Just a few months ago I had very long hair and never imagined that I could be rocking a shaved head for the Winter. As an ambassador of the charity Womankind Worldwide, I decided to give away my hair as a fundraising and awareness raising move. The thing that had inspired it was reading about the suggestion by a politician in Zimbabwe that forcibly shaving women's heads would stop HIV and AIDS.
Shocked by how crazy a policy idea that was, I began thinking about hair and head shaving and got really into it. I started to read about women who have their heads shaved by force in conflict areas, prisons and in other cultural situations like when a woman is widowed. On the one hand, it's a weapon in conflict and a punishment designed to take something away from women and then on the other it is a symbol of feminism, boldness and personal empowerment.
At first it didn't even occur to me to shave my head. Instead I most of my 21 inches inches off it, which were donated to The Little Princesses Trust to make wigs for kids with cancer, leaving just half an inch of hair. I made this video with artist Sarah Leslie and my hairdresser Lacey Hawkins using over 3000 still photograph images and shared it online. This initial haircut was a great experience but I realised that I needed to fully go for it, and so when a joke was made about me shaving my head next, I said yes.
We held a live head shave on 17 October for which there will be a video shot by Laurence McKenna coming very soon (keep an eye on elegancerebellion.com) and I was able to raise more money than my original fundraising target to donate to Womankind Worldwide. The actual event was really very strange as you might imagine, but surprisingly moving. I couldn't see in a mirror so was just watching the audience who at times were laughing and joking as my hair went through various stages including a mohican. Then suddenly they all went deadly silent and just stared at me as the shearers had finished their work. It was a real shock when I looked in the mirror for the first time.
Seven weeks have now passed. It's been an incredible experience, and much more personally rewarding than I could have ever imagined. Here are 41 things that I have learnt and experienced since shaving my head.
1 - I feel completely comfortable in my own skin.
2 - Hair is precious and can be a great gift that you can give to somebody who will really appreciate it and this act doesn't cost you a penny.
3 - Some of my friends say I look like a badass. They never said this before.
4 - I feel like more of a badass than I have ever felt before.
5 - You forget what that heavy, wet hair feeling is like and that sensation of a damp back.
6 - You can just towel dry your hair in 10 seconds after being in the rain.
7 - If you are lucky enough to have healthy hair, it will grow back. Letting go of it is freeing.
8 - When doing yoga, you don't get hair in your face when in downward dog.
9 - Flying to the other side of the world the day after getting your head shaved and being away from everyone that knows you means that you really get to experience how people look at and judge a woman with a shaved head. It turns out they look at you just the same, or in some cases with more respect.
10 - You do not need a hair brush, a hair dryer, hair straighteners or any products.
11 - You never have to think about 'the investment' of getting your hair wet, ie is it worth putting your head in the water when swimming given the extra time it will take to dry it.
12 - When holding babies or playing with small children, they don't pull your hair.
13 - It's fun to see my childhood scar and field questions/assumptions of how that happened.
14 - I do not care what anyone else thinks about my hairstyle (apart from my mum... sorry mum!)
15 - You don't have to have a hair tie on your wrist permanently or be constantly looking for one.
16 - The day I stopped feeling compelled to quickly explain that I used to have long hair was the day that I knew I have experienced a deep internal shift.
17 - You find yourself having conversations with men about their hair and experiences of shaving it.
18 - When scuba diving, you don't get hair in your mask that then lets water in.
19 - You have no idea if your hair will grown back straight or curly, thicker or thiner. It's a surprise in the making.
20 - You hear sound louder without long hair. My hearing and other senses around my face suddenly felt more vibrant.
21 - I have successfully challenged my own perception of personal beauty.
22 - You have new found respect for men who have experienced receding hairlines, especially those who got it young.
23 - There is no hiding your face or your eyes when you don't have hair. You are exposed in every moment.
24 - If you find yourself in a hot tub and somebody sprays your face with a cold hose pipe, you are happy, not annoyed that your hair is now wet.
25 - You experience both the boldness and strength of having a shaved head, and then at very few moments the juxtaposition of being perceived as unfeminine.
26 - When it rains, your hair does not go frizzy.
27 - It turns out that waxing your sideburns is incredibly painful and completely unnecessary. Imagine the pain of bikini line waxing times three and combined with being punched in the face.
28 - You can do some seriously sweaty exercise and then be in a meeting looking presentable with dry clean hair very shortly afterwards.
29 - Somedays you feel a little bit sci-fi, like a fembot from future.
30 - Not using your hair dryer and hair straighteners daily keeps down your personal carbon footprint.
31 - Every day is new as the hair grows back. This week my hair lathered for the first time.
32 - I have experienced very few negative reactions to this act and they haven't bothered me one bit.
33 - You have new found respect for men who shave their heads, and for their skill in doing it themselves.
34 - There are no so many new style icons available to me, not just Grace Jones, Alek Wek, Sinead O'Connor and the recent new look of Anne Hathaway. What about Mahatma Gandhi or Bruce Willis?
35 - You really experience the elements, the feeling on sun, wind and rain on a shaved head are a brilliant and 'loud' experience.
36 - It turns out that there are many women out there that have always wanted to shave their heads but are too scared. I had no idea! I have now met and encouraged many of them to just do it.
37 - I only need one towel now, like my friend said 'Oh you shower like a boy.'
38 - You have new found respect for people that you have just met that ask if they can rub your head.
39 - I genuinely think that people listen to me more now, look me in the eyes and take my opinions more seriously, almost now that they are not distracted by my long hair and their sub-conscious ideas about women that it triggers.
40 - My female friends have told me that my act has given them an opportunity to reflect on their own relationship with their hair and the attachment they have to it.
41 - I have had interesting conversations with people daily about the work that Womankind Worldwide do and the experiences of women across the world.
If you feel inspired to shave your head for Womankind Worldwide, please contact me to discuss it. And if you would like to make a donation, they are still very welcome through my Just Giving page.
With a donation, you can help woman to transform their lives in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Womankind Worldwide partner with women's rights organisations who are tackling the day to day issues that affect women's lives and who are creating impact. Together with our partners, we help women achieve change; challenging violence and discrimination, helping women come together and helping women claim their rights and improve their lives.
In Ethiopia violence against women and girls is common and widely accepted.
Three quarters of adult women in Ethiopia have undergone female genital mutilation
81% of women believe their husbands have the right to beat them
59% of women are subject to sexual violence from their partner
Take this chance to make twice the difference to the women and girls standing up to violence in Ethiopia. By supporting one woman to speak you can reach hundreds more.