Why I Buzzed My Hair

The Opposite of Impulsive

I’m not sure how long I’ve been planning on this. As with most things, I needed to make a decision a long time ago and sit with it, getting used to the idea. I’m like that. The opposite of impulsive. I like to know what’s coming in advance. With a change that felt so big and so scary, I needed to spend a lot of time considering it to be sure it was what I wanted. I actually wrote most of this blog post before I buzzed my hair because I thought that talking about it as if it had already happened would help me to feel ready.

Letting Go of the Familiar

13-year-old Sachi with an aesthetic very similar to that of 31-year-old Sachi

I’ve had long hair my entire life. Besides my infancy and very early childhood, and brief flirtations with a long bob in 2010 and 2019, my hair has always hung past my shoulders. Sometimes it was a hassle, like when I was in elementary school and caught head lice, which my poor mother spent many late-night hours painstakingly removing. Or whenever I had to detangle a sandy rat’s nest after a day spent tumbling around in the waves at Hapuna Beach. But a lot of times it made me feel beautiful and cool, like when I dyed it with a deep red tint for the first time in middle school. Or when my college boyfriend would tell me how much he admired it.

I loved my long hair. I loved to braid it in simple and elaborate styles. I loved space buns. I loved letting it down to use as a scarf substitute when I got a little chilly. I loved to play with it while dancing or talking or working. I loved getting compliments about it.

I saw my long hair as a kind of shorthand for beauty, as a symbol of my femininity. It was a part of my identity. And that’s why I had to let it go. I wanted to prove to myself that I don’t need it for any of that. I wanted to know who I’d be and how I’d feel without my hair. I wanted to know that hair or no hair, I can feel beautiful. And deeper down, I wanted to remind myself (and maybe also others) that my worth is more than my appearance.

Women Don’t Owe You Pretty

Over the last few months, as I’ve been mentally preparing myself to do this, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with self-image and self-confidence. So, when I happened upon a book in a Colombian hostel’s book exchange titled Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, I immediately picked it up and read it in one afternoon. The author, Florence Given, talks about the ways that women and girls are conditioned to cultivate their appearance based on whether it will be attractive to men. Even (and perhaps especially) subconsciously, there’s this idea that the number one standard we should prioritize is that which is imposed by the male gaze. When we get dressed in the morning we might be thinking, “Will wearing this get me some attention?” Or sometimes, “Will wearing this get me too much attention?” Rather than, “I love this shirt. It feels so good on my skin.” Or, “I can squat all the way to the floor in these pants.”

I’m just beginning to realize the ways I’ve let this kind of thinking dictate my perceptions and my behavior. This patriarchal power structure is self-reinforcing. Those who adhere to its beauty standards are also beneficiaries of a kind of power. Walking through the world is just easier. If you’re conventionally beautiful, people tend to be nicer to you, more eager to please. And so, women internalize these standards and perpetuate them. I’ve begun to recognize how often I have uncharitable thoughts about myself and about other women that are clearly a part of this toxic system. I would like to purge them from my mental reflexes. But it’s difficult. They’re so much a part of the culture I come from—not just Hawaii, but the US, and the West—it’s like I’ve been steeped in them without fully realizing it. The pressure to be slim, and pretty, to be sexy, but not too much. The idea that appearance constitutes character. We are told constantly and in various ways that our value is based on something outside of ourselves. And honestly, f— that. I’m not for “them,” or him, or you, or anyone. I’m for me.

Attachment is Suffering

As I prepared to buzz my hair, I was also thinking about long lineages of other women who’ve shaved their heads, and the cultural and spiritual significance it can carry. Buddhist monks and nuns shave their heads when they enter the monastery. The act symbolizes non-attachment, a core tenet of Buddhism. Everything is impermanent. Things change and pass and disappear, so to be attached to anything is to suffer. The only way to be liberated from suffering is to let go of this attachment.

For the nuns and monks, shaving their hair off also symbolizes shedding vanity. When you and everybody you’re hanging out with is bald, with no eyebrows, wearing identical robes, there’s not much room for preening. There’s more time and mental energy for the spiritual growth and practices that are the real priorities.

I’m also entering a phase of my travel and my Spanish learning journey in which I’d like to be more focused and studious—maybe a little monastic. I’m spending the month of February working at a small English language school, working out a lot, and taking Spanish classes online. So the timing felt right to take advantage of the symbolism of giving up my hair and renouncing frivolity. It also doesn’t hurt that I no longer have to shampoo, condition, and comb through waist-length hair in one of Latin America’s ubiquitous cold-water showers.

Just Wondering

Beyond designing and self-administering a one-woman psychological study, making a feminist statement, or teaching myself Buddhist values, I’ve also simply been curious. What would I look like? Pretty similar, it turns out. Was my skull really as weirdly shaped as it felt under all that hair? Thankfully, no. What emotions would come up? I was actually surprised that I felt a lot less emotional about the cut than I thought I would. It was a little scary to take the scissors to my ponytail at first. But it’s been a couple of weeks now, and I haven’t felt regret or sadness or stress about it. I also wondered, how would people treat me? Pretty much the same, so far as I can tell. Most of the people I’m interacting with this month actually have no idea that I ever had long hair. They have no prior expectations of me, which is kind of freeing. I think if I had made this change in the context of my regular life, it would’ve caused a bigger stir. Every friend, acquaintance, or family member I saw would probably make a comment about it (and I’m aware that this is still eventually going to happen). For now, I might be getting some longer looks from strangers, but I think that’s also partly because I’m the only Asian person they’ve seen all month.

A Blank Page

Finally, buzzing all my hair off just felt like something I had to do at least once in my life. It’s one of those scary-not-dangerous things, a way to push my limits and force myself into introspection and growth. Moreover, all that hair was grown by someone who I used to be. I’m nearly eight months into what might end up being a year and a half of travel. One of the weird and interesting things about this period in my life is that for the first time in a long time, I don’t have a whole lot of long-range certainties. I’m writing this story as I go. I don’t know where I’ll be staying six weeks from now, much less what my life is going to look like on the other side of this trip. I don’t know what I’m going to look like—certainly figuratively, but now also literally. And that seems fitting.

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Loved reading this Sach! You’re a badass!

I did that once and thought it was the best haircut I ever had: 1. Because it lasted so long. And 2. Because I liked it at every point as it was growing back.
Also there were a surprising number of people, men and women who told me they’d always wanted to do that or that they’d done it. And there were many who couldn’t fathom why anyone would.
I loved the sensuality of it…how you can feel the slightest breeze on your bare head which before had been covered as long as you could remember.
You, Sachi, certainly are beautiful, with and without hair.

Beautiful!

I removed a lot of those ukus too, but not as many as Mom.

Gorgeous introspection