By Maddy Wolfenbarger ’22 (she/her)
On Thursday, September 17th, I looked in the mirror and decided I didn’t need hair anymore. There was no rhyme or reason to it: I woke up, saw four years of hair growth, and didn’t want it anymore. I became uncomfortably aware of how defined I felt by a good hair day, a bad hair day, or greasy hair. The morning after I shaved my head, I worked a shift at Nummit and hid by the espresso machine because I didn’t want the comment of “Oh my god, your hair! It looks so good!” to dominate my day. The conversation should be more than that. A woman shaving her head shouldn’t be radical. Yes, it is rare, but it shouldn’t define a person.
I don’t want to be known as the girl on campus that shaved her head. I don’t want the absence of my hair to be equated with my identity. Women are more than hair. In the weeks following my buzz, I have come to feel complete without my hair and have been able to identify how much I have limited myself to biased perceptions and limiting standards.
I can’t remember myself as ever being enough. I don’t know when the comparisons began: maybe it was when I made my first friend, maybe it started in sports, or maybe it happened when the Internet crept into my young world and made me see myself as inferior. My middle school teacher once told me I was pretty but not “classically pretty;” I wasn’t the kind of pretty that guys normally go for or notice. With that, I fumbled through the halls of middle school, and then high school, with a face full of acne, an eating disorder, anxiety, and a dash of depression. I kept waiting to wake up and suddenly be enough—or at least some sort of beautiful. But my femininity was never enough, and I felt the pulls of my masculinity and femininity at odds with each other. The parts of me that were strong made me feel ugly, and the parts that were beautiful made me feel weak. I wanted so badly to be “classically pretty.”
When I close my eyes and picture myself, I can’t imagine my face. I can see my closest friends perfectly, but I can’t see myself at all. I can recall pictures that have been taken of me, but when reflecting on myself, I see everything except me. I see my bloated stomach, my acne scars, my forehead wrinkles, and my messy hair. Then, I edit myself in my mind until I end up looking like someone else, and she’s beautiful. Through all of the evolutions of my style and identity, I have come to imagine myself in various ways. My time has been completely consumed in criticizing and editing myself so that I hardly have the time to know and see myself.
The beauty of my spontaneous hair buzz is that I’ve learned to be beautiful without my hair. An ex told me, “I’m glad you didn’t do that when we were still together.” At that moment, it became clear how much this haircut was for me and my joy. I’ve never been so determined to love myself to the core instead of relying on others to love me. Now, I look in the mirror (less often, for sure) and actually look at my face. I can see myself clearly now because I know my face and the curves of my head as well as I know the curves of my hips, my thighs, and my arms. It’s beautiful and liberating.
I’m not saying that everyone should go out and shave their hair off to replicate this exploration of self, but there is something to be said in the time we take to know ourselves—to look in the mirror and actually see what’s there. To recognize your face isn’t to see the impurities and flaws alone, but to know yourself even with your eyes closed and let the beauty and the impurities stand together in an honest image. In the isolation, fear, and prescribed stagnancy of the pandemic, all we have is ourselves. This is a time where you have to go to bed with yourself and wake up with yourself and find a way to be happy.
I’m finding happiness in not feeling like I have to fix myself; I am enough because I am so full of life and beauty in imperfect ways. I always have been. The standard to which I have held myself to isn’t enough. That standard tells me I need to have long hair to be pretty; it is the same standard that says I’m overweight even though I’m perfectly healthy. A standard isn’t enough to even begin to comprise me. It is less me because I had to take away and ignore parts of myself. Through that standard, I had to subtract my face in order to fit. So yeah, I don’t fit. I’m not classically pretty or a standard of beauty because that is less than me. I am more than enough, but the standard will never leave me. And that sucks. I’m still going to wake up and feel ugly some days. What I see now, however, is that just because I feel ugly one day doesn’t mean that I am ugly; I am not limited to or defined by that feeling. I am defined by my bones, my muscles, my skin, and my fat, all of which make me a strong-ass, beautiful woman.
Maddy Wolfenbarger ‘22 is an Environmental Humanities major from Knoxville, TN. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org