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For many women, their hair is an essential part of their womanhood. We are taught from a young age that our hair is one of the defining factors setting women apart from men; a key denotation of our beauty and, subsequently, our worth. So, equipped with this knowledge (and the appropriate styling tools) we wage a lifelong war against the strands of keratin sprouting from our scalps, attempting to coif, curl and tousle our way to optimum desirability.

I very clearly remember being 6 years old and receiving an invite to a friend’s birthday party. I instructed my mum to let me wear my favourite leggings and sparkly top and to style my hair in a ‘floppy ponytail’. At this age I was already unhappy with the way my hair coiled and gathered around the bobble, sticking straight up like petals sprouting from my head. I didn’t know anybody with hair like mine. I wished desperately to have the straight hair that was so familiar to me.

"...They looked pretty and delicate and above all, feminine. I, on the other hand, overweight with a head full of short, damaged Afro coils, was the antithesis of these girls. As far as I was concerned, femininity and beauty came in one size and I just didn’t fit the bill."

Living in Liverpool, I've found that beauty is equated with femininity and this is very much presented in one way - the ‘Scouse Prin’ expectation which all little girls are likely to one day aim for. This idea of what a woman should be always felt foreign to me. Society had come to a consensus on what signified beauty; long hair, bright eyes, smooth clear skin and a dainty figure. I seemed to lack all of the agreed traits. When I was 12, I was disheartened to see other girls craft their usually long, straight hair into masterful pin curls and adorn their lips with pink gloss. They looked pretty and delicate and above all, feminine. I, on the other hand, overweight with a head full of short, damaged Afro coils, was the antithesis of these girls. As far as I was concerned, femininity and beauty came in one size and I just didn’t fit the bill.

As a Black girl living in England, my relationship with my hair throughout my life has been turbulent. For the majority of my younger years, I’d spend my time praying for the unheard of; a six day week and waiting in sickening anticipation for Sunday, the dreaded 'wash day' to arrive. Much to my discontent, Sunday inevitably rolled around each week, and with it came the tears, tantrums and tangles as my mum cautiously attempted to simultaneously avoid a complete meltdown (courtesy of me) as well as wash, detangle and braid my hair.  I longed to have the pain-free ease of styling possessed by my white peers, with flowing hair that never seemed to coil into an impenetrable labyrinth around their bobbles in the painful way that mine did. To me, my hair was a source of pain. At age 8, after many years and tears, my mum and I decided to texturise my hair, a process involving applying a chemical straightener to modify the natural curl pattern of hair.  Although texturisation did result in my hair more closely resembling the smooth, sleek locks I craved, my hair was brittle and weak and I still felt inadequate compared to the fairer skinned girls around me. 

As I reached my teen years, I learned of the rapidly growing natural hair movement whilst it took social media by storm. For me, this was the first time I’d seen hair like mine celebrated in a public space. In a mission to reclaim my hair, I decided to grow out the texturiser already present in my hair and return to a natural Afro.

Growing up in the age of social media, it’s undeniable that the ability to constantly be updated on the lives of others can lead to a feeling of dissatisfaction with your own life and/or appearance. However, I’ve also found social media to be a sanctuary; a bubble where I can explore new and different people, away from the realities of my everyday life. Social media has allowed me to explore the many facets through which womanhood can exist and it is through social media that I discovered the growing community of women who chose to shave their heads. I remember watching a Dazed documentary about women such as these, and I was both awestruck and inspired by them. I wanted to be like them. I wanted their freedom. So, on that day, I marched downstairs and announced to my family that I was going to shave my head. I marked a day off in the calendar, told my friends, and a few weeks later the deed was done.


"It was through living with a shaved head that I realised that the liberation I anticipated came through the subtle gratification I received daily. Having the ability to look in the mirror and see myself without embellishments and distractions led to a kind of compulsory self-love"

After shaving my head, I felt both comfortable and a little disconcerted; on one hand I looked and felt the most 'me' I ever had, but I also felt I was lacking the great feeling of liberation and freedom that came from shaving one's head, as attested by many other women. Many of the women I'd listened to had spoke of their head shave like it was a great spiritual awakening, a rebirth that granted them a new lease of life. However, my reality was that I was a girl who used to have a fair amount of hair who now had very little. I was left quite underwhelmed by the entire act. By no means did I regret my decision, but it felt like this event had been built up so much in my head and when it finally arrived, instead of transforming both my appearance and my life, I was still just me. It was through living with a shaved head that I realised that the liberation I anticipated came through the subtle gratification I received daily. Having the ability to look in the mirror and see myself without embellishments and distractions led to a kind of compulsory self-love; I had to appreciate my face and body for all it was, I no longer had anything to hide behind. 

There are still times where I feel like that self-conscious 12 year old. It has been ingrained within me that beauty equals femininity, and trying to appreciate and love myself despite the fact that I defy the norms of womanhood can be difficult, especially in a society where I am often left searching for representation in all forms of mainstream media. Nonetheless, I feel like shaving my head has introduced me to another community of people to identify with, and to me this can only ever be a positive. Since shaving my head I have started noticing bald women all around me; it's seems to be a sort of hairless law of attraction. Bald women have taken the media by storm. We are everywhere, whether that be leading demonstrations such as Amber Rose's 'Slutwalk', on billboards as part of the cast of blockbuster films like Black Panther's Dora Millaje or just at your local ASDA completing the weekly shop. We exist outside of the margins and constraints of stereotypical femininity, baldly and boldly.

Follow Nali on Twitter: @Nalisheboo