It's been 10 years since Brtiney Spears shaved her head. I was 17 at the time, and I remember thinking she must be really crazy to get rid of the main thing that made her feminine and beautiful (and therefore, loveable). Then, 3 or so years later, on International Women's Day, I did the same thing.
I was in university. My hair was quite long, and I had already begun shaving it off in small, acceptable patches in the form of an undercut. I was starting to feel more and more of a desire to be seen as queer by the world at large, though I had yet to understand what queerness really meant to me.
I was dealing with both a breakup that had left me feeling lost, and the start of a new relationship (my first with a woman) that at that time wasn't the healthiest. We were both struggling with our mental health, and we egged each other on when it came to negative coping mechanisms.
I'm not sure how I became obsessed with the idea of shaving my head, but I did. I couldn't let go of it. I felt like if I didn't get rid of my hair, I was going to lose my mind.
I knew people would ask questions, and since I wasn't really sure myself why I wanted to be bald, I decided I would make a donation to Shave for the Brave (my hair was too processed to donate for a wig). I wasn't trying to be disingenuous. I wanted to give money to cancer research. But it certainly wasn't the only reason I wanted to shave my head.
My friend came over, and I handed her the clippers.
A couple years later, I happened to read something about the Britney Spears shaving her head. How she went to a tattoo shop right after, and told people there, "I don't want anyone touching me. I'm tired of people touching me."
That was such a revolutionary moment for me. The breakup I was dealing with when I shaved my head was the breakup of a relationship that began right after I was sexually assaulted. I never told my boyfriend about the assault, but I still always felt that he had "saved" me from that situation. He was the type of guy that valued "traditional" femininity, and even though it went against what truly made me feel comfortable, I always tried my best to be that person for him. Because I felt it would keep me safe.
When I shaved my head, the vast majority of straight men were no longer interested in me. Guys on dating sites would send me messages, unsolicited, saying things like, "You were prettier when you had hair," and "Why would you do that to yourself?" I started to realize that I didn't need the approval of straight men to feel happy, to feel like I was a real, valid person.
Of course, being bald (and subsequently, having very short hair) didn't protect me from being sexually assaulted again. I learned that nothing can really protect me from that, until rape culture is eradicated. That's why we need feminism, that's why we need International Women's Day.
I kept my hair short for several years, but now, it's down to nearly my shoulders. I'm not sure if there's anything symbolic in having long-ish hair again. If there is, it will probably take me a long time to figure it out.
Shaving my head, though I didn't realize it at the time, made me feel like I had power, and agency. Like I was in charge of my own life. I didn't want people touching me anymore. I've never lost that feeling.