What My Hair Has Taught Me

by Amy E. Winter

Published in the NOLOSE Newsletter, Summer 2000

Last week I shaved my head. So what, you say? Well, I found out that hair can mean more than one might think. It was a drastic change; I had long hair, halfway to my waist, and now itís half-inch hair sticking out all over my head. Itís gotten me a lot of attention, but I have to tell you, other peopleís responses have paled next to the rush of power I got from what I thought would be simply a cosmetic change.

Since I cut my hair, Iíve been re-experiencing in an even stronger way the heady freedom of indifference to social (i.e., male) approval. When I first became involved with my partner, I remember noticing my automatic habit of smiling ingratiatingly at men on the street, in the halls at work, in the grocery store. I finally noticed because I didnít have to smile anymore; I realized I was no longer hoping that the next man I passed might be THE ONE who would see beyond my fat and love me for who I am. I stopped smiling. I started walking stronger, letting my whole foot strike the ground with my whole body weight behind it on each step. Out of the corner of my eye I noted the reactions of men who might previously have walked by me without a glance. They clearly expected my attention to be fixed upon them; they were waiting for that ingratiating smile so they could dismiss me. Their continued focused attention as I passed without acknowledging them fascinated and amused me.

My long hair was camouflage; it was drag. It was a palliative for the feeling that my body was wrong, too big, too clumsy, not female enough. My long hair, I thought, helped me look attractive, despite my weight. People would like me better, I thought, because my hair would let them know I cared about looking good, looking feminine, looking socially appropriate. I needed long hair, I thought, to balance my too-large body and my too-small head.

Since I cut my hair, I walk strong and I smile when I feel like it. When I see my shadow or my reflection in a window, I see a round head thatís not too small for the round body it rides on. Iíve taken back the job of deciding whether or not I need to look "feminine."

I found a picture of myself taken ten years ago, when I weighed about 200 pounds. Looking now at myself then, I realize with some shock that I looked fine; I looked pretty much like everyone else, maybe a little bigger around the middle, but certainly well within the normal range. I thought about how I felt at that time; conditioned by endless slurs from my family and schoolmates, I hated myself, believed myself hideous, and was astonished when I received positive attention from anyone about anything.

Now, I weigh about 400 pounds. I would love to look like I did in that photo, but Iím learning that my subjective beliefs about my body from the inside and objective opinions about my body from the outside can be very different. My level of self-confidence can be completely unrelated to how others perceive me. That 200-pound twenty-year-old would NEVER have shaved her head. Her hair was the one feature that redeemed her to herself. If I can feel light-years better about myself now that I weigh twice as much and have no hair, maybe I can begin to understand that fat is just fat, hair is just hair, a body is just a body, food is just food. They are not love or liberty or oppression or happiness or obsession or redemption.

My long hair used to say, Donít worry, Iím not threatening. Even though Iím fat and I talk tough about feminism, thereís no need to be afraid. Iíd really prefer to be just like you. Now, my hair says, Wrong. I donít believe what you believe; in fact, I advocate its radical transformation. I am fat; I donít feel the need to conform to any standard of beauty. I love myself and I love women, and Iím not hiding any more. I am a threat to this cultureís most treasured conventions. Be very afraid.

This essay was written in the spring of 2000 for the newsletter of a fat lesbian organization, where it was published in late summer 2000.