What I Learned From Buzzing My Hair

I had two other posts in my head about the topic of buzzing all my hair off, but today I got my hair cut, and if my hair is already long enough to get cut into a style then I can no longer use the buzzing as a current experience/experiment.  So this will be my last post on the topic, and as such I want to lay out some of the things I have learned this month.

1. I still look like me.

That sounds silly, but there really was part of me that thought I’d look like someone else: someone tragically ill, someone with hidden issues, someone unrecognizable. But none of that was true. In fact, my husband said he kinda liked it more than some of my other hairstyles (and there have been a lot) because he could really see my face. Which brings me to something else I learned.

2. I hide a lot, and it’s unnecessary.

When I had really long hair I hid my face behind it, kind of like Violet in The Incredibles. When I had short hair I used sunglasses. And it’s not that I was hiding my face as though I thought my face was ugly, it’s that in covering my eyes I was actually creating a safe space for my soul, my personality, my fear of hurt and rejection that I kept bottled up and protected like a treasure. The eye is the window to the soul, and when I was scared of metaphorical monsters I could just cover my eyes and believe that if I couldn’t see them they couldn’t see me. But that’s also not true. What’s true is that there aren’t really any monsters, and if there are it’s best to see them coming.

3. Patience is a virtue, or at least there’s nothing we can do about the wait. 

I’m not ugly but I’m not Aphrodite either, so for the first couple weeks after I buzzed my hair I’d kind of forget about it until I’d walked into the bathroom and catch sight of myself in the mirror, at which point I’d be taken aback and kind of go “gyeuchhhh” to myself in disgust. But then, after going through 5 possible ways to fix it in the span of half a second, I’d realize that nothing needed to be done except wait, and it’s in the waiting that transformation happens. Christians all over the world wait for the kingdom of God in this sort of “already, not yet” tension, and weirdly that’s how I felt about myself. I was already everything I needed to be, but I was not yet what I could become.

So that’s it for now, at least about hair. I haven’t landed for sure on the next topic but it’ll probably be one of the following: marriage, sex, kids/parenting, or when you’re a pastor’s wife. Stay tuned….

susan hairstyles

Pictures from 2008 to 2019.

 

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The Beauty of Both

I’ve known several men who buzz their heads every week as a hairstyle and say that they do it because it’s no hassle. I get that, especially now. My hair takes zero time to style. I’m spending $0 on products. I’m barely even using shampoo, and when I do it takes 2 seconds to soap and rinse. But as a woman with buzzed hair I’m finding that I still spend that time and money, and I still spend it on my appearance, just not on my hair.

For example:

  • Today I bought earrings for the first time in years.
  • This month I’ve bought new lipstick and mascara.
  • I spent $30 on Norwex makeup removing towels because without hair to fuss over I’ve taken critiquing my skin to a whole new level.
  • And I bought fake eyelashes for the first time ever.

So yes to everyone who’s said I must be saving so much time now that my hair is gone, but don’t think for a second that I’m blind to where that time is going.

Now to the bigger stuff. At this juncture in history, a time when women have more freedom and power and dignity than ever before and yet still have to fight if we want the same level of freedom, power, and dignity as men, I struggle not to pendulum swing.

On one side, there is what I’m calling “The Little Women Principle.” There’s this scene in the movie Little Women when the mom is talking to her four girls after a ball. She says this:

“If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that’s all you really are. Time erodes all such beauty. But what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind: your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage.”

On this side of the pendulum I say, “Yeah, cut your hair! Wear no makeup! Burn those bras!” And I want to raise my daughter (who is incredibly maternal) to be a pediatric doctor and not just a mom because I believe she has more to offer society than the stereotypical gender role of a 1950s housewife.

And yet, how belittling is that phrase “just a mom,” and how cruel of me to force my little girl into the same paralyzing life of expectation that my generation has faced: “not only CAN you have it all (family and career) but you MUST, and if you don’t do it all perfectly and become extraordinary by the time you’re 30 then you’re a failure.” Supermom AND President of your own company (oh, and sexy wife, too). How did “what matters is on the inside” turn into this?

On the other side of the pendulum, though, I have to admit that the lipstick and the earrings have been fun. I often tell the story that before my daughter was born I was determined to avoid pink and glitter and ultra-girly things, and then Rosey popped out perfectly punctually on her due date (as a lady should) with an automatic love for cuddling and fluffy things and shoes and purses and dresses, and so embracing my inner chic has been pleasantly unavoidable.

But it has also led me to notice that a lot of the time, when I get ready to go for the day, I’m actually hoping to put a little beauty out into the world. Now, I promise you that I don’t actually think I’m Helen of Troy, but, whenever I take joy in putting myself together, I wonder whether God didn’t in fact purposely create us (women and men alike) to be physically enjoyable to look at. And, without belittling others or taking inappropriate pleasure for myself at their expense, I think I can and should celebrate the gorgeousness of the gap in my one friend’s front teeth, and another friend’s hooked nose, and my housemate’s amazing freckles, my husband’s salt and pepper hair, and a stranger’s wrinkles when she smiles at me in the grocery store. I can care about my own appearance, not just because it makes me confident and definitely not because it’s all I’m worth, but because it just might bring a little joy to someone else’s day.

The main gist here is that while we can’t just focus on our appearance and neglect the use of our minds, we also can’t just praise our intellect and forget that our tangibility matters. There’s a scene in one of my husband’s favorite movies, Little Miss Sunshine, when the one GOOD character, the little girl, feels ugly because she doesn’t look like all the other girls in the beauty pageant, so she talks to her grandpa. Here’s how it goes:

Olive: Grandpa, am I pretty?
Grandpa: Olive, you are the most beautiful girl in the whole world.
Olive: You’re just saying that.
Grandpa: No! I’m madly in love with you and it’s not because of your brains or your personality. It’s because you’re beautiful, inside and out.

