For context, readers should know that I currently live in Beijing, China.
The first time I shaved my hair off was in 2011. I don’t remember the exact date but it was sometime around March or April. I had jokingly proposed the idea to my family at breakfast one morning and they all said I couldn’t do it. So I did. While it wasn’t shiny baldheadedness, it was quite close and I loved it. So much that I kept it that way for several months before I decided to finally grow it out. Fast forward to September 2014, over three years later. I’d been natural since the shave and my hair was the longest it had been in… well... ever. But I found myself toying with the idea of baldness.
I didn’t act on it until the evening of the day I climbed the Great Wall. There was something about that feeling of accomplishment that made me say, “fuck it, what do I have to lose?” So I borrowed a friend’s electric shaver and got to work. Because I’d never shaved my hair off before, I ended up shaving too close to the skin and was forced to go for shiny baldheadedness.
It was great and all, but I hadn’t really thought about what the shave would me to me, or rather, what it would mean for my gender performativity as a cis gender female. I began to wonder if people would perceive me as less feminine because of it. In China, and in my experience more so than the West, long hair is the mark of femininity. This, coupled with Chinese perceptions of African women as well as the perceptions of the sexuality of women with short or no hair, made me want to constantly (re)assert my femininity. I found myself becoming more drawn to skirts and dresses. On days when I felt the most unfeminine (I’m sure we all have those), I would cover my scalp with a pretty headwrap. I even used heavier make up.
It’s always interesting to see people try to process me when I am out and about with my baldness out, especially if I am in a pair of stilettos, or a dress, or a skirt. Their eyes linger on me longer, they prod each other with their elbows and whisper in each other’s ears with what appears to be a little more fervour.
It took several weeks of unlearning and frank conversations with myself before I could begin to let go of the notion that I was less than who I am because I no longer had hair. That I didn’t have to overly compensate for what I thought I had lost. My afro was a huge part of my identity and I didn’t fully understand the role it played in my performance. I also didn’t know myself well enough to anticipate, and swfitly deal with, my own reaction. So while I think I’m over it, for the most part, there are still some mornings I forgo the jeans or put on an extra layer of lipstick. Just in case.