Why is our idea of how a woman should look so inherently tied to the preferred feminine? asks the newly-shorn Geraldine Walsh.
I WAS 15 when I dyed my hair midnight blue, quickly followed by dashing purple. I looked more like a unicorn going through a semi goth phase than the sophisticated 18-year-old I was attempting to copy. I’ve never been nervous or shy about experimenting with my hair. Having gone from a long mane that was routinely crimped on a Saturday night to a short pixie cut which looked more boyish than elfin, I dared to be different. I enjoyed the challenge of finding a style that suited my personality, whether it was a faux hawk or a lopsided bob.
You’d imagine finding my way into my 30 would slow down my hair experiments but after two children, and becoming far too accustomed to dry shampoo, I dared myself to what has become my most audacious style to date. I shaved off every strand of hair down to a barber’s number one. I was, by choice, bald.
The reaction to my new androgynous look has been interesting. There has been a varying degree of amusement, some disgust, shock, and a handful of worried glances from strangers who clearly wonder if I’m poorly. Some have been jealous that I took the bold step they are too nervous to take. And oddly, I’ve been stopped in Lidl, midway through the weekly shop, by admirers who adore the look and almost applauded me for my fearless choice to abandon the ordinary feminine locks that society so clearly requires a woman to have.
But why? Why is our idea of how a woman should look so inherently tied to the preferred feminine?
Aisling Leonard-Curtin, a chartered counselling psychologist says, “The vast majority of women learn from an early age, either directly or indirectly, that beauty and attractiveness is referred to far more commonly in girls and women than boys and men. Even though we have made massive strides towards more gender equality, we can still remember the various different comments made about us, or other women, in line with feminine beauty being superior.”
The examples of women who have boldly taken to shaving their head is plentiful and I’ve been compared to them all in recent months.
Sinead O’Connor’s iconic head shave was initially linked to her poor mental health. Interestingly, O’Connor recently explained her reasons in an interview with Dr Phil, for shaving her head by saying, “I didn’t want to be pretty.” Noting that having a shaved head made her less appealing and closed to physical and sexual abuse, O’Connor saw her hair as being particularly feminine which left her open to unwanted attack.
Britney Spears, whose head-shaving crisis in 2007 is still a breakout moment for pop culture, epitomised that a woman who shaves her head must be having a breakdown. This, most certainly, is not the case. I, for one, did not hit a car with an umbrella and was fairly in control when I made the decision to go bald.
Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland shooting survivor, has become a strong voice and advocate for the anti-gun movement in America. Her demeanour, strength, and courage in speaking bravely at a time when her voice needs to be heard is admirable.
When asked if her buzz cut is a symbol of feminism, her honest answer in an interview with the Sun Sentinel, was that Florida is hot and “hair is just an extra sweater I’m forced to wear”. A perfect reason!
When I shaved my head, I felt more of a woman than ever. I no longer had a sweeping fringe to hide behind and instead let the graceful features and bone structure of my face speak for itself. There are days when I wear absolutely no makeup and feel like a modern day Audrey Hepburn, even if I am sashaying around the supermarket.
And with my two children, I can appear at the school gates having breezed out of bed with a perfectly coiffed head of stubble. The benefits are vast and outweigh the odd glance of disbelief.
As Leonard-Curtin says, “It is more helpful when each woman gives herself a chance to choose what is authentic for her in any given context and be open to this changing in different contexts and at different times in her life.
“We will not be able to escape our earlier life experiences and the many internalised comments we have heard. However, we can actively make choices in the present moment that can bring us closer towards more authentically living our lives.”
So, can a woman take on a primarily masculine phenomenon such as a shaved head and make it refined, soft, and womanly while keeping its rugged intensity? Yes, she can. And she has.