Redefining what it is to be a woman

“The day I shaved my head was the most empowering moment of my whole life” says Millie Bobby Brown as she shaved her head for the show Stranger Things.

Here on International Women’s day, we are celebrating what it is to be a woman – and there’s so much to celebrate. Alongside our inner strength and power, there can be so much tied to our female role. Recently, I shaved off most of my hair – and I really got to explore and experience first-hand how our hair plays such a strong role in our identity, especially as a female, which truly allowed me to celebrate, treasure and discover the divine strength inside of me.

What hair can mean to us

Before and after my buzz cut

Cutting my hair was supposed to be symbolism of letting go and starting a new era of my life, but little did I anticipate the wave of emotions that came over when it all left. My body was in shock, and I could feel it. I felt like I couldn’t recognise myself in the mirror. The reaction was even physical – to bad dreams and not being able to sleep at night. I was vulnerable. 

Every woman’s journey with their hair is different, where I found myself mourning over what was, I couldn’t help but discover how much hair carried in terms of our identity, femininity and the role we played in the social world. I learnt that it is easy to hide behind our hair. To hide our emotions, vulnerabilities and insecurities behind our armour of luscious locks. Not only can our traditional looking hair be our comfort zone and hiding place, but it’s entrenched in the idea of what it is to be a woman. Long straight hair is deeply intertwined with the idea of femininity, especially beauty – from throughout history and across cultures. Healthy hair is often viewed as a sign of fertility, making us women more “attractive”. This is also what we are constantly bombarded with by the media; the hair and beauty is a multibillion-dollar industry, and the average woman spends approximately $50,000 on her hair over her lifetime and almost two hours a week washing and styling her hair. From culture and history to the media, the message that long hair equals beauty and femininity has been strongly defined.

Letting Go – Redefining what it is to be a woman

When Millie Bobby Brown shaved her head, she said “The day I shaved my head was the most empowering moment of my whole life. The last strand of hair cut off was the moment my whole face was on show and I couldn’t hide behind my hair like I used to. The only image I had in my head about what I could possibly look like is Charlize Theron in Madmax [sic]. As I looked at myself and couldn’t see my old self, I realized that now; I have a job to do and that is to inspire other girls that your image or exterior part is not what I think is important. What I find important is caring, loving and inspiring other girls. Thought to share my thoughts during this life changing moment.” 

Other women have felt similarly, photographer Lydia Hudgens, when she buzzed her hair, talks about how she feels more like herself, and more striking without hair. And with that, she certainly doesn’t feel confined to gender norms. “I love playing with my look, but was sick of being told what was beautiful or acceptable in terms of being a woman,” she says. “In this day and age, I feel like I’d rather be happy and successful doing what I’m doing than worrying about keeping up appearances so I can make other people happy—or comfortable, which I think is more of what it comes down to.”

For musician Willow Smith, “Shaving off all her hair was a way to release everything and start fresh.” Leaving her struggles with anxiety behind. 

As for me, with my recently new cut hair I can feel with the vulnerability comes a new-found strength. This ability to be more authentically me and to be more truth-telling. With vulnerability also comes a display of that fact that I am a flawed human-being riddled with doubts and insecurities – like everyone else is – and that’s okay. I’m letting go of hiding, pretending to be strong and hiding my vulnerability, of finding safety in my comfort zone of traditional beauty and traditional norms.

If you’re interested in more check out some of these articles on what it means to be a woman:

https://www.teenvogue.com/gallery/international-womens-day-2019-what-womanhood-means

https://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2020-03-10/student-life/what-being-a-woman-means-to-us-this-international-womens-day/#:~:text=Being%20a%20woman%20means%20being%20able%20to%20be%20powerful%20and,may%20encounter%20along%20the%20way.

For some more active participation, try joining Feminist society here in Edinburgh!

https://www.facebook.com/EdinburghUniversityFeministSociety/?ref=page_internal

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