What I Learned By Shaving My Head

Copyright 1994 Kaitlin Duck Sherwood

In August 1991, I shaved my head.

Why On Earth Did You Do THAT?

My decision to shave actually was the confluence of a number of forces.
  • I'd always envied the ease-of-use that men with crewcuts had.
  • I love the texture, the feel, of very short hair.
  • I'd always had trouble with my scalp itching. (Dandruff shampoo made it worse!) A friend of mine told me she'd shaved her head, and that her dandruff had gone right away, so it seemed worth a try.
  • It had been quite hot for quite a while, and I didn't have air-conditioning.
  • I was consulting, so didn't have to worry about the impact this would have on my long-term career (or on what my Controls professor would think).
  • I could see that I was indispensible for at least six more months on my current contract - far longer than it takes hair to grow out to a respectable length.
  • My mother was between jobs and residences and had moved in with me. If she didn't like it, she could just leave.

    This is Tough!

    Shaving a round object with a flat object is actually quite tricky, especially when the back of the round object is obscured by the front of the round object.

    I ended up buying a pair of clippers and trimming down to about 1/8" every six weeks or so.

    A More Personal Interest In Gay Rights

    For the first few weeks after I shaved my head, I walked around very nervously, convinced that people were going to jump out of alleys and beat me up for being a lesbian.

    Because I am straight and have a lot of straight friends who I am certain are totally disinterested in hurting my large number of gay friends, I knew that not all straight people hate all gay people. That didn't matter. I was still nervous.

    After several weeks of not getting beaten up, I relaxed. But the experience made me personalize the fight for gay rights. Instead of being for gay rights because it was "the ethical thing to do", I now have a personal motivation because I realized there is nothing I can do to prove that I am NOT gay.

    My friend Wendy had a (straight) friend whose hadn't seen his brother in many years. When the brother came to visit Friend in Oregon, Friend gave his brother a hug on the front porch. Friend got kicked out of his apartment complex for being gay. "He's my brother!" "Doesn't matter. You're gay, you're out of here." At that time, there were no laws there against discriminating against gay people, and there was nothing he could do to prove to his landlady that he wasn't gay. He had to move.

    Being Happier

    There is a very intriguing book by Shelby Steele called The Content Of Our Character. It is written primarily for the African-American community, and discusses two strategies for not getting hurt by whites. Remember, lynchings of blacks by whites used to be quite the sport.

    One is the "shucking and jiving" role: Don't hurt me because I'm no threat to you. The other is the the "menacing role": Don't hurt me or I will hurt you.

    Because I had read this book, I was able to recognize quickly that people got nervous around me if I was neutral. I was scary. I also knew the antidote: smiling a lot.

    (This also worked to dispel concerns that I might be undergoing chemotherapy or have some other nasty disease. The image people have of deathly ill people is not of a smiling face.)

    And by golly, do you know what happens if you smile? You feel better! You mingle better at parties. People come talk to you. People smile back at you! :-)

    Envious Looks

    I was certain that nobody was going to ever talk to me again, that I'd get funny looks in the grocery stores, and that I wouldn't get a date for seventeen years.

    People responded in exactly the opposite manner! Men who had never given me the time of day before crossed rooms to talk to me. I got looks in the grocery stores, but they were "OOoooooh, I wish I had the nerve to do that!" looks.

    I think what happened was that people said to themselves, "She has a shaved head. She must be interesting." Never mind that I hadn't changed anything else; it's just that my native irreverence was more obvious. This caused me to start:

    Being More Interesting

    Once everyone started treating me as being interesting and unusual, I sort of felt like I had a responsibility to be more interesting. In particular, it was very difficult for me to not buy a motorcycle during this period! In general, I started being more daring, trying more things, and being more "artsy". (It was in this period that I got involved with High Tech Heroes, for example.)

    No More Itching Scalp

    I started using Ivory soap on my head, and my scalp was much happier. Even now, when I have (short) hair again, I still use plain old Ivory bar soap, and it seems to work just fine. :-)


    Most people don't wear hats. Hats mess up your hair.

    No hair to mess up, no problem! Furthermore, if you have no insulation on your scalp, it gets cold, and you WANT a hat.

    I went wild with berets. I have red berets, pink berets, blue berets, green berets, brown berets, teal berets, purple berets... I have about twenty berets all told. I wore them with business suits, with jeans, with ski pants, with skirts - it was all quite fun.

    Californians Don't Care

    I thought that I might have to grow my hair back or scare off my clients. Nah. They just didn't care. I suppose that if I were no good at what I did (timing analysis consulting), then it might have been a problem, but nobody really cared - not even in Chippewa Falls, WI.

    I also noticed that Californians have great license in the rest of the country. I went to a wedding in Chicago, and a friend reported that she heard some women talking about my haircut briefly. "Oh, she's from California", and that made it ok.

    Traveling Is Great

    Not having to deal with brushes and combs and hairdryers and so on makes traveling very easy. And if you don't have hair, you can wash yourself in a sink much more easily. On my New Zealand trip, my traveling companion got her hair buzzed when she saw how convenient it was.

    Also, I had heard that Italian men grope. Couldn't prove it by me! I didn't get pinched once during my Europen trip.

    Oooooh, YUK!

    Something that I had known was that in France and Italy, the women who collaborated with the Nazis were held down and shorn. I was careful to keep my beret on most of the time during the trip, as I didn't want to offend anybody. (Shock is ok, offend is not.)

    I was braced for people being cold to me because of thinking I might be a skinhead, but with adequate smiling, that turned out to not be a problem.

    However, one night in Florence I popped down from the hostel to make a phone call and left my beret in the room. I had probably 1/4" of hair - enough to show color but short enough to be conspicuous. I bumped into a tall guy with a shaved head. He said to me (in Italian with a sly grin), "I like it that your hair is blonde."

    I had braced myself for people disliking me for possibly being a Nazi; I had not prepared myself for the possibility that someone might like me for possibly being a Nazi!

    I didn't know if I should belt him or throw up. I decided in a hurry that I was Finnish and didn't understand a word of Italian, went back to my room, and shuddered for twenty minutes.

    People Notice You

    I am occasional guest host on High Tech Heroes. Before I went on camera the first time, the producer and I thought long and hard about whether I should grow my hair out or keep it short. Finally, the producer decided he wanted me to keep it short: "Somebody might be channel-surfing and stop to see who this bald woman is."

    Months later, I heard that a woman had been channel surfing, and stopped to figure out who this bald woman was. She watched for about five minutes before she realized that it was High Tech Heroes, the show that her boyfriend directs!

    So Why Did You Grow It Back?

    I moved from California to Illinois in Jan 1993 to start graduate school. It is COLD in Illinois in the winter!

    No, I don't give out photos of myself .

    Copyright, Kaitlin Duck Sherwood, 1994 You may reproduce this document in whole or in part without my permission provided that you do not receive money for it, you do not alter it, and you attribute the author (me).