Jo Segal was an accomplished swimmer. She represented her high school, her junior college and even rose to the level of national competition. Now in her final year of college she was training intensively for the upcoming Olympics. She and her coach, a taciturn man by the name of Harris, were working up to the qualifying rounds of national selection. Each day she would rise at 5am and run four miles. When she returned she would perform a rigorous calisthenics routine and eat a small breakfast. Then she would move to the pool where she would swim for between two and four hours depending on her programme. Coach Harris liked to vary between endurance and speed.
By 10am she would be ready for class. A history major, she was fairly engaged in her subject although she worried about her long-term prospects. In truth she wanted to be a swimmer and nothing else mattered. The chance to browse through the archaic records of previous civilizations was her relief from the intense pressure of Olympic qualification.
Jo was a pretty girl. Small with the powerful build of a freestyle swimmer. Conscious of her blocky shoulders and arms she hid herself in overly baggy clothes. This combined with her shyness gave you the impression that she wanted to become invisible. There was little chance of this; not because she was gregarious but because the sight of her was so galvanizing. The long brown wing of hair she flicked so deftly drew admiration and jealousy from women and pure lust from men. Spending so much time exposed to chlorine Jo was extremely meticulous when it came to face and skin care. She bought numerous conditioners and hot oil treatments as well as visiting the hairdresser regularly.
As the month of April passed and the Qualifying Round drew closer Jo paid less and less attention to her schoolwork and focused everything on swimming. She vowed to make it to the Olympics, knowing that she faced competition from the very best in the country. Every day she listened as Coach Harris reinforced her self-belief and bolstered her desire to win. There was nothing she wanted more than the shot at an Olympic medal – it was her dream.
With a week to go Coach Harris switched the focus of Jo’s training from strength and endurance to speed. Little by little she clipped seconds and then tenths of seconds from her time. He pushed her remorselessly knowing that the tenths and thousands were what mattered. He would shout at her until she cried when she botched a turn and he would harangue her all the way to the shower stall if her performance was anything less than stellar. By Thursday they both knew she was getting there. Her times were in the Olympic ballpark and if she could bear the pressure she was in with a chance. Still Jo was frustrated. She knew she was at her physical peak and yet it wasn’t quite enough. There would be other girls who had slightly different metabolisms giving them a strength advantage. Girls with a longer reach who could stretch further to finish. She complained to Coach Harris.
He looked at her openly and, after a moments reflection asked her how badly she wanted to win. She broke down. It was everything to her. She wanted it so badly she couldn’t sleep for thinking about that starting pistol. Calmly Coach Harris motioned her to be quiet. He told her to take a deep breath. She did. And she listened. Coach Harris told her of the one thing he thought she could do to improve her performance, to level the playing field with the other girls. What? Jo begged him. He levelled his hands in front of him and took a breath. He explained to Jo that a number of the top male swimmers he knew had shaved their heads in an effort to win a couple of vital milliseconds. In their estimation, it worked. With the tiny increments of time between competitors the slightest thing could make a difference. He stressed the COULD, but it was plain that he believed this could the key to Jo’s victory.
What? She was in shock. It was not the idea that someone would shave their head in order to win, simply that he should suggest it to her. She knew that male swimmers did it, some of them had to in order to stay in the game. Jo couldn’t think of one female swimmer that had done it however. Jo was stammering, her brain was reeling. She started in with a barrage of excuses, what about her swim cap? What about my looks. Coach Harris let her continue until she fell silent. She knew he was right. Even she could feel the drag on the swim cap. She had to make a choice: would she let vanity stand in the way of her dream? It was only hair after all. But then, it was more than that, it was her identity. She would disappear without that shield to hide behind.
All night she tossed and turned thinking about the decision Coach Harris had laid out for her. She would get up and switch on the light, reaching for her familiar hairbrush. Sitting there in front of her reflection she tried to imagine herself without hair. She stroked it with the brush and it shimmered under the lamp light: long and straight. By morning, having had no sleep, she’d made up her mind, and, looking back on it, it wasn’t such a hard choice. She pulled on her running shoes and headed decisively out the door for her morning run.
By 11.30am she had completed an exhausting series of laps at the pool. Coach Harris watched her quizzically but said nothing. By 12.30 she was standing outside ‘Mane Line’, a small and inexpensive hairdresser in the town center. Taking a deep breath, she gripped the door handed and pushed…
As she seated herself in the chair she folded her hands neatly in an effort at composure. She stilled her breath and focused on the only thing that mattered to her: qualifying. When the hairdresser asked what sort style she was looking for she could only mouth the words. She was on the brink of breaking down when she realized how silly she was being. After all, she reasoned, male athletes make this sacrifice, why shouldn’t she? She would be the first female athlete to do it and the victory would be that much sweeter. Decisively she told the woman to shave her head. Naturally the hairdresser objected at first: Jo had such a beautiful head of hair, why would she want to lose it all? But Jo was persistent and finally the woman relented.
