This essay has to start somewhere, let’s pick a winter’s day in February of 2020. Imagine constantly having the urge to pull your hair out, not in the figurative sense either. That’s called trichotillomania, a disorder classified with OCD and compulsive behaviors, not exactly fun. Trichotillomania is caused mainly by stress and is a physical response to anxiety. As a senior in high school, college and the future are fast approaching, which obviously raises many questions both for and from me. These daunting questions and the looming unknown that is my future made me incredibly nervous, as these things would undoubtedly make anyone, and developing trichotillomania was how I coped. Soon, it became less of a response to stress and more of a ritualistic behavior that I had to complete to be able to function throughout my day. I was spiraling down this inescapable black hole of anxiety, compulsion, and shame; quickly too. Things got pretty ugly pretty fast, my hair that was once a source of pride and security became the physical manifestation of all my negative emotions, fears, and insecurities.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when society is that beholder, beauty is less apparent because of how we are conditioned to perceive things. Historically, in the Elizabethan era, the elites showed their status through coloring their lips and cheeks vibrantly vermillion with mercuric sulfide and whitening their complexions with ceruse, the lead in which proved to be poisonous. Beauty being pain or even deadly became an ostentatious symbol of class and status. The beauty industry today capitalizes on the vulnerability and the ingrained self hatred of women manufactured by that same industry and by extent, the world around us. If companies had not told us to hate ourselves, to change ourselves, to remove things from or add things to ourselves, they would be penniless but we as a society would be remarkably happier. Unfortunately though, we are not remarkably happier, we feel as though we are held captive in these imperfect or inherently wrong prisons we are forced to face the world in. Beauty standards have been in place and ever changing since I’ve been alive, since before you’ve been alive, and since prior generations before both of us have been alive.
It is estimated that Americans spent 16 billion on cosmetic surgery in 2016, showing just how many of our hard earned dollars go towards changing ourselves in hopes of becoming happier, more fulfilled people. Not only are we draining our wallets, but we’re also draining our society of any sense of individuality or character shown through physical appearance. The average woman spends approximately $3,756 on beauty and haircare annually, which could either make complete sense or seem totally outlandish, depending on who you ask. I, for one, think it makes total sense because in the age of social media we are constantly bombarded with information about the newest and hottest trend or the “it” product of the week. As a result, we, as the consumers of media, struggle and scramble to keep up with this often obscene information overload. Women are not only pressured by society and its standards to buy into being beautiful and feeling accepted, but by carefully crafted marketing tactics made by the big businesses that have many of us wrapped around their fingers.
I became a “hat person” soon after that day in February. I never was a hat person before this; the few beanies and baseball caps I own simply sat and collected dust in my closet. It felt almost ridiculous and surreal to me how something could both escalate so quickly and derail my routine just as fast. I was embarrassed of the amount of hair I had pulled out, because it felt and looked to me like I was balding, which isn’t typically a naturally occurring phenomenon among relatively healthy seventeen year old girls. I was embarrassed of all the hair I continued pulling out and tossing into trash cans, or balled up in my fist until it became a matted mess, or escaping to the bathroom to only sheepishly return to what I was doing prior, feeling the breeze on the nape of my neck have a harsher chill than ten minutes before.
Other women have taken steps to liberate themselves from both the patriarchal and societal beauty standards placed on women, one way women do this is by shaving their heads. Doing this can physically and metaphorically take weight off someone’s shoulders, whether it felt as though it needed to happen because of severe damage to their hair, or they wanted to change something in their lives, a freshly shaved head can symbolize new beginnings and a clean slate on which to start over. Many celebrities have done this, including the likes of Natalie Portman, Kristen Stewart, and of course the infamous Britney Spears. Rather than turning to the clippers in times of desperation and rash decisions, most women shave their heads to liberate themselves from the weight placed on their hair by traditional standards of beauty and how femininity is defined in our culture. This leads to the breaking of social rules and norms of how women should look, and redefining femininity in a more contemporary and inclusive way.
A few weeks and a significant amount of hair loss later, after much deliberation I decided to shave my head. I walked into the barber shop and the first thing I was asked by the woman doing my hair was if I had lost a bet, to which I’d nervously replied “no”. I then took off my beanie and briefly explained the situation, to which she was very understanding. Seeing how nervous I was, she let me cut off the first chunk of my hair. Let me tell you, I have never felt more liberated within any decision I have made regarding my appearance, and I think everyone should experience that extreme elation and euphoria at least once. When I walked out of that shop, I felt more like myself than I had in awhile, it was freeing.
There are definitely still days where I struggle with my appearance and still am adapting to my new hairstyle, where I am over analyzing and nitpicking my appearance, constantly wondering if my hair makes me look too gay, too masculine, or too butch— or however you’d define the parameters of those things. Although ultimately, I think it was the right decision for this point in my life, and not just because of all the money I’m saving on shampoo and conditioner.
Saya Iki is a student from San Diego, California. They are passionate about reading, writing, activism, and live music. They were selected to attend the Fir Acres Writing Workshop at Lewis and Clark College, where they worked with a team of mentors and peers to craft a portfolio showcasing work that represented them. Next year, they will be attending Lewis and Clark College, and will be majoring in English.