Both of these aspects of who we are, the inside and the outside, matter. And if we hone that balance, I think it’s perfectly right to enjoy the beauty of both.

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Girls Are So Pretty

It’s been less than a week since I cut all my hair off but there are so many things I could mention about the experience so far.

Let’s start with the things people have said:

  • One person told me I was going to be cold.
  • One said that I didn’t go extreme enough.
  • Someone said everyone would think I was sick and that I would scare my children.
  • One person warned me that people could think I was a neo-Nazi.
  • Some people have avoided the topic altogether or very visibly have pretended they didn’t notice (the latter was someone at work).
  • Some have leaned in, concern on their faces, asking, “You are okay, right?”
  • There has been a lot of lament in the form of “Oh, your beautiful hair!”
  • But also a “All you Redemption girls are so pretty.”
  • And I did have an old friend text that I was “one badass lady.”

So, over all, it’s been colorful.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the majority of people my age think that the idea of buzzing all one’s hair off to make a statement is awesome, while people who are older or wealthier or have more white collar jobs find it confusing, unnerving, or just plain wrong. This isn’t across the board and I don’t want to make a bunch of assumptions as to why, it’s just something I’ve noticed and found interesting.

Something else I’ve been thinking about this week is how this topic is covered in film and tv. Just off the top of my head (heh!), here are most of the ways I’ve seen it portrayed:

  • Women buzz their hair when they’ve suffered a psychotic break. (Girl Interrupted)
  • Women lose their hair to cancer. (Grey’s Anatomy)
  • Women have their hair buzzed off without their permission as a form of torture or imprisonment or subjugation, times when they are meant to be belittled and called worthless (like in Holocaust films or V For Vendetta).
  • Women have their hair buzzed off intentionally as a symbol of the giving up of individual identity, as one would when joining the army. (G.I. Jane)
  • And even when it’s not total hair loss and just the act of cutting one’s hair short it is often associated with the loss of beauty or trying to disguise oneself as a man (Joan of Arc, Rapunzel, Mulan, Anne With An E, and many others)

Again, I don’t want to make a bunch of assumptions or draw hasty conclusions so I’ll let that one sit for a while for contemplation.

Here’s the crux of all this. So often a woman’s appearance is seen as simultaneously a way to measure her worth (to her advantage or disadvantage) and a weapon (one that can hurt others or make her a victim). I have felt that throughout my life, and in response I want my fuzzy buzzed head to be a symbol of empowerment; not a haughty or angry empowerment but a grounded and calm one. And I think one of the few examples I get of this – since I’m not getting it from the older generation or from media – is when I go up to Holy Cross Monastery in New York.

Holy Cross is the home of a bunch of male monks and they don’t have buzzed heads, BUT they do have a big guest house and every time I visit I meet women from all over. Often, these women are on track to being ordained, or they’re nuns, or they’re high ranking leaders in their denominations, and sometimes they have all their hair cut off.

I remember one woman who visited specifically because she was scheduled to lead Mass. At Holy Cross there are five services a day, but Mass is the only one that contains a full sermon/teaching and communion, both led by an individual instead of all the monks in unison. And it was impressive to see this tall, crop-haired woman in her robes leading a room full of holy men and guests toward a greater understanding of God. She gazed heavenward and raised her hands in blessing and she almost radiated with the presence of God, as though she were the Holy Spirit itself. This was a person of gravitas and strength and love and serenity. This was a person of beauty.

I want to be like her.

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Why Shave My Head?

About a month ago my friend, Marjorie, told me about her most recent haircut experience. She went to a new shop and the woman who owned the shop had alopecia; she has no hair at all. Marjorie is definitely the kind of person to strike up conversation about such things, so the woman talked about the challenges of owning a hair salon while being bald. She talked about the support groups she’s in, but how it can still be a struggle.

My heart goes out to this woman, and to all women (and men) who have had their identity altered by this disease at no fault of their own. Shaving my head has been on my bucket list for a long time, but hearing this story of someone in my own town made me finally set the date: New Years 2019. This is the year.

Back in 2004 I met a girl my age with almost the same name as me, and she had no hair. We were both freshmen in college and she was the sweetest most sunny and confident girl in our class. I admired her greatly because I knew how insecure and self-conscious I would have been if I had no hair; I’d be afraid that people would stare at me, talk about me, be mean to me, exclude me, but she seemed like she hadn’t a care in the world, and her lack of self-focus made everyone adore her. I resolved that one day I would be brave enough to be (what others might consider) ugly and yet focus on others more than myself.

In high school I was on the bottom of the totem pole, and I never knew why. I was teased, bullied, whispered about, despised, made a spectacle of, excluded (even in my church’s youth group). It got bad enough that I would debate every day on my way to school which door would be the safest entrance. I eventually learned to just try to be invisible, to not do anything that would ever draw attention, but even that didn’t work. It was apparently just too fun to make fun of me.

So adding “shave my head” to the bucket list was a big deal at the time. For someone as scared as me to resolve something so “make-fun-able” as that…it mattered. It took guts.

Now nearly 15 years have passed, and a lot has changed for me. I’ve found a community that loves me and enjoys my sense of style. I’ve found an identity in being a voice for the voiceless, in standing against injustice, and being brave for those who need a champion. And I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness and joy and compassion.

And now the time has come. I just turned 33. Jesus was 33 when he died, so this is what my seminarian friends call my “Jesus Year.” And in the spirit of Christ, it is time. Time to stand up for the outcasts. Time to challenge the social norms of accepted beauty. Time to remind people that women are more than their physical appearance. Time to be brave and full of love. It is time.

Happy New Year, everyone!

before and after

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