Seven years ago, I wanted to switch up my look. With long flowing locks, which at the time were a significant part of my identity) I started perusing Pinterest for bold pixie cut hairstyles - researching all the different styles of pixie cuts that flattered specific face shapes. Every blog I found that gave advice on pixie cuts said: a square-shaped face (like mine) and pixie cuts don't mix. So, I'd give up my idea for a while until I saw someone with a cute pixie cut and started looking on Pinterest again. Then I'd try to find a blog that said square-shaped faces and pixie cuts are a great match. I did this over and over for seven years! SEVEN years, ya'll!
This yearning was different from the desire to shave my head (which I did ten years after the first ideation). The desire to shave my head was even scarier than the pixie cut idea and had nothing to do with enhancing my look. In my mind, getting a buss cut was an act of defiance or rebellion - like skydiving or bungee jumping. It was all about not giving a shit about how I look and shedding my attachment to my looks - not anticipating liking the look at all. The pixie cut idea, however, was about letting myself be free to experiment and find out what I like, experience more variety and take small risks. The buzz cut was the ultimate risk. Why did I pine for something so long that many women (and most men) don't give much thought to at all? I had a long history of following 'advice' and playing it safe in life.
All my life, the belief that looks determine social influence and currency was habitually introduced by cultural messaging and reinforced by my personal experience. In Naomi Wolf's book, The Beauty Myth, she says of American culture, "Women are allowed a mind or a body, but not both." I had railed against this message since y adolescence = trying to put as much effort into developing my intellect as i did in practicing makeup techniques, mall shopping, and grooming my hair. I was determined to make people feel sheepish and embarrassed for assuming I couldn't be smart (it happened plenty). At many times though, I gave in and embraced the tool of power delegated to me as many women do: play dumb and use their appearance as a manipulation to get their needs met.
So, making a major change to my appearance meant risking the winning formula I had depended upon to get many of my needs met. And this belief led to a suffocating dread of the future: the inevitable loss of good looks = loss of social influence and value. Having no control over this eventuality, it resulted in a fear of loss of control. Wolf says, "more women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before, but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our un-liberated grandmothers [...] inside the majority of the West's controlled, attractive, successful working women, there is a secret 'underlife' poisoning our freedom, infused with notions of beauty, it is a dark vein of self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror of aging, and dread of lost control."
My belief at the time was that physical attractiveness = power. The more insidious belief behind this belief was: I have little intrinsic value. I'm not competent enough to learn new ways of getting my needs met. I have no other way to feel validated.
I recently watched, and loved, the movie I Feel Pretty. In it, the main character experiences the opposite delusion that women of our culture are manipulated into: she believes she has suddenly become physically attractive. And with this miraculous bestowal of beauty, she also possesses the social power that society prescribes comes with it. This delusion of her mind (that no one around her shares) empowers her to go after the dreams that she had been keeping herself from pursuing because she believed her 'dowdy' looks would keep them out of reach. She achieves fantastic success, having made no physical change at all, she just believes she has. I won't ruin the ending for you, but they nailed the message.
In April, I got sick of my own excuses to stay stuck and I shaved my head. It was one of the bravest and most empowering experiences of my life. And now my hair has grown to a pixie cut. And it's so cute. Trying on a pixie cut has been fun. I like it and so do a lot of people. (I'm not letting that mean anything about me and it fails to validate my worth because of the thoughts I choose when I get compliments on it.)
Though, the most satisfying compliment I have received from shaving my head: an acquaintance of mine (who was always too afraid to dramatically change her hair) was so inspired by me shaving my locks off that she mustered up some courage and got a cute asymmetrical pixie. It's so sassy! But even more than how cute it looks, she exudes an energy of empowerment. Many women have commented to me, "I wish I could pull off that look," I reply by saying, "I told myself that same story for seven years." The response is always raised eyebrows.
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