I'm 23 years old. I identify as a woman. I have a stereotypically 'feminine' body shape - big boobs, small waist, big hips; the physical attributes that apparently make me a 'real woman'. Sigh.
Yesterday, I shaved my head for the third time in a year and a half. The first time, I raised over £500 for Cancer Research UK. Aside from raising money for charity, my main driving factor in initially wanting to do such a thing was giving a big fuck you to stereotypical gender norms that have unwittingly held me (and millions of others) back all my life.
I think it's safe to conclude that I successfully did so. During the lead up to and after the first head shave, I was inundated with messages of love and support across social media which inadvertently spurred me on to do it again. The two other instances since first getting the clippers out have been solely for the purpose of screwing up institutionally ingrained ideas of gender and subsequent beauty norms, something which has - and continues to - put the majority of humanity into claustrophobic boxes. And it's something I feel more and more strongly about every day.
I find it perplexing that in 2016 it's still necessary to have conversations about equality and gender. So many advances have been made in recent years, bringing us closer to being a more equal and inclusive world. In the grand scheme of things however, these advancements are less like leaps forward and more reticent of baby steps in the right direction.
Collectively, we are more accepting of the awe-inspiring differences that make us the incredible individuals that we are than ever before. The LGBT+ community has never had a louder voice. Nor has feminism and countless others. But this does not erase the alarmingly large number of groups who still don an ignorant, intolerant and all round closed-minded attitude towards human diversity, particularly with regards to prescribed gender norms.
Make no mistake. Although I'm talking about this as someone who has always identified as a woman, and as such can relate directly to gender stereotyping from the point of view of a female, I'm wholly aware that limitations based on gender are not an issue exclusive to female-kind.
From the very second we are born (often even before we've even had the chance to exit the womb) our lives are decided for us based on our reproductive organs. Men are handed down a rigid expectation of clichéd masculinity. Taught to be emotionally blank. Physically strong. Not to mention the image based pressures. I can't even begin to imagine the struggles of someone who identifies as gender queer or fluid. The fact the stereotyping of gender is something that affects every single one of us is precisely the reason that I want to speak up and try and do something about it. We're all equal here. We're all people. Limited us by something as superficial as the gender we identify with, if any, is ludicrous.
Since initially shaving my hair off for the first time in May of 2015, I've encountered my fair share of both positive and negative reactions, both online and in person. Face to face, many assume that I'm ill (I rarely wear make-up and happily embrace the dark under eye circle life) and feel awkward during conversation, as broaching the subject directly is apparently completely out of the question.
This actually relates to one of my main motivations in undergoing the chop in the first place. The idea of a cancer patient potentially fighting the battle of their life should not have to still be reduced to worrying about how they look. Sufferers of alopecia, trichotillomania and other hair loss conditions should not feel like aliens. This merely highlights the obsession we have with hair and how it relates to gender identity and beauty ideals.
Why does anyone need to have hair in the first place? I've had people loudly asking each other "is that a man or a woman?" (to which I really wish I had answered "they're a human.") I've had a little boy ask his mother why that lady has no hair. Said mother's reaction was "Well, she's got some." Although the reaction online has been immensely positive, it too has its moments. A comment which struck a chord recently was a man asking "What is this? Britney imposter?" The synonymy of an individual choosing to shave their head with mental illness encapsulates my point entirely.
Whatever I identify as, no matter my age, race or body type - I refuse to be stereotyped. Gender is not defined by sex organs. Although I adore the physical attributes of my being, they do not define me. I am a human being, hair or no hair. End of story.