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Virginia Lore

Off the Top of My HeadBReflections of a Bald Woman

I shaved my head on an ordinary Saturday. While the kids chased soap bubbles in the

yard, I ran up to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and cut my hair off to the scalp.

This wasn=t completely out of the blue. I had been struggling with my Look,

approaching my 38th birthday with more despair than hope and some desperate appointments for

manicures and facials. I=d ended up with fuchsia toenails and an unattractive dark brown

mullet. On top of the sixty pounds I=d gained since having the children, I felt ugly, stodgy, and

hopelessly old

I liked the results so much I borrowed my friend Andy=s clippers to shave my hair even

closer. Later that afternoon I emerged from the bathroom a stark bald woman.

My mother sighed when I called to tell her.

AOh Virginia,@ she said.

ANo, MomBit=s a self-affirming thing, not a self-destructive thing.@

ACall it what you like,@ she said. ABut it sounds compulsive to me.@

Maybe it started out a little compulsiveBor at least impulsive. But I could always scrub a

toilet if I wanted to feel in control of things. This seemed to be about starting over, getting

down to the most basic truths of self. Or, if nothing else, about serving as a walking magnet for

people=s reactions.

One neighbor flew out of her front door enthusing, AAmazing! Good for you!@ as if

I=d delivered twins in a taxi cab or run the Boston Marathon. People clustered around me at

church. AWhat made you decide to do that?@ they asked. And, AWhat a haircut!@ One
elderly woman whispered confidentially, AI always wanted to try that.@

My kids were equally supportive. Penny, who is three, exclaimed, AYou look just like

Baby Sam!@ and AI wuv it!@ Her brother patted my head and went back to nursing.

I went out to a beach-side coffee shop to sit by a window and watch people. I was

startled when a guy walking past the window nodded at me. A few minutes later, another guy

winked. Some people looked quickly away and then glanced back. Some cringed.

On Thursday morning I was chagrined to find myself standing in line for coffee right

behind a bald man. It was like wearing the same dress as the prom queen, and she looked better

in it. This man looked very essence of strength, the muscle-bound bouncer who is more brawn

than brain. When I shaved my head, I=d wanted to borrow that kind of physicality. To affirm

my strength, not deny it.

In our culture people think of cancer when they see a bald woman. Feminine baldness

conveys illness, weakness, the extreme fight of a tortured body. I sometimes wonder if how I

look brings up bad memories for people who=ve lost loved ones to cancer. Which is

interesting, because I=ve never wondered if seeing fat brings up bad memories for people

who=ve lost loved ones to heart disease.

I wanted to ask him what he used to get such a smooth shave. Instead I ordered my

double tall mocha with extra whip and tried to look macho. The next day I met with my friend

Wendy, who had once kept her head shaved for a couple of years.

AIt=s weird,@ I said. AIt=s like I=m all of a sudden visible.@

AYou are that,@ she said. AYour eyes just pop out at me. I have a hard time looking

away when you talk because your face is more expressive.@

AReally?@ I whipped a mirror out of my purse and raised one eyebrow. AGosh,

you=re right!@ I said.

AAnd younger,@ she said.

AHmm, I was going for tough.@ I=d been lifting weights all week.

ASorry,@ she said. AYou can=t hide anything now. Your face highlights every

passing feeling.@

So I=m more expressive now. I=m also more open about what I disagree with. I feel

like every time I go out, I challenge the oppression of hair product companies. More, I

challenge everything they stand for: make-over shows, plastic surgery, the search to stay young

and live long and defy gravity with every pore of your being. I=ve been challenging that last

one for years now, but being bald made me visible in the same way that motherhood, aging, and

fat had gradually made me invisible. It=s forcing me to regard my physical Aflaws@

differently. If something as freaky as my bald head can start looking good to me, why not be

proud of my huge asymmetric breasts or my powerful thighs?

I remember Lucille Clifton=s poem: AListen/you a wonder/you a city of a woman./You

got a geography of your own.@ My head is a planet with its own topography, marked by scars

and razor bumps. I revel in the liberty of that, of being able to state with my body that I=m

choosing my own standard of beauty.

The irony is that I=m trading one tyranny for another. Being bald walks a line between

feminism and fetishism. I may be more visible, but I=m also a walking object for bald fetishists.

I didn=t even know there were bald fetishists until I searched the web for Awomen@ and

Abald.@ Most of the hits were tribute and sex pages. Not that I have anything against fetishes,

but does that mean I have to be comfortable with strangers lusting after my pate? Being visible

in an iconic way doesn=t appeal to me as much as being visible in an essential way. I shaved

my head because I hadn=t seen myself for a long time, and I=m coming to understand that this

is more me than anything else I=ve done since I had kids.

Being bald symbolizes tension between asceticism and sensuality. Hats and silk scarves

feel amazing. Showers mean more enjoyment and less work. When I first shaved my head I

thought of Buddhist nuns and married Orthodox Jewish women. I rejected the distraction of my

hair, unaware that I was inviting in a new distraction. I proclaimed my strength, unaware that I

would remind people of weakness. I tried to look freaky and scary and tough, unaware that I

would end up looking vulnerable and expressive and young.

When my housekeepers Richard and James saw me for the first time since I=d shaved

my head, James said AOh. My. God.@ Richard peered around the corner from the upstairs

hallway. AI like it,@ he said, and disappeared. James was still taking it in. AWhat is it about?

@ he asked. AFreedom?@

AWell, yeah,@ I said. AFreedom, sure. Strength. Asceticism. Fetishism. Feminism.@

AHow long are you going to keep it that way?@

AJust long enough to get the whole experience,@ I said. ATo really understand what

this baldness is about.@

It looks like I may be bald for a long time.

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