The Hair Experiment, The 1st Month

SelfieIt’s been a month since I cut all my hair off, and it’s getting a little longer. I’m still getting compliments on it from friends I haven’t seen in a while (hello AWP). And today, on the train back to the Seattle airport to get back to Boston, something really nice happened. I had just gotten onto the train and was putting my headphones on when the man sitting across from me said “Excuse me…” I looked up at him, and in a super un-creepy way he said “You’re very beautiful.” I said thank you, and he smiled and went back to reading, and I put my headphones on and we didn’t interact again. It was nice,  surprisingly un-invasive, and didn’t feel objectifying. He didn’t make me feel like there was any expectation attached to the compliment.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking, and talking to some of my gender-sensitive friends, about what differences I’ve noticed. Not as much in the way other people react to me, mostly I think because I’m less aware of the difference myself. But one unexpected thing: I’m showering a lot more, because I can. Turns out I like showering in the mornings, when it’s quick and easy. Before it took an extraordinarily long time to wash and style my hair. Now, I can do it all in under ten minutes. I feel somewhat bad about this, because I think in fact I’m using just as much water as I did before, rather than reducing in that way, but I am enjoying it immensely. Maybe I’ll let that keep happening for a little while.

Also turns out I’m wearing mascara more. I’m not exactly sure why this is. I’ve gone through phases of wearing some makeup, a lot of makeup (in the punk rock, big eyeshadow, kind of way), and no makeup (most recently). I still put some on every now and then, but mostly haven’t in years worn it with any regularity. But now that my hair is short, I feel like I need to feminize myself in some way, and mascara seems just about enough without requiring too much effort. And, as I mentioned before, I’m wearing earrings more. Probably also something to do with feminizing, but mostly I think it’s because you can see them now!

But I have also been wanting to wear skirts more, and have been more aware of my body in an interesting way. It’s almost as if my hair gave me some sort of protection – it made me read instantly as sexually-available-female. Even when I hadn’t washed it, styled it, had just thrown it back in a pony-tale (about 90% of the time), it was as though just possessing long hair was performing a kind of sexualized femininity. I’m not sure I would have said this before, I’m not sure I think this is true now, but that’s what it seems like at the moment.

Ok, but the other part of the experiment, where I stop shaving and all, is driving me a bit nuts. Not the legs but the armpits. It’s uncomfortable, I’m finding. Like, it catches and pulls sometimes, and that really hurts. And maybe this is my Hispanic and Russian heritage at work, but it’s really freaking annoying. It’s been a month, and it’s as long and thick as its ever been, so this might be literally growing pains. I’d like to give it another month just to see if I adjust physically. But I’m not sure I’ll adjust psychologically even so. I definitely feel sort of vulnerable. Even though it’s winter, and no one can tell, I feel like if I take off my sweater and am in a t-shirt, I’m exposed. I’m exposing something about myself that’s super abnormal. And coming from someone who has for the majority of her life been unapologetically abnormal in many ways, that it makes me uncomfortable says something.

What I think it says is how deeply I’ve internalized the super hypocritical double standard about body hair and gender. That far more than my long/short hair switch, this is something really different. It elicits a strong response, in me, and because I know it will in other people, I cringe in anticipation. Even one of my very progressive male friends, when I told him I’d stopped shaving (it was in context, not just a random announcement) immediately said “gross.” Didn’t even think about it. I laughed and asked why, and pointed out the double standard, and he at least got to the point where he said “to each their own, I guess…” as though before he determined it was OK I hadn’t been entitled to decide how I would groom myself. But I anticipate/fear this reaction in other people in part because I’m self-conscious all the time, and in part because I’ve had it myself.

When I was younger, and I would see girls with unshaved legs, I would silently judge them. Feminist-hippies. Going too far. I was a lot younger in many ways, and really didn’t understand at all the basis of my scorn. But now, experimenting with what is surprisingly perceived as a radical gesture of feminism, partly for those reasons and partly for others, it’s haunting me. As soon as it warms up, I fear seeing it in the eyes of strangers. I know I shouldn’t care what strangers think, or even friends whose sexist programming makes them react as though I’m doing something disgusting by doing exactly what men already do. We’ll see if I can get there. Or if the physical discomfort, combined with the emotional discomfort, is too much.

