Beautiful

This is me in a current photo. Long hair!
Note: This is a flash nonfiction essay I wrote several years ago. Some of my writer friends have seen it. As a junior in college, I shaved my head, mostly to express emotional pain. I wasn't a rebel; I just hurt. This is the story. 



It was the rare person to whom I told the truth: why I shaved my head. Instead, I would say, “Because I got bored.” Or, “For the fun of it.” People would look at me oddly when I said this – half-interrogative, half-unnerved. I lied because I felt hostile. I lied because I didn’t want people’s pity. But then, every once in a while, a person who peeled off my armor, whom I felt I should honor with the truth, asked the question. Then I would say, “Because I wanted to look as ugly as I felt.”

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                My brother found me in the bathroom, attempting to wield his electric razor, tufts of my dark-blonde hair littering the floor. He took the whole thing as a big joke. He ended up completing the job for me, shaving my head to concentration-camp stubble. When he was done, I felt triumphant, gleeful. When my dad saw me, he cried. The only other time I remember my dad crying was when his father died. His tears punctured a hole in my chest. But I didn’t cry.
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                When I thought of what I was doing to myself, I used the word “ravage.” As in, to ravage what beauty I had. As careful about words as always, I intended “ravage” to mean “to ruin.”

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                A shaved head transformed me. I was no longer unassuming and unnoticed. I stood out. Men with barbed-wire tattoos hit on me. Clean-cut men studiously avoided me. Some people told me that the shape of my skull was compelling. Others assumed that I was making a political statement, that I was a feminist, that I was rebelling. Everyone was sure I was trying to say something. Rather, I was hurting something. I hurt.

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                A long time has passed. My hair falls to my shoulders now. I want to be beautiful in the way that women do. “Beautiful” no longer means “vulnerable,” no longer means "weak.” “Beautiful” is complex, meaning itself, meaning something shining and inherent and whole. “Beautiful” asks a question; “beautiful” is the answer.

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                Sometimes, when I look sideways in a mirror, I find myself beautiful. I begin.


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