May 2016: Why I—and so many other women who’ve also taken the step—found going bald liberating.
Artist and TED Fellow Sharmistha Ray’s personal and powerful ‘In India, Choosing a Hairstyle is an Act of Social Revolt’ sent me down memory lane, and back to journals from when I was 19 and 22. For around six months each time, I’d sported a shaved head—phases I consider crucial in my personal growth.
The first time was on my 19th birthday. As my father and I left to go to the barber’s shop in Noida, that pulsating epicentre of patriarchy, we told my grandmother where we were going and what for. When we returned, she was aghast—she couldn’t believe my father would let me do a ‘mundan’ of my long, dark, beautiful hair, and had thought we’d been joking.
The second time was when he lay dying, and I’d just moved to Mumbai just before I’d turned 23, at a turbulent phase of my romantic life.
It’s a funny sensation, getting rid of a headful of hair. Both times, I had this strange tick that abated in a day or two, my neck and head adjusting to the weight that had been lifted. And, both times, it had been, symbolically.
By scorning this traditional marker of beauty, at 19 I was ready to declare that I was individualistic and freethinking; bold and confrontational; that I would strive to challenge unfounded sociocultural rules about femininity… and everything, for that matter. As my life spiralled towards crash-landing at 22, it reminded me of the control I could exert on my own choices and body; represented the bittersweet freedom of leaving a marriage; and gave me strength.
It was certainly a ‘thing’. “Feminine constructs for hair aren’t specific to India, of course, but here, the feminine aesthetic is strictly binary and coded — and dogmatically enforced by society,” says Sharmistha. Open, bound, dishevelled or shorn; with hairstyles so deeply socialised in Indian culture, “the freedom to do what one likes with one’s hair is implicit in the struggle for emancipation from social bondage.”
It is no wonder that many of my more radical counterculture and feminist friends have shaved their heads, usually in their early 20s. Now in their mid- to late-30s, these women all describe the liberation and strength the step gave them. Most of us still wear our hair short or give-a-damn. “I loved answering the question ‘Why?’” said Shibu. “Gave me a chance to shock and awe.” For Isha: “It was kind-of like wearing my rebellion, my heart, on my head.”
I met the lovely liberal man who would be my second husband during my second bald phase. From the moment we met, there was never confusion about what I stood for—and what he did. Sporting an ‘integrated personality’ cuts out the bullshit and lets people know who you are, right off the bat, and I’m all for the expression of ones true self, in the way one wears ones body.
If you’ve never done it before—get yourself a bald look or buzz cut. Perfect for the summer heat too…
An edited version of this article appeared on iDiva in May 2016.