Why Shaving My Head For Cancer Created Controversy For Me

by Allison Shelby

For most of my life, except for that middle school awkward period, I have been fairly confident in my personality and appearance.

Nearly four months ago, I had my head shaved at my university’s St. Baldrick’s Day event to raise money for and support children’s cancer research.

Right off the bat I received mixed opinions, before even having my head shaved. I had a cousin suggest I participate in a different charity so I didn’t have to shave my head.

While I appreciated the suggestion, I was disgruntled by his lack of support; that was until I received an even more controversial reaction from my grandfather who said, “I will not support a bald granddaughter.

No one, male or female, in my family had participated in St. Baldrick’s, so I had been unsure how they would all react.

As usual, I was proving myself to be the black sheep in the family and became upset that all they could see in the matter was my head shaving, not the charity I was supporting.

Five days after my decision, the day arrived and I sat in a chair in front of the campus fountains, baring my head to the world one section of hair at a time. I smiled, ready to face the world that would soon be less likely to accept me.

“I think you can actually pull this off” and “Oh wow, you have a nice shaped head” were two comments I received from the peanut gallery of friends who had come out to support me. I was grateful to have such a solid friend base that did support my decision and the cause.

My favorite comment came two days later from one of the third graders I had been student teaching. He walked up to me, placed his hand on my back and said, “I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but you look like a boy.”

I should have seen this all coming from my family’s reactions, but that comment would set the stage for the following months.

The first few days, I was over the moon about my new do and the shocked looks on my classmates’ faces. Then, the novelty wore off and it blended into the normality of my everyday life. As I became more used to it, society began going in the other direction.

Suddenly, I was being stared at everywhere I went. For a quick moment, I liked the attention and then that, too, passed, leaving me with a feeling of insecurity and discomfort.

It made me feel less feminine, and I began to wear makeup on a daily basis when, before the shave, it had only been a weekend routine.

Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to see through the stares and blatant whispers within my earshot. From behind, my gender was questioned, from the front, my sexuality, sanity, health and dignity were questioned.

I felt horrible, but I had done something most women would never risk for whatever personal or societal reason. On top of that, I raised money for children’s cancer research and stuck to my guns.

Again, my old self crept back in, and I felt more beautiful and confident than ever. When I was hit on, the men actually tried to get to know me; they asked about my bald head and about my interests.

It was like I had been hiding behind my long brown hair, which honestly exposed a whole new realm of the dating world I had never realized.

It was shallow, thoroughly disturbing and has made me consider staying bald forever. A bald head really is a great conversation starter; even my current super short pixie is a talking point among my friends and newfound acquaintances.

Over these past four months, after my initial experiences with being bald, I have been on a journey to relinquish vanity as best I can. Like all people, I feel myself slip every now and again and need to add a splash of lipgloss, but then I remember those who do not get to choose this feeling of marginalization like I did.

I shaved my head for St. Baldrick’s, not only to raise money for cancer research, but to raise a middle finger to cancer and to stand with those who are suffering.

I do not know the suffering endured physically or even mentally because of the disease, but I do know that those affected shouldn’t have to put up with the way people stare and whisper on top of all that.

Without even realizing it, I placed myself in a difficult position and even risked losing friends. Yes, all over the simple act of shaving my head. The whole experience boiled down to societal norms and the need to relinquish them.

I would love to say that every woman should shave her head and experience this beautiful and soulful journey I have walked, but every experience is different.

What I can say is every woman and every person with or without makeup or disease is beautiful. Every person should make it a goal to step outside of him or herself and take little soul-searching journeys whenever possible.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart it