The Power I Found in Shaving My Head

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.)

  1. Delfina says...

    As a young woman, I do see how troubling “going agains the norm” of society can stop us from doing things such as shaving our heads. Although we may not always notice, woman are always more anxious about altering our physical appearance than men, only because us women tend to be criticized with comments such as ” omg why did you cut your hair, it was so beautiful before!”, when they do not realize that perhaps our long hair just made us feel more insecure and actually cutting it or shaving it all off empowered us to free those insecurities placed by society on us.

  2. Jess says...

    Late to the party here but YOU. LOOK. AWESOME.

    *Goes to find clippers*

  3. sarah says...

    I stumbled across this while stumbling down the rabbit hole of looking for a “cut your own hair” tutorial. I never comment on things like this but omg, you look so awesome!! I wish I had the nerve to do something like this…if I knew it would look as good as you, I would do it in a flash!

  4. Gabriela says...

    ooh, u look beautiful, i’m thinking about do the same (brazilian here hahaha).

  5. Luba says...

    It looks awesome. I don’t usually comment, but just wanted you to know. Good move!

  6. Molly says...

    This is awesome! I have the back half of my hair shaved in an undercut and it was totally liberating to finally trim it myself during this isolation. So proud of everyone out there who is going for it when it comes to appearances.

  7. Amy says...

    What a way to own your power and own your body. I love that your boyfriend has been so supportive in the process. Congrats Kim!

  8. Denisse C. says...

    You look wonderful! Thanks for sharing this! Just sent it to my mom who’s been thinking of doing the same.

  9. Jennifer says...

    You look fabulous! And thank you CoJ for posting this story. I’m Asian-American and long ago used to have thick black hair. But over the years, it has thinned-down to a very narrow ponytail. I’ve been suicidal, depressed, and everything in between. I’ve been to multiple dermatologists and doctors, desperately seeking a definitive “optimistic” answer like, “Oh, you have low iron levels or a malfunctioning thyroid. Take xyz medicine and your hair will grow back longer and more lustrous than ever.” (Yes, I realize how crazy it sounds to wish you have a medical condition as a logical explanation.) In the end, as is the majority of hair loss cases in women, the diagnosis came back by process of elimination: androgenetic alopecia (hereditary hair loss). It affects just as many women as men but the psychological pain, personal shame, and societal stigma are much, much worse. I’m in my mid-40s now and have been dealing with this “secret” since my early 20s. However, with Ricki Lake disclosing the same condition a few months ago and revealing her beautiful newly-shaved head as a symbol of freedom from her painstaking, paranoid routine of elaborate hair extensions and fillers–I’m totally loving the idea of doing the same.