Southern Hospitality – Bald and Proud
I truly cannot believe this weather. The whole southern and eastern sector of the U.S. is baking and it is only May. I can’t believe how good it feels to have a shaved head at times like these. I should have done this years ago, except Seattle isn’t the warmest place in the country!
I have been steadily crossing the southern states on my way to New Orleans. The south is a fascinating collection of what appear to be separate cultures. There are those of the aristocracy, the French, the Natives we displaced, the African, Spanish and the ones I am now calling the New southerners. These are mostly one generation or newly arrived from other parts. There is no question as to the famed hospitality.
I have discovered that my shadowy scalp has caused quite a lot of open staring and questions. This is, after all, still Florida, but we are now closer to the “deep south”, and attitudes are different here than in the panhandle part of the state. I would have thought that in these hotter places women with bald and buzzed heads wouldn’t turn a second glance. On the Black women no-one looks twice, on a White woman it is a different story altogether.
I was in a small town for lunch after I exited the interstate. I found a cafe that wasn’t a roadside chain. I have been craving some real fish, and I managed to try grits, although I have to admit, they did nothing for me other than make a great base for cheese sauce. However, in this restaurant sat a middle-aged black woman with a beautifully shiny scalp. Obviously just done, perhaps just oiled. She did a double-take when I walked in. My hair has started growing back and looks a bit like a buzz cut now.
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As we were the only two patrons in the whole cafe, I decided to talk to her about her experiences and what I had noticed. She told me that it has recently become fashionable for black women to shave their heads, but that it used to be the stigma of the slave. Many slave owners in the south would buy a female slave and immediately shave her head so she would be identified as a slave if she decided to run away. In the century after the civil war, black women thought it a disgrace to have a shaved head, but in the last 30 years or so, the practice has become more acceptable as more and more of the younger children followed their sporting idols who frequently shaved. By the mid 1970’s it had become so commonplace for a woman to have super cropped or shaved heads, the novelty wore off and now it is considered quite ordinary.
I rubbed my own fuzzy head and asked then why it was that when I, a white woman shaved her head it was looked at as butch, or lesbian or weird in some way. Helen pointed out that we, the white races, did not have a history of women’s head shaving, and when there was, it was in a religious context or a punishment context. There was never a white culture that had a shaved woman as a figure of love or empowerment, unlike many of the African nations. If we look today at some of the African nations, their women routinely shave their heads and think nothing of it, it is culturally correct. Helen told me, they were regaining a lost link to their culture and that many of the men preferred their women with short crops or shaved heads. I asked her when she began shaving hers and she told me back in the early eighties.
Helen was a student at a smaller University with a large proportion of non-white students. She was studying anthropology, and specifically African/American culture and health. Her view was to work within her community as a social worker. She had always had a moderate afro without ever having had her hair straightened or braided as many of her fellow students did. One day while studying, she opened a book about an African tribe who shaved the heads of the girls as they reached puberty, and again on the eve of their marriage. This culture seemed to Helen to elevate the woman to a status of one who should be adored rather than trodden down. She read and found all the material she could on the culture. The more she read, the more she knew she wanted to identify in some way with them. She felt close to them.
One day she was discussing the cultural differences with her classmates, some of whom had very short hair, and she decided to just go ahead and do it. One of the women, Sharelle, who was from Jamaica, told her that many women in Jamaica shaved their heads, that it was normal in many of the Caribbean countries and that she would do Helen’s if she wanted her to. Her friends egged her on, and she agreed.
That afternoon in her dorm, Sharelle came in with a pair of clippers and a pair of scissors, a can of shaving cream, razor with extra blades and some baby oil. Helen sat in the chair and the clipping began. Many of the classmates had also come to watch and the room was full of chattering young women. There was no cape, so they used a plastic shower curtain fastened with safety pins and clothes pegs, not attractive, but it did the trick. Firstly Sharelle began cutting down Helen’s afro to about an inch. Her hair was soft and gave way quite well to the scissors, but the density of her hair precluded using the clippers until the last. Cutting around the nape of the neck and the ears meant Helen had to push her head forward and couldn’t see what was happening in the mirror.
