Of all the questions I’m asked about the 50-for-50 Project, the one that comes up most frequently is definitely “Why the hair?”

Sometimes it comes up in the context of context—i.e., What the hell does shaving your head have to do with raising money for WriteGirl?—which I can understand. More on that in a bit, although since we’ve officially begun bean-spilling time, I may as well confess that the desire to shave (or at least, the desire to see what the hell was under all that hair) pre-dated the desire to do anything remotely selfless by a good eight years. I mean, what woman hasn’t sweated through a grow-out summer or written that check for single-process color AGAIN or, hey, seen another bald chick and wondered to herself what it would be like?

But far more frequently, Why the hair? might be loosely translated as What are you, crazy? So few choose baldness (and let’s face it, even the “bald by choice” crowd is more accurately described as “balder by choice”) that opting out of hair is seen as extreme. Why would you do voluntarily what sick people are dragged into kicking and screaming? (And I’m speaking of our friends in chemo, not casting aspersions on military recruits, religious orders, or even right-wing extremists. Although, well, you know.)

* * * * *

The party line for “Why the hair?” vis-à-vis a fundraiser for Girl Empowerment came from my friend Daniel Will-Harris, another writer/performer/marketing hybrid-freak like me. Figures, right?

I was still casting about for a way to quickly sum up a logical “why” when I threw out the problem to him in an email exchange we had way back in mid-July, just two weeks shy of Launch Day. What he wrote back was so logical, so obvious, that if I’d had time to do it between the eleventy-seven constant items on my to-do list, I’d have kicked myself.

Because it’s about what’s inside a girl’s head, not what’s outside.

Duh. I mean, DUH.

Delighted, I tucked away this nugget in my filthy miner’s pockets to satisfy curiosity in the metaphorical saloons of tomorrow, and did not think much more about the email—except, of course, to credit Daniel whenever I used the line, because I’m not an ass—until I pulled it up to check the date on it for this piece. And as I scanned it for the money phrase, I finally saw an equally important line below it:

How many men can you recognize just by their haircuts?

Sure there are the joke haircuts. And, ironically, the very serious “Kojak.”But really, how many?

Whereas I’ll bet that with absolutely no