Part of me is already giving myself permission to shave. It’s about choices, and I have a right to make mine. I just want to fully understand why I’m making the ones that I am.



  1. Emma

    Great read and interesting thoughts. I wish more compliments given where like that one on the train, like actual compliments. I went grocery shopping with my grandpa and I wore a hat because my hair was a bit weird. By the fruit I met a man who told me that he liked that I wore a hat. He went on, telling me that female should wear hat more often because he just liked females in hats. And they always said that they didn’t look good in hats but everyone always looks good in hats. I know I look good in hats, because I like hats. And this man seemed friendly with a sense of humor so I took off the hat and showed him the reason to why I chose hat today (my short, pink and blue hair, straight out of bed) and he like, snapped, immediately and said that he didn’t like women with short hair. He said that the femininity is lost when women cut their hair and he didn’t like that at all. Long hair and hats, that’s what he liked. I continued to smile at him and said that I liked my hair short. Then I went back to my grandpa and we continued shopping. I felt like I’ve been hit. “Come here, may I stroke your cheek? Nah, just kidding, I’ll punch you in the stomach instead!” Do people actually say stuff like that? I wanted to tell that man that well, personally, I prefer my men younger than you and a lot less wrinkly and with hair on their head so I guess we where never meant to be. Because I’m not an object, I’m not yours to judge and you can go and fuck yourself with a pineapple.

    I stopped shaving once, like two years ago. I did it so that I could have something to show off in the debate about feminism. Like, literally show off. Take off my sweater, raise my arms and say “so, I’ve always considered myself a feminist but from what I’ve heard feminist are manhaters who doesn’t shave. I’ve never had long hair under my arms before and now that I have, I can tell you that I don’t feel any different, and just like last year when I had shaved pits, I don’t hate men. So cut the crap. Feminism is not a bad thing.”. I made people laugh, which was my main goal.
    After that I kept the hair just to spite my brother. He got so disgusted. Which amused me and made me keep it longer than I actually wanted to. Because body hair and head hair hurts. It gets caught all the time. I’m Scandinavian so I don’t think that it’s just your hispanic and russian roots. The hair on my head gets caught in my glasses, the armpit hair in my bra or between skin and the leg hair in my socks. I’m not really sure where the pubic hair gets caught but when it does it hurts like hell. Why doesn’t anyone tell you this about body hair? Is it because there’s too few females who actually has experienced it (due to constant pressure to shave it off), or is it because it’s shameful to just talk about it? And male body hair? Does it hurt too or are they just used to it? I’ve tried asking around but I only get weird looks.
    I eventually shaved my armpits because I started to smell so different. Growing armpit hair was like entering puberty again. The loss of your own innocent scent and the gaining of a new one. I felt constantly dirty. My deodorant didn’t seem to be working (part of the issue might have been that it couldn’t reach the skin because the hair got in the way) and I had to change shirts more often than I liked to.
    I had never before let the hair under my arms grow freely. When it started coming at age 12 I trimmed it away immediately. I’m an experience richer now. And I also know that my armpit hair matches the hair on my head. And personally, I think that semi-blonde armpit hair looks kind of lame. I smelled more badass than I looked.

    And I agree with the man on the train. You do look very beautiful in your short hair.
    Oh, I almost forgot. It’s very tricky to braid your own armpit hair. I did not succeed and it saddens me. Maybe you will have better luck than me since you seem to have slightly more hardcore genes than me.

    • Woah, things like that are so hard to comprehend. It’s as though men go through the world thinking they’re entitled to express their disapproval/approval of women’s appearances, because of course that’s all that matters is being sexually attractive to random strangers on the street (or in the supermarket). My friend’s reaction was like that – as though I actually cared what he preferred in his sexual partners, as though it was somehow relevant to me, as though by making myself sexually unattractive to a small (or large, whatever) demographic of men I was doing something radical and offensive.

      And “Because I’m not an object, I’m not yours to judge and you can go and fuck yourself with a pineapple.” should be on a t-shirt. I’d totally wear that.

      I’ll start asking these hair-questions of my male friends, and see what happens. Should be amusing, anyway. I haven’t tried to braid it, I don’t think it’s long enough yet. We’ll see what another month gets me, though…

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