Six months ago, on the subway platform, I snapped a photo of a chic woman with a shaved head. I sent it to my best friend and typed, “I want to be her!” I’d wanted to shave my head for a little over a year and knew I would do it soon. When we’d been dating for about a month, I even gave my boyfriend the heads up, “Just so you know, I’m planning on shaving my head at some point.” Little did I know, months later, we would be pulling a DIY in his bathroom, while we were quarantined together…

I imagined having more time to be totally comfortable with it, before he saw it. But as quarantine hit and everything — including hair salons — started closing, we joked that we should just do it ourselves. Joking turned into “No, let’s actually do it…” and before I knew it, I was pitching it as a writing assignment.

There was a good measure of panic as the day drew closer. What if my head was a really weird shape? What if I was ugly with no hair? If I am bald and ugly during a global pandemic, I don’t know if I can take that. It got real when we bought clippers during our weekly grocery run a few days ago. “Ok. So we’re really just gonna cut off all my hair, that’s what’s about to happen…” I thought to myself in the self-checkout line. I put it off for a few more days, making last minute excuses: “I’m too emotionally fragile tonight, let’s watch another episode of High Fidelity!”

Finally, over the weekend, on a day that I was especially emotionally fragile, but willing to do something to get out of my funk, I decided to dive in. I snipped off the first braid and then went on photog duty, as my boyfriend Steven offered to take over. The High Fidelity soundtrack blasted in the background and we couldn’t stop smiling.

The Power I Found in Shaving My Head

Half the braids are gone.

The Power I Found in Shaving My Head

Halfway there. Now we buzz!

The Power I Found in Shaving My Head

Bettye is unsure about all of this, but can’t look away.

The Power I Found in Shaving My Head

Getting into it!

The Power I Found in Shaving My Head

“This is the first haircut I’ve given — EVER!” — Steven

The Power I Found in Shaving My Head

All done. Totally into it.

I remember a friend describing how I’d feel in one perfect word: freedom. There is so much freedom in starting at square one, just you and your head shape — weird or not. As a woman taught to earn approval through her appearance, I felt good to go against that structure and aesthetic a bit more. I’ve always felt more myself with short hair, and this time is no exception. It is very grounding, peering into the mirror at your nearly bald head. When my hair was short before, I still had some height on top, and now that it’s all gone I feel kind of like my head is the size of a pea, but I’m rolling with it. One strange aspect of all this was having my boyfriend be the one to cut it. Having someone I love change a part of myself that makes me feel most beautiful was insanely vulnerable, but as we kept going, I couldn’t help but focus on how dope I looked! “You look so hot,” he would say, anytime I seemed a little worried.

As in most experiences that stretch me, I always think I’ll emerge a much cooler person, no longer possessing insecurities, someone who feels beautiful regardless of varying outside appearances. Instead I am still me, with all the same insecurities, greeting and mingling with this version of myself who has always existed and has finally come to the surface.

P.S. Three natural hairstyles, and three short hair tutorials.

(Photos courtesy of Kim Rhodes.)