Shaving My Head: A Lesson in Self-Mothering

My mum, my hair, and I go way back. I’m sure you can relate.

We three bonded and sometimes broke each other over knots and jars of grease and my earliest memories of interacting with my hair are infused with my mum’s hands, my mum’s face and the way she held that comb in her hand.

I even sat at my mum’s feet to have my hair untangled and twisted in my late twenties. I was living back home with my parents for a brief spell and it was a time when I was making a conscious effort to nurture my hair. My mum would help by giving my scalp the thorough oiling and massaging that only a second pair of hands can give.

I would feel deeply nourished and revived after these grown up daughter and mummy hair care sessions. It felt like such an indulgence; a loving treat. My mum also relished the opportunity to look after me in this way.

The patches of hair loss—Alopecia according to the medical establishment— which I had been dealing with since I was thirteen were at a minimum around this time and I remember my mum beaming as she joked that it was because my hair had had her touch.

It was this nurturing and supportive energy that I drew upon when I decided to shave my head.

It’s been for about twenty years now, that my scalp has been fruiting, perfectly smooth hairless patches of skin, of various shapes and sizes.

These patches spring up and then recede on different parts of my head according to a logic that I am not yet privy and over the years I have felt that my only option is to respond with head ties, hair scarves, hairpins and stoicism.

I looked in the bathroom mirror about three months ago and finally decided that the most proactive and progressive thing I could do was cut what hair I had left off and be totally bald. I was tired of being at the mercy of these defiant tides of baldness and I wanted to expose my scalp to as much air and sunlight as possible.

But I was apprehensive. It was a no turning back sort of thing to do and I didn’t want to feel badly about myself or my appearance after doing it. I wanted to create a something like my own supportive hand rail to hold onto as I took the steps towards shaving my head and I wanted keep my awareness of my feelings and emotions high.

Even though I was pretty sure of my decision the first thing I did was consult my girls. I live away from most of my friends and family so I utilized WhatsApp to make contact. Their supportive words and pictures sent of beautiful bald chicks encouraged and strengthened me and helped me to observe my subtle reactions and feelings.

I also talked to myself a lot; pulling my hair back in the mirror so that I could imagine my new reflection and taking lots of pictures of myself and my hair as a way to start the process of saying goodbye.

Taking pictures of the last time I was washed my hair, and the last time I twisted it sounds so simple but it really helped me to feel conscious of those moments and this helped me to feel supported. It was also a way to actively appreciate my hair before I cut it off and an opportunity to look at myself without flinching.

And of course I bought myself a little treat; a pair of simple silver studs to keep my newly reopened ear piercings from closing over.

I had planned a day that I wanted to shave my head but I was careful to be flexible around this; I didn’t want to bully or force myself. I didn’t want to feel like I was jumping off a high rock into deep water; I wanted to ease myself forward and slip gently into my new reflection.

I ended up shaving my head the day after I had planned to. I picked a quiet place in the garden where I wouldn’t be disturbed. There is a gazebo there where I go most days to do yoga, or meditate or just take a break from the busyness of the house. It felt like the perfect spot. The first cut did feel a bit like jumping but not from too high and after that it was a completely liberating experience. I took my time, lit a candle and took a lot of selfies.

My mum loved the first picture of my new look when I sent it to her. She emailed it to her sisters and who knows who else, as proud mums do. I also felt proud of myself. It was a deeply personal experience and one which I had approached with care, awareness, flexibility and responsibility; Just like a good mum would.

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Zaynab Bunsie has been living in a location and job independent way for the past six years and is currently resident in Zimbabwe. She is a jewellery maker and an aspiring writer.

  • Nasha Williams Snipes

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I shaved my head last year to become at peace with where I was too with Alopecia and my pointy ears LOL. The journey is definitely dynamic and I accept some days are more self accepting than others and being okay with it. Thank you radical Akilah! And much love to you, beautiful Zaynab!

    • zaynab Bunsie

      Oh wow thank you Nasha. Yes I like you feel more accepting some days than others. It was weird to see a cue ball shadow on the wall; and seeing particular people for the first time. There are a lot of new reflections to face. But I do feel like you said that it is a path towards acceptance. Much love to you too.