I Am Not My Hair (And Neither Are You)
I was in fifth grade the first time I used my hair as an act of defiance. At this time, I was bullied by my peers. In response, I wanted to redefine myself and create distance from the girls who tormented me. I remember bringing in the photo of the popstar “Pink” to my hairdresser. Her song “So What” had been an anthem of sorts, and I sought to channel that energy into my life. Pink embodied the swagger of a punk rock woman who has total autonomy, who exceeds sexism and social expectation. To me, she represented self protection and strength, two things I needed at that time. Her hair was short, spiky, and in-your-face. The hairdresser was not as keen about the look as I was. She told me that I looked like a model with my long hair, and insinuated that cutting it off would remove my beauty. Her disapproval motivated me to cut it off even more.
This past February, I took my hair rebellion the farthest I ever have. I shaved my head in my music video for my song Resilience, which depicts my life before and after being sexually assaulted. The night before the video shoot, I was terrified. I struggled to sleep. I woke up hours before my alarm the next morning, my body was buzzing with nervous energy. I was committed, and I felt the weight of what I was about to do.
The first cut was the most exciting. Holding a fistful of my brown hair, now disconnected from my body, was surreal. I slowly worked into a rhythm, occasionally looking at myself in the mirror and laughing. I was cutting off physical and emotional layers, detaching myself from what men have tried to make me. The middle-aged man who sexually harassed me over a period of time, the police officer who victim blamed me when I came to him for help, the man who assaulted me and changed my life, the man who abused me afterwards in ways that felt too familiar... I cut away the woman I was when they knew me. Many survivors feel disconnected from their bodies and seek to find ways to regain bodily autonomy, and this was my chosen method.
The next morning was an adjustment. Every pimple, stray hair, everything women are supposed to keep "under control" was on display. I didn’t realize that my hair had become a security blanket of sorts, and that I relied on it to make me invisible. Walking around as a woman with a shaved head, I didn’t have the choice to be invisible. I remember saying to myself “Well, you’re committed now,” and I decided to make myself feel as confident as possible every morning before leaving my house. I adopted a new self-care routine, started wearing more eyeshadow and owning my femininity in ways I didn’t when I had my long hair. I felt more fierce, more sexy, and more confident. I started leaving class when I was too emotionally triggered by the content, practicing self-preservation over pride.
I had an interesting mix of responses to my lack of hair. My friends and family were supportive, most of them stating how good it looked on me. When classmates who identify as women shared with me how they wish they could shave their heads, I told them that they could. I am not uncharacteristically strong or brave for shaving my head. Sweet strangers told me about how they had also shaved their own heads previously, or shared that they were inspired by seeing that I had the intestinal fortitude to do it myself. I thoroughly believe that everyone who feels constrained by the concept of modern femininity should try shaving their heads. Feel the breeze on your scalp, see how much your hair contributes to your self esteem and how you interact with the world. Shaving my head made me vulnerable, and powerful. These two things aren’t mutually exclusive. India Arie says, “I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations”.
I have found power in using my physical appearance and art to liberate myself and reclaim my bodily autonomy. Empowerment is an individual journey, and it is unique to everyone. To every survivor reading this, I want you to know that you are infinitely powerful and your body is not broken. You are not broken. I believe in your capacity to heal.
Written by: Saffron A
Watch Saffron's music video here.