Jo watched with a horrified fascination as the woman deftly gathered up her heavy bangs and began snipping at them. Sections of hair fell to her lap and to the floor. Gradually the hairdresser worked progressively back across the top of Jo’s head reducing the hair there to a military length. This looked ridiculous with a full head of hair still sprouting from the back and the sides. Not for long however. The hairdresser gathered up the rest of Jo’s sumptuous locks and snipped at them bit by bit. First the right side, then the left side and finally the back. Over and over she gathered up sections of the remaining hair, clipping it to the width of a finger. When the woman pulled back, Jo stared at the half-inch lengths of hair that stood to attention across her head; it was becoming really hard to recognise herself. Then the hairdresser produced a comb and began snipping once more. This time she lifted the shortened lengths on the comb and clipped them neatly to the root.
In the space of fifteen minutes the woman sheared off all of Jo’s beautiful hair. Throughout the ordeal Jo stared stoically into her own eyes, mesmerized by her reflection.
Next the hairdresser took an electric clipper to the back of Jo’s head, gently motioning her to look down. Buzzing and tickling it mowed efficiently from nape to crown. Delicate flecks of hair fluttered down around her. Again and again the razor passed over her skull, no guard, as close as it would go. The remaining hair was reduced to a fuzzy stumble. When she looked up Jo could really sense the shape of her skull, although she resisted the temptation to touch it.
Finally the woman lathered Jo’s head with shaving foam, and, for a moment she sat there confronted by how ridiculous she looked. She prayed it was worth it as the woman, using an ordinary disposable razor, plowed into the swathes of foam, slowly unveiling a shiny scalp. First the right side, above the ear, then over the top, the back and down around the other side. Every so often the hairdresser would stoop and rinse the blade. Jo wondered whether she would ever get used to looking this way. How often she would have to shave her head to keep it smooth? Jesus, that was going to be difficult. Oh well, at least she could throw all that expensive shampoo.
The woman finished and, using a towel, wiped the excess foam from Jo’s newly bald head. She might as well have been polishing it for the way it reflected the lights. Still keeping an eye on her alien appearance Jo thanked the woman who had done this to her. She reached an experimental hand to her head, feeling the absolute smoothness where there was once luxurious hair. Her heart tripped internally from the shock but, at least it steeled her determination to win. From her bag she pulled a baseball hat. She tipped the woman expansively but received no thanks. The woman simply nodded. Jo thought about making an explanation but, what did it matter? She was free of her hair, she was free to be Jo Segal, Olympic champion. Tightening her grip on the hat and pulling it on over her new baldness she stepped triumphantly onto the street.
Her determination faltered slightly on the way home. She found people staring and staring at her. And that was with the hat on! She told herself she would have to get used to it. Soon, she thought, they’ll be staring at me because I’m famous.
The moment she got home she took off her coat and sat down in front of the full-length mirror where she’d spent the previous evening brushing her hair. She looked at herself now in shock. So this is what I look like without hair. Without the hat it was as though someone else was looking back at her. She turned from side to side and explored the shiny baldness with her hands. Bit by bit she pulled at her clothes, removing her top, her pants, shoes, socks and underwear. Finally she stood naked, staring at herself. It was so bizarre – she looked SO weird. She’d actually done it, shaved ALL her hair off.
She thought about hair and what it meant to so many women (and their men); what it meant to her now hers was gone. She decided it wasn’t a big deal and if anything she actually looked prettier without it – the focus was all on her features. Experimentally she covered up the triangle of pubic hair between her legs. She wondered to herself how she would look if she was completely hairless. Why not? No-one would see that part of her. It might even make her swim faster. She doubted it, but that line of thought was increasing appealing. Although she hadn’t liked the sensation of the razor blade on her head, the smoothness of her head aroused her. And she always wanted her legs perfectly hairless to show off her musculature, so why not her vagina?
Naked she walked down the hall to her tiny bathroom where she shaved her legs. From the shelf she pulled the razor, the foam and a small pair of nail scissors. She sat on the toilet and looked down at her pubic hair. Snipping it here would be easy since she could simply flush it away when she was done. Was she going crazy? What was she doing?
Defiantly she collected hair between finger and thumb, snipping and snipping. The scissors rasped and she shivered, the thought of being hairless was increasingly turning her on. She snipped again, and again, emulating the woman at the hairdressers. Eventually when she was down to stubble she reached for the shaving foam, spraying a liberal amount in her palm and cupping it over her mound. She was so turned on that she could not resist fingering herself and, while she did so she ran her other hand over her newly shaven head.
Spreading her legs she took the razor and began delicately shaving away the foamy stubble. Working inward from either side she would stop occasionally and rinse the blade. Finally, she finished, siphoning handfuls of water over her newly bald vagina, washing away the hair and foam.
She stood and walked to the bedroom mirror, standing there for a minute, breathing deeply: a young woman of 22, completely hairless. Did it make her a freak? She didn’t know. She liked it though. She slipped beneath the covers of her bed feeling everything everywhere. Her body felt newly sensitized, and with her hands she rubbed it everywhere.