I am bald. I rid myself of my hair on my 50th birthday, though I had been thinking about it for at least 10 years before that. There had been a lifetime of tension between me and the not-so-dearly departed hair on top of my head.
I never liked it, except when I was 24 and it became a reddish gold color from a chemical straightening treatment that left it multi-textured and uneven. My only option was to cut it very short where it maintained its natural texture and the brilliant color.
I had always struggled with the more superficial cultural definitions of femininity because so often I thought they did a lousy job of defining me.
So after a half-century, I ditched the hair, just as I had the heels I never got the hang of walking in, and the makeup I never developed the art of applying flatteringly — both of which happened in my early 20s.
Dealing with the hair took many more years of building courage. Unlike the footwear and face paints, my hair was undeniably a biological part of me.
When a person says “bald woman,” or the more demeaning “bald-headed woman,” does anyone come to mind besides Grace Jones? For many, a person didn’t come to mind at all, just a word: cancer.
Both a family member and a neighbor had quietly inquired about my health in reaction to my shaved head. They asked my husband if I had I been diagnosed. Funny, no one had ever approached my bald husband with that question.
Jones inspired me, as did my Somali head-covered sisters who were free of letting hair define them — at least in public — by spending hundreds of dollars on braids, weaves, press and curls, relaxers and colors. Over the years, I can’t recall any compliment garnered by way of how my hair was styled.
But the female version of baldness not only gives the wearer self-assurance and boldness, it apparently inspires it in others. It did for a man walking in New Orleans with a group of friends who stopped in the middle of the street to compliment my baldness. It did for my mothers’ doctor — who is also bald — when during an appointment he told me, “You wear it well.”
And once, while entering a Goodwill store, an elderly White woman almost touched my head and said, ‘I love it!” Not the easiest response for an introvert to deal with.
At 50, I put an end to the mornings where I would stare in the mirror and wonder, “What can I do with it today?” I know the answer: rid myself of the things that I don’t like about myself so that I can better celebrate those that I do.