constant stream of attacking venom. If I protested, or showed any hurt feelings, the result was more derisive laughter and a dismissive Can’t you take a joke?
It’s not a joke when you mean to hurt or belittle, and use “humor” to give yourself camouflage.
So I started dyeing it. Any color, as long as it wasn’t blonde. I settled on black-red or black-blue, as far away from my natural color as I could get. For years you couldn’t tell what color my hair actually was, because I dyed religiously the instant roots showed. I didn’t stop with the dye until I was over 30 and tired of the mess and the smell. I’ll still henna occasionally, but that’s as far as I’ll go. You can still see my natural color under henna, it just enhances.
To my relief, I’m no longer really blonde. More dishwater. I can’t wait for gray, though. Gray hair seems like the final stamp on my adulthood, getting me as far as possible from the helpless agony of my childhood. Plus, with my eyes, I think I could really rock some gray.
My hair’s a heavy weight now. It gets in my eyes, my ponytail migrates while I run, it collects on my shoulders and in my brush. On hot days I tie it back, on cold days I shiver until it’s dry. It’s not quite as long as I want it, but it’ll get there.
And finally, it’s mine again. I’ve come out of mourning and found myself still living. Still kicking, after all this, and reclaiming my body one piece at a time. I don’t know if I’ll ever get all the pieces together.
But I’ve got this one.