Hair. It's a thing. It's often a big thing. Politics of hair for many communities. Personal feelings for many people.
I've had my own long, winding, personal politics of hair.
My dad has been almost bald on top since he was in high school. I've never known my dad to have a full head of hair. Here's a picture of us from when I was probably 2. See that head? Not much hair.
My mom has alopecia. Her hair on her head has taken many forms throughout my life and she's managed/dealt/coped with it in many ways. When I was little she often wore wigs. No pictures of her to show -- her pictures are hers to share. My dad has always worn his bald head without fanfare; typical for males. Women and their hair are a much more tender subject.
It seemed very normal to me -- and as a child with two parents with little hair on their heads I just thought it was a natural state of being. My mom tells a story of how once when I was little I asked her when my hair would all fall out. After recovering from the shock of the question she assured me that my hair wasn't going to fall out (probably -- since we don't really know what causes alopecia) and not to worry.
I was also the first born in our family. And I think, as is fairly typical in American families, I was the pretty little baby doll. Now my parents are not inherently gendered in sort of stereotypical ways and are both super open to all forms of expression, but they both come from pretty traditionally gender roled families and they were born in a time where questioning gender roles was just beginning. So like a lot of young parents I was their first experiment in parenting, as well I was the first granddaughter on my dad's side and the 4th granddaughter on my mom's side (no boys!). High femme presentation just seemed to be a pretty natural conclusion. This was aided in the fact that I'm naturally a high femme kind of girl. I loved every sequined, glittery piece of clothing I could put on, loved dolls, loved sitting still and having my hair done, loved posing, etc. So there was definitely no pushback from me. See example A.
Now when my sisters came along, not only did my parents have more experience under their belt, they also had two and then three kids and well, easy maintenance was more important than dressing up three dolls. Plus, neither of my sisters were super feminine as kids. They both were more up the middle, equally likely to like "boy things" as "girl things" so neither of them would play along with feminine gender stereotypes.
When both of my sisters were little they had very short hair. Mybe, partially their idea? But mostly my parents. Just so much easier to deal with short hair.
Due in part to our different experiences with hairstyles, while I have had tons of different hairstyles (some ill advised) both of my sisters have basically had long hair (no shorter than shoulder length) for all of their teenage and adult years. Now, I can't say that all of this is a true statement of fact. I'm
talking about 4 other people's lives in this post, and really I can only
speak for mine. They might tell a different story of their
relationships to hair. But this is how I've thought about and
Unlike the rest of my family, however, I'm the queen dynamic hair. I try new things, dye my hair new colors, buy zillions of new hair accoutrements, and passionately engage in political discussions about hair.
Which now brings me back to my personal history of hair.
I hate hair.
I hate my personal body hair.
I hate the way my personal hair feels on all of the parts of my body.
I hate the way I can feel beads of sweat cling to my hair on all of the parts of my body.
I hate the dirty feeling I associate with hair, especially as I have sweaty clingy hair sensations on all parts of my body.
This is where my OCD and my history with hair intersect.
I am not a very hairy person. In fact, I'm really, really lightly haired. Like a Chinese Crested dog really. My body hair is extremely light both in volume and in color. But I can feel it. One of the things I've discovered about being an Extra Sensitive Person who has OCD and zillions of little things cause anxiety is that my nerves and body feelers are way more sensitive than anyone else's for the most part. Everything is overwhelming to me from a tactile, body experience sort of way.
I've gotten used to the feeling on my hair for the most part, but when I was a teenager going through puberty? Oh. My. God. Kill me. The hair was so uncomfortable. I know this sounds completely bonkers to most people -- who can feel their individual hairs on their body? Believe me or don't, but my sensory receptors are so hella elevated that I can. Throughout high school I shaved every inch of my body. Not just my legs like all the rest of the girls. Not just my armpits. All. Of. My. Body. Hair. I gave myself Brazilians before that was all the rage. I shaved my arms from shoulders to fingers. I obsessively got rid of my body hair. It was the worst feeling ever. And this was just around the time that my OCD was ramping up for a full showing and my struggles with OCD were huge, but yet I had no words or experiences to describe it, so I just thought I was a total weirdo. I fantasized about shaving off my eyebrows -- my boyfriend in high school told me he'd dump me if I did that. I dreamed about getting cancer so I'd lose all my hair. Serious, serious obsession. And really, you can't tell people you prayed for cancer so your hair would fall out because what the ever-loving fuck? And especially knowing that my mom had struggled with her hair loss throughout her life, I felt like a total fucking asshole for wishing I had no hair, when she would love to have my hair. Struggles.
I often wouldn't let people touch me (which I still do to this day for many other reasons) because if they touched my arms they could tell I had shaved arms and then it would be a DEAL and I'd have to talk about WHY I had shaved arms. Luckily I was also on the swim team for a while so that was a convenient excuse. I also was able to pull off the "someone dared me to" every once in a while. And luckily Indiana is freezing half the year so I could wear long sleeves during the cold months.
It eventually got to the point that I couldn't stand talking about my lack of arm hair so I just let it grow back rather than suffering through more unbearable conversations. But the rest of my body remained clean shaven. I shaved every single day without fail. No hair growing on me! I eventually got used to the feeling of hair on my arms and it was tolerable, even if it wasn't desirable.
Fast forward a decade and I'm all hella gay, radical feminist and surrounded by people who don't believe women should have to shave. And not only shouldn't HAVE to, but also that shaving was a form of being brainwashed by the patriarchy. Gah. Why am I always surrounded by people who question my hair choices?!?!
Now, I must interject -- although I had a problem with MY hair, I didn't have any problem with anyone else's hair. I could care less what other people do with their hair, body or otherwise. Even if I were sleeping with them, I didn't give one crap about their hair. Their hair is theirs and my hair is mine. And I just would rather not have mine.
Over the past few years as I've been working on me and my identity and my OCD I've come to a bit more of a place of peace with my hair. I still sometimes fantasize about waking up like a hairless chinchilla, but I've grown accustomed to my body hair for the most part. I am no longer a daily religious shaver. I no longer go full Brazilian. Last November I participated in my own version of No Shave November and didn't shave my legs for 6 weeks. Then I got grossed out one day and shaved them clean again. But for the most part, I don't think too much about my hair. I probably think about my body hair more than most people times about 10, but for me, that's hardly at all! I'm sure hair will be a life long struggle, but at least I'm at a place in my life where I'm more equipped to deal with my hair and my OCD than ever before.