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The Bald and the Beautiful
“In addition, if Farha and I can raise $5,000 in donations, we will shave our heads!” my friend Molly announces into the microphone. I look around the room and my awkward smile is met with fly breeding dropped jaws.
I was not expecting praise for my fundraising idea, but I also was not expecting such disgust from my high school student body and faculty. I know the difference between admirable surprise and disdain. There was no sparkles in the eyes of my fellow pubescents and teachers, there was just an overwhelming amount of skeptical questioning written in their societally sewn on facial expressions.
I continued my announcement and then sat back down, followed by sexist squints. It was like everyone at my all girls boarding school felt as though I stripped them of their uteruses by putting out the possibility of an unconventional female haircut.
Later that day, my friend, Molly, whom I made the announcement with, and I received an email from a faculty member.
The email was a lot of fluff and sugarcoating to hide the main accusation of the message: “You two are wrongfully making a campus spectacle of yourself.”
While reading this poorly written email, my mouth started breeding its own flies because my jaw fell to the floor. A spectacle. We were being accused of making a spectacle of ourselves for wanting to raise $5,000 for human trafficking survivor programs. We were being accused of making a spectacle of ourselves for having no hair. It was a pathetic allegation. All that week, Molly and I had been selling pies and jugs and raffling off teachers to dress up for a day, but somehow two hairless girls (just hairless on the head, we were not planning to metamorphosize into fish) posed a threat to campus order more than fatally sugary treats or unicorn dressed faculty members.
I attend a single sex high school which prides itself on feminism and yet I was laughed at and yelled at for wanting to do what I wanted with my body.
And yet my proposition to alter my body got our fundraiser more money than it had the previous weeks. Because at the end of the day, everyone would rather pay for the entertainment of two conventionally “ugly” girls treading around the campus than to directly donate to aid for child laborer survivors.
I mean, this is what we expected. After all, that is why we made the announcement of balding ourselves in the first place-- because we knew people love to see fellow humans self destruct.
We aren’t physically self-destructing of course-- it’s not like losing our balding head is a ticking time bomb, but to others, us lowering ourselves on the scale of conventional beauty IS self destructing.
If our announcement featured the phrases, “Hello! We will dye our hair a trendy ombre or get cute ankle tattoos if we raise $5,000” I think people would purposefully not donate. Because a lot of people take pleasure in other people’s pain, whether that pain be physical or a pain inflicted by the judgements of society.
If our announcement were to say, “Donate $5,000 and we will cut off our arms” I don’t think people would donate, at least not with their face and name attached to the donation, but if I were to put out a link in which people could anonymously donate, I strongly believe that people would.
Naturally, I am a cynical person, it’s in my activist nature, but there is, unfortunately, too much evidence to back up my hypothesis.
Marina Abramovic, a Serbian artist, did a performance piece in which she stayed still for six hours and put a collection of objects out. Visitors came in. They attempted to rape and kill her, but even aside from the blatant ethical violations, there was an overarching theme of desiring destruction in every action performed upon Abramovic. People cut her hair into choppy strands, made cuts into her skin, poked her with thorns until she bled.
She turned herself into an object of play, and the immediate lust of most participants was to hurt her. They didn’t steal anything physical from her, but yet there was a yield of satisfaction in destroying her. In making her ugly and in pain.
We feel more beautiful when we make others uglier. We feel happier when we make others sadder. We feel more powerful when we make others our toys.
People had come up to Molly and me and told us that they were only donating because they wanted to see us bald. They could have donated with the intention of receiving a pie or with the intention of helping abused children, but instead they donated because they wanted the amusement of our altered physicality.
While it is hypocritical for us to complain about donations since our initial intent was to increase donations through this specific fundraiser, it was still a little heartbreaking to know people would only help our cause for the opportunity to “damage” us. This is not to say that being a bald girl makes one inferior to a girl with long, luscious hair, but I am claiming that our society considers female baldness as damage.
There’s an episode of the iconic hit TV show, Friends, in which Rachel, Ross’s ex girlfriend, is violently envious of Ross’s new girlfriend, Bonnie. She suggests to Bonnie that she should shave her head because she knows that once she does, Ross will leave her. And it works. First Ross yells at Rachel for damaging his girlfriend, and then he leaves the girlfriend because of said damage.
It is very upsetting that being bald is such a spectacle, and in some ways, I kind of reinforced the spectacle of it by posing the idea of baldness as a reward for donation success, but in the end, there would be no supply if there was no demand. And there clearly was a demand.
While we did make significantly more money since our announcement of impending hairlessness, we did not make $5,000 and will not be going bald. Perhaps someday we will shave our heads, but it will be on our own terms and not as the object of sadism.