(Warning, there are some girl things in here, and this post is on the long side as I bludgeon my way through some personal issues. You are welcome to skip it entirely if you like.)
I have signed up for St. Baldrick’s as a shavee. Cancer research is an important part of my decision, yes. I’ve known survivors, and people who didn’t survive. Altruism, however, did not play entirely into my decision. I would be shaving my head even without St. Baldrick’s; the company just gives me a chance to do something good at the same time. Let me explain in one sentence:
I am Rapunzel.
That isn’t to imply that I have insanely long hair. It isn’t to imply that I have been locked in a literal or metaphorical tower. Quite simply, it means that I am chained to a certain state of being by my hair, and the obvious solution is to cut the damn thing off.
This is not a political statement or a feminism empowerment. This is personal empowerment.
Allow me to take you back to when I was in 2nd Grade. It was in my private school years where I was the low-middle class/non-religious kid in a school of upper class/orthodox religious kids. Really, anything and everything about me was absolutely fair game for the little snits I went to school with. At the time, my naturally curly hair was only semi curly and maybe middle-back length. My mother’s friend was a professional cosmetologist who offered to give me my first perm. I was totally game as I loved pretty curls and wanted my own.
Yeah. The naturally curly part of my hair? Apparently, my hair loves curls. Loves, loves, LOVES them. What would have been a lovely loose perm on anyone else turned into an actual afro on me. I have a very distinct memory of standing in a shower, crying my eyes out, as my mother desperately tried to tame the curls or make them loosen up. Nothing doing. The curls wanted my soul. The only thing to do to get rid of them . . . was to cut my hair down to a “boy’s” cut length.
My next distinct memory is standing in the quad area with a garbage can over my head/body to hide from the other kids who were taking the obvious route to soul-crushing by calling me a boy. (Hey, FYI, manly dudes out there? You know how offended you get when you get called a girl? IT GOES THE OTHER WAY.)
Fast forward to 7th Grade. My already eternal torment of hellish proportions. I was in the minority of girls who had not started puberty yet. (Menstruation would hit on my 13th birthday; actual puberty and development wouldn’t come in until 16, where it came in with a vengeance. I went from no bra to C cup in what felt like almost overnight.) At twelve-years-old, I still looked like a boy, and that was assuredly one of the many ways I was tortured by my peers. It only lessened in force when my hair just squeaked into long enough to be worn in two ponytails or braids. They then found something new to harangue me with.
At sixteen, I got my boobs and hips. I even got an hourglass shape, which was rather nice of Mother Nature. It just took her until recently to cut that shit out. (Seriously! Every.last.growth.spurt since sixteen has gone into my boobs! I seem to have finally plateaued at an F. Yay.) ANYWAY. By nineteen, I thought my problems with being mistaken for a boy were totally over. I had a proper perm, my hair was a pretty red, and I had finally downgraded my glasses to contacts that made my pretty amber eyes more obvious. Yep, everything was awesome.
. . . Until I had a close encounter with hand-crafted Christmas ornaments hanging from the ceiling to dry their paint. Said paint got in my hair. Horrifically. As in “had to be cut out” type bad. I went into a salon and begged the lady to save my hair. I walked out with the haircut from hell that I had to go to another salon to fix, and how did they fix it? GOOD GUESS. Right back to the boy cut. Okay, no problem. I would have NO problems at all. I had boobs. How could I be mistaken for a boy?
Maybe not mistaken, but I sure as hell got cast as one. I was cast as a male role in a children’s play, and I had to bind in order to pass. Meanwhile, my best friend–who was often mistaken for a boy despite her long hair–was cast as my ‘girlfriend.’ Her long hair made her more of a woman than my figure did.
That effectively cemented it for me. My hair was the only thing that made me even remotely female. For the subsequent decade, if I dared cut my hair short, it was only short in the back and never the front. My bangs were always kept very long so that they framed my face. I rarely ever wear my hair in a ponytail without the bangs kept free. If you see me with my hair entirely out of my face, I’m probably wearing a hat that does the framing for me. I never look in a mirror, though.
Welcome back to the present day Etta. Almost thirty-two years old and still chained to her hair as being her only part of value. I found myself looking in a mirror at my recently more-blonded locks (I’m a natural blonde who likes going lighter) and feeling frustrated by why it wouldn’t do what I wanted. I grabbed a handful and threw it out of my face, and I had a sudden epiphany that slapped me in the face with how much . . . I hate my hair.
Yes, I said hate.
It is my prison. My warden and my tormenter. I look back at my life of voluntary hair changes, and I see myself coloring and dying and curling (carefully!). I am never satisfied with anything. Each change makes me happy for only a short time. What I have so long believed to be my ONLY defining feminine feature is in fact my capturer, and I hate it.
You know how when you draw/write something and you don’t like it, you just completely delete or erase it and start from blank? I’m doing that. I’m getting rid of every lock. I’m taking myself beyond the boy cut to the ‘taboo’ place of a woman’s bald head. If I can’t learn to love myself WITHOUT any hair, I sure as hell won’t love myself with it. Am I scared? Out of my mind. Did I have a panic attack that made a dear friend offer to hold my hand during the shave and/or play Final Fantasy battle music for me? Yep. Will I do it anyway? YES I WILL.
The locks would be coming off either way, but I decided to make my journey be not just about me, but about others. That’s how St. Baldrick’s came to mind. The friend who will be holding my hand was actually my inspiration for it. She did it last year, and I photographed the entire journey. So, so vivid in my mind is the way she smiled when she was done. How her entire soul lit the room with her happiness.
I don’t know if I’ll be smiling or crying, but I’m going to find out. On March 23, 2014, at 2:30pm, Rapunzel is getting out of her tower with only the aid of some friends and a pair of clippers.
“Wait,” I hear you cry. “Isn’t Emerald City Comic Con that very same week, and aren’t you going?” You bet it is, and you bet I am. One of the three days (I’m not saying which!), I will not be wearing my costume’s wig. I might wear a beanie if it’s cold, but it won’t hide my nekkid scalp.
Phew!! If you’ve stuck with me this far, you get internet cookies and a high-five. If you want to comment, PLEASE remain polite and courteous as I’ve already dealt with someone saying ‘they don’t approve’ of my decision. If you want to donate, here’s my link. My initial goal is $500, but I’d love to crack the $2500 mark that my friend achieved. It’s for a good cause, in more ways than one.
Dedicated to Laura: a brilliant inspiration
Dedicated to Sia: a beautiful survivor
Dedicated to Lucas: a strong little guy who is fighting to be survivor as well