This morning, I started out the day by cleaning my ear piercings. I have not done this for over twenty years. But last night, after I held the black teddy bear (who incidentally had four silver studs in each ear), I picked up my “after care instructions” and decided to be diligent about my new(ish) adornment: tiny, blue studs in my lobes.

Photo by Andrea Somers

I had my ears repierced because, while I mostly disregarded the suggestion when someone told me dangly earrings would help me look “more like a girl” (my words, not theirs) after I got my head shaved, I have come to realize over the last two weeks that I do, very much, want to have people recognize that I am a woman when we pass on the street. I want children to not be puzzled at my dress and shaved head.

Part of me really wants to be “past” this, beyond this idea that my femininity is tied up in my appearance. I want to think that what makes me a woman is something internal, something beyond the physical. And of course, that’s true on many levels. But then, I know that our physicality is not divorced from who we are – I know this because I’ve seen friends struggle not only with their own perceptions of identity due to weight struggles but also from friends whose identity didn’t match the physical sex they were born with. So part of me also wants very much to identify my gender with my body. I just need to get all of me on board with that idea.

I shaved my head to show solidarity – on some small level – with women who lost their hair to cancer treatment, and while I cannot feel that solidarity entirely because, after all, I had a choice – I do think I am knowing a bit about what this is.

In fact, I had one man ask me what my treatment was – “What do they have you on?” when he saw me. His wife had chemo and lost her just a little over a year before. When he said this, I was a little angry – how come every woman who has short hair must have an illness? Why is it not an accepted practice for women to shave their heads just because they want to? Why is it seen as an act of rebellion or “giving up” as some seem to perceive it? I still wonder those things.

But with time, I remember that this man’s statement was exactly why I did this. Because women who lose their hair can have people ask them private medical questions all the time, seemingly without chagrin or embarrassment.

First lesson learned. Now, six weeks until those dangly earrings. . .

Do you carry part of your identity in your physicality? How do you feel about that? Women, how much of your femininity is tied up in your hair?