So when I was growing up in my house we always had a sign hung in our kitchen that said:
Cleanliness is next to Godliness
Tidiness is next to impossible
My poor mother, I think she got fed up of picking up mine and my Dads shit all the time. The sign didn’t help us pick up stuff though, except when I left a load of stuff on the stairs and my Mum tripped over it in the night and ended up in A&E.
Baldness is next to ugliness. Or that’s what many people would have you believe.
Let me explain my story here before telling you what prompted this blog post.
For the last three years I’ve been shaving my head. Why? Because I like it. Typically I can’t find any pictures of me with a completely shaved head, but this is what it looks like from the back after a few days of growth. I wore hats alot to stop my scalp burning because I’m so fair and ginger.
The first day after I shaved my head I went to the post office. And old lady asked how my treatment was going. I was confused, obviously, I’m pretty fit and healthy so without prompting she said ‘your chemotherapy dear’.
Well I was shocked. I’d never have imagined that someone would assume I had cancer because I chose to shave my head. If you’ve ever known anybody that has had chemotherapy which made their hair fall out, you’ll know that they look very different to someone who has chosen to shave their head. First of all, their eyebrows and eyelashes usually fall out too. I know mine are very blonde, but they’re still there on my face.
On top of that, someone who has had cancer has very different regrowth on their scalp to someone who has just chosen to shave their head. It’s soft and downy when it’s *fallen out* rather than when you’ve shaved it off. After shaving your head your regrowth is like it is on your pubes or your arms – spiky and annoying. And uniform all over too. And dense. And just completely fucking different to how someone who has had chemotherapy looks.
To the dilemma you’re faced with then is that you either look a bit tearful and wistful to save any further questions or you say ‘oh no, I chose to shave my head’. Inevitably they then ask you why you would do that (as if it’s absolutely any of their fucking business) and this is the one time when the answer ‘because I liked the way it looks’ is not good enough. It’s really interesting actually, about a month ago I added synthetic dreadlocks to my growing mokhawk while keeping the sides of my head shaved and now no one looks at me anymore as I walk down the street. Previously people would stare because, you know, I have a shave head. Now I just blend in because I have hair that reaches half way down my back, even though I look like a total hippy.
If you like the way a woman looks with a shaved head our society thinks you’re a freak. There are some exceptions, black women are allowed to have very, very short or buzzed heads (which is a whole other issue about expected beauty standards for black women) or if you do it for charity. Or of course Sinead O’Connor who did it three decades ago as a protest about the way society sees women and has kept the look pretty much ever since.
But charity head shavings. Well there’s a thing that annoys me. It’s a bit like the ‘no makeup selfies’ that went round Facebook a while ago. What this reinforces for women is that shaved heads (or wearing no makeup) are such horrendous things that no sane woman in her right mind would want to show herself in public this way. The idea of doing sponsored things for charity is usually based on a great personal achievement (e.g. swimming the channel, climbing a mountain) or doing something deeply unpleasant (e.g. sitting in baked beans, tipping an ice bucket over your head, not wearing make up for a whole day or shaving your head).
The problem is that to be an acceptable standard of beauty, society says that you must look ‘feminine’ and that generally involves being height-weight proportional, wearing suitably female clothes, wearing makeup and of course, rocking hair that’s past your chin.
But why is that a problem? It’s not really a problem for me. I choose to shave my head. I am bold enough to correct people when they assume I must be sick and even grab their hand when they decide to touch my head in public. Yes, that shit really happens – I know how pregnant ladies feel now. Except they’re touching my fucking head man. It probably doesn’t help that I’m really short, but that’s really not the point.
But this whole attitude to white women who shave their heads being unattractive freaks must stop. Not for me or the many other women who choose to shave their heads, but for the women who don’t have a choice. The cancer sufferers for a start. They don’t choose to have their hair fall out. They shouldn’t have to feel like they are somehow less of a woman because they don’t have long hair anymore. They’re going through enough already.
And alopecia sufferers too. Which is what made me write this blog.
My bloody excellent friend Marcus has recently done something selfless with his photography (about time matey). He volunteered his time and expertise to an alopecia charity. On their website they use the word ‘bold’ to describe the fact that they’ve made a nude calendar. I’d agree with that. As someone who has taken her clothes off for photos on a pretty regular basis it’s certainly a bold thing to do. But this morning something else riled me up.
Brave bald women.
There’s no bravery involved in being bald. Bravery is about enduring unpleasant conditions. Now I’d not have been narked if the title had been ‘brave alopecia sufferers’ or something like that, but the headline implies that it’s brave to be bald. It’s only brave to be bald if the very state of a woman being bald is an unpleasant thing. It isn’t. Bravery is about fighting through unpleasantness. They are brave because they are battling a horrible illness, not because they are bald. (As an aside, I’m wondering why I’m picking grammatical arguments with a rag like the Mirror, however since I’m a journalist myself I guess I hold others in my profession to high standards, even if they work for a red-top).
There’s nothing wrong with being bald. Woman or man. There’s nothing unpleasant about it. The only unpleasant thing here is the pervasive beauty standards that we are held to by society, backed up by journalism like this (which tells us that being bald is a horrible thing that only people who are ill would do).
I’d like to congratulate Marcus for getting his photographs in a mainstream newspaper (even if it is a fucking rag, and I can’t even call you a sellout because it’s for charity).
I’d also like to take this moment to encourage you to support the work that these fabulous ladies are doing to raise money. Buy a copy of their calendar and make someones life a little bit better. And thank you ladies for giving me the opportunity to rant about how the world would be a better place if we didn’t feel forced to conform to hair-related beauty standards.