You might remember Jordi from this post about her experiences travelling the world while working for various international aid organisations. These days she’s back in Melbourne getting ready to tackle her PHD next year.
When Jordi came to me with her post about dating while bald, she wasn’t sure I’d think it was a good fit but, as you’ll read, hair is about more than just hair and provides an interesting perspective on the expectations placed on women and how they live their lives – something I’m grateful to be able to explore here on TMA.
Many months of trepidation went into deliberating whether to shave my head or not and, in all honesty, my main anxiety over the state of my hair was the impact it was going to have on my dating life.
To clarify: I am an avid dater. I see people. We do things. It’s the 21st century, ya know? “Freedom and liberation” is the flavour of the millennium and tentatively available for the masses and I ain’t complainin’. While I am fully aware that dating is not the most serious issue to be concerned with when it comes to bodies and gender roles, it has taken me a long time to fully dissect the varying aspects and intersections of my shaved-head experience in relation to bodily autonomy, femininity, as well as conversations surrounding racial and class tensions.
Yet, in the age of The Bachelorette, dating sans hair is the aspect of my lived shaven experience that friends were most curious about. And really, I don’t blame them. So, I have bowed down to peer pressure and have begun to make sense of our systemically entrenched gender norms by writing your daily dose of clickbait in the form of this piece.
Firstly, I did not go into this endeavour without preconceptions. Based on my lived experiences of societal gender narratives for the last 24 years, I expected that people would be less inclined to go on a first date with me based on my own generalisation that those who identify as straight men are more attracted to feminine women and feminine women, apparently, have hair (although only in very specific places).
To test this theory, I went out into the field and according to my carefully scrutinised research (read: subjective experience), I have outlined the three stages of overcoming baldhead prejudice when dating in this day and age.
Stage 1: The Murk of Dating Apps
There is no doubt that having a shaved head impacted the quantity of matches I received. What was once a healthy and buzzin’ match queue dwindled considerably, especially when I returned home to the non-urban, non-cosmopolitanism of non-Melbourne. At one stage, I had only one match. As much as I resent myself for potentially coming across as vain, for those interested in specific quantifiables, that’s at least a 98% decrease in the number of people who were at least willing to strike up an obligation free cyber conversation with me due to my change in hairstyle.
Of the people who were willing to take a chance on this bald weirdo, their unimaginative first liners often focused on the topic of my hair. A majority of people asked in varying semi-polite, almost subtle but at times creative ways of whether I was presently rocking a shaved head or not. One sensitive new-age hippy in particular asked what my current hairstyle was with the caveat “all are beautiful”. After clarifying that I indeed had shaved locks, I never heard from him again. In fact, radio silence after the shaved-head-revelation was not uncommon. Slightly amusingly, another person asked if he could pat my head like a dog. When I suggested that that comment may be a teeny tiny bit offensive, his response was that a) his dog was cute af; and, b) his dog liked it so I would too. Unsurprisingly, this match never eventuated into anything more than abating one-word messages.
Stage 2: The Jerk of the Almost-Date
On one particular occasion, I had teed up a coffee date and was genuinely looking forward to meeting this new person. The day before the date, I got a message from my would-be-beau saying that there was something important he needed to tell me. My mind immediately went to all the possible crucial things I may potentially need to know before meeting up with a stranger: he had a love child, the existence of another partner, he only goes to cafes with exceptional coffee art to brag about on Instagram… But no. Apparently, he felt the need to tell me that he’s not sexually attracted to women with short hair and wanted to take our impeding date slowly. When I questioned him on how my hair was relevant to our date and if “slow” was code for “platonic”, he said that I had misinterpreted what he had said and assured me that he was the biggest feminist in Melbourne. Since it’s hard to compete with such a claim, I decided to skip out on coffee and spent the afternoon reading Roxanne Gay’s “Difficult Women” instead.
Stage 3: The Actual Dates
I don’t know how they did it, but some people managed to fall through the slippery cracks of my ingenious shaved-head vetoing system and actually make it to a live face-to-face encounter. Yet, until very recently, every date began with a comment about my lack of hair. While people were generally much more receptive and open-minded by this stage, it didn’t escape me that I had been on dates with cis men who rocked up with a (man) bun that had not featured in any of their profile photos and I had not thought to ask them if their haircut was a deliberate choice to undermine the gender binary. Still, one date in particular could not get over the fact that he was spending the evening with a woman who had shaved her head. By the middle of the evening, he was texting his housemates to let them in on the joke that was, seemingly, my hair. He went as far to ask if he could get a photo with me to prove that it was true: he was on a date with a hairless woman, as if I was the most ridiculous spectacle that had had the pleasure of his humdrum company. At the time, I laughed it off but looking back it was actually downright rude.
Stage 4: The Parallel Universe Date
Of course, there is also the final stage of prejudice. The one we can’t truly understand because it never happened. The parallel universe date is the people I would have met, the conversations I would have had, the dates I would have gone on if I had been dating during this period with a more stereotypically feminine haircut. Or we lived in a more open-minded, progressive world?
Even though we will never fully know the invisible impacts of shaving my head, overall, my dating life hasn’t slowed down or diminished in any way. Who would have thought that there are people out there willing to see beyond what is, really, a minor departure from society’s traditional standards of femininity.
Sadly, my own experience of how people perceived and received me after I shaved my head represents general attitudes and expectations society holds of people who identify as women, specifically in a romantic context, but also illuminates only a teeny part of a whole range of social issues. While I have had a number of conversations with cis men, both on dating apps and face to face, who have admitted that they are or were just as concerned about the way they looked as a result of shaving their head, the truly sad part is that this did not prevent them from making comments such as the ones above. What I take from this is that the general anxiety of becoming less attractive is a human one, but that, too often, the derogatory comments are directed towards non-men only.
Even though I adore talking about dating and boys, I continue to judge the triviality and fluffiness of taking up writing space to explore it. Yet, we could laugh off one incident as a coincidence, the sheer number of “coincidences”, both while I was dating and generally living my life, indicates a systemic problem that is much more serious. My experiences of shaving my head, the conversations that have eventuated across genders and the enthusiasm for this article to be written, point to our consciousness of gendered expectations, the innate desire to want to be wanted and the tension we feel between desiring to reject current gender stereotypes, while fearing the consequences of non-conforming. While dating may be trivial, the politics of hair is not. Especially when the outcomes are severely more consequential for other minorities. Black students in Melbourne being refused entry to school is a case in point. As much as talking, reading and writing about my hair has enlightened me to the intersectionality of hair politics, those stories are not mine to tell. Instead, you can further your understanding of the intersectional politics of hair by watching this and reading this.