Written 29th March 2018
I don’t make a habit of swearing at an octogenarians. I was brought up to respect my elders. Yesterday I broke my four and a half decade clean run.
Whilst standing in line at a shop, the grey haired old man behind me spoke, nodding towards my bald head “So do you have cancer or is that some kind of political statement?” Taken aback by his surprisingly aggressive tone, I replied a little meekly “Actually I did The World’s Greatest Shave recently to raise money for cancer research.” Over the past two weeks I’ve gotten used to people’s reaction to my fundraising buzz cut being complimentary – oh that’s so nice of you; aren’t you lovely for doing that etc. This elderly gentleman did not feel so inclined. He made a humpfh sound and said, “And your husband was okay with that was he?” Biting heavily on my sarcastic tongue, I explained that I didn’t feel the need to ask my husband’s permission for anything to do with my hair.
The old guy’s rant was sparked. I don’t remember all that he said, as I was standing before him in a state of stupor at the sheer audacity of his words. I do recall him telling me that my generation of women don’t understand that men need something pretty to look at and a woman’s hair was a big part of what made her pretty. He condescendingly told me that my husband must be a better man than him, if he was happy to look at my bald head across the dinner table. He told me that I wasn’t keeping up my part of the marriage.
Now, ordinarily, I’m a pretty outspoken person and ready to defend myself and my feminist principles. I did try interjecting with sarcastic replies about how foolish I’d been to think marriage was about more than keeping myself pretty for my man. The old guy wasn’t listening. I wanted to tell him that his outdated opinions were offensive and unnecessary. I wanted to say that I pitied his wife for having to look at his ugly heart over the dinner table. I should have told him that I was lucky enough to have a connection with my husband that was deeper than mere physical attraction. I didn’t do any of these things. I felt myself going red with embarrassment and shouted, “Fuck off you old prick” and stormed out of the store.
The day I’d shaved my head for the Leukaemia Foundation was wonderful. As my long hair was shorn off and I saw my Sinead O’Connor hairstyle, I felt empowered and almost euphoric. The past few years have been a long journey in developing a positive body image after so many years of hatred and shame for it. Shaving my hair felt like the final step in shedding society’s ideals of beauty and finding an appreciation for myself as I am right now. I was disappointed to find that one stranger’s comment put me so far back on that journey.
I sat in my car, looking at myself in the rear-view mirror and all those familiar internal insults came back in my head. You are ugly. You are not good enough. You are a fraud. You don’t deserve to be loved. I cried most of the way home. Then I got angry. No, I got fucking furious. At the old guy and at myself. How dare this man express his ignorant opinion so bluntly to me. I don’t care if he thought I was hideous, what gives him permission to put me down. Did he think it was his right to judge the way I present myself because I’m female? Is my job just to try and look pretty and feed my husband dinner? And after all the work I’ve done to embrace my body and looks, how did I let one grumpy old man tear it to pieces?
Thankfully I am married to a wonderful man who couldn’t care less what my hair looks like and is proud of me for doing something kind for charity. My teenage kids hugged me and rubbed my spiky head affectionately. My friends lavished me with compliments and expressed their outrage at the old guy’s ignorance. I reminded myself that the old guy’s comments said more about his state of mind than they did about mine. I tried to feel empathy for what may have been a miserable day for him, causing his anger to be projected on me.
I banished the insults from my own mind again and refocused on all the positives of my life. I stopped judging my worth based on how I look and remembered to be grateful for all this body and bald head of mine can do. As Taryn Brumfitt from the Body Image Movement says – this body is not an ornament, it is a vehicle to my dreams.