After 20 minutes her hair had been reduced to an inch-long afro and she marvelled at the transformation of herself. Her eyes seemed brighter, her features clearer and her ears positively sexy without the huge frame of hair. This was, until that time, the shortest hair she had ever worn. She almost asked Sharelle to stop because she liked it so much, but before she could formulate the words, there was a pop, a buzzing sound and then she felt the steel on her left cheek. Sharelle pushed her head over to the side and slowly rode the clippers up the side of Helen’s head to the crown. Cascades of tightly curled hair fell over her face and showered the plastic curtain before falling to the floor. The second pass was made, the third pass was behind the ear and then Helen was able to put her head up and see. The left side of her head was flat. No hair, no shade, no line that she could discern. There had been some gasps from the assembled women as the scalp became visible. There were also some really odd feelings taking place within many in the room, especially Helen.
Her head was then tilted forward and the clippers ran up the back of her head, over the hump and continued to the top of her head. “I’m going to be totally bald,” she thought, and a ripple went through her abdomen. She played with the word, and finally as her head was tilted so the right side could be shaved she said out loud, “Bald is beautiful, right? Isn’t that what they all say?” There was a murmuring among the spectators. She put her head up for a brief moment and watched the last of her hair from the right temple be peeled away. There was still a substantial amount of hair right on the very top of her head.
“Want me to leave that?” asked Sherelle.
“No way,” said Helen. “Shave me BALD, bald, bald please!” Many of the onlookers clapped, some were quiet, others were obviously enjoying their own inner desires.
Quickly Sherelle took the last of Helen’s hair. Now was the first time she raised her hand to her head and felt her denuded scalp. There was still a surprising amount of hair on her head, but not really visible. She rubbed her hand all over it and looked at herself in the mirror. She thought she really looked quite alright, and so did many of the others. Everyone came and touched her head. One lass thought it felt like her little brother’s head. “He is always shaved, that’s how my Mom makes him keep it.” Many of the girls agreed their mothers did the same thing with their brothers. Helen was concerned that she would look too masculine, but no-one agreed to that. All said she looked brave and feminine and independent.
After all the discussion it was agreed that Helen should go all the way and be wet shaved, so a towel was heated under hot water, wrapped around her bald head and left for a minute. Once removed, her head was coated in the shaving cream and the shaving began in earnest. Sharelle had obviously had lots of practice and she skillfully drew the razor over Helen’s head revealing a glossy black skin that invited touching. As the process continued Helen found herself near orgasm with the feel of the razor on her head, but she couldn’t really do anything with a room full of people. After the second lathering and shaving, Sharelle was finally finished. She washed Helen’s head with warm water, patted it dry and applied the baby oil. Her head now glistened and there were admiring girls lined up to touch. Sharelle told her she would have to do herself in the shower every other day to keep it nice, or once a week if she didn’t care about the deep shine.
Accordingly, Helen has never, in the nearly twenty years that have passed, let her hair grow back. At first others were wondering what her statement was, others thought she might be ill. She told them that in many African tribes it was an empowerment symbol for women to shave their heads. Many of her classmates eventually followed her example. She never found it a barrier to employment, and she cannot understand why we white women are so shy and embarrassed about shaving our heads. Her greatest thrill is to have her husband lather up her head and shave her as a prelude to love-making. She laughed at this point and said that was how they managed four children in quick succession. After the fourth they decided that “headshaving made babies” because there was no time for the “glove”, he decided on a more permanent solution. Now she laughed again as she went on to say that they can make love any time, anywhere, all he has to do is touch her head. “It is the most erogenous zone of a woman’s body.”
I fingered my own scalp and decided that in New Orleans I will be having another “trim”. I too need to feel that remarkable freedom and the beautiful eroticism of the shave. However, I feel it more when there is something to be shaved off, therefore I just let it grow between cuts. I shall decide what I am going to do when I get to N.O. Helen thinks I should shave and oil like she does, but that isn’t me. I, and every person who shaves, has a different reason and a different or preferred method.
If there is one thing I have learned, you can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t judge a woman by her hairstyle.
Thanks to Helen in the small town near Tallahassee Florida for being so open, and for the delightful narrative while I ate my very first grits.
Bald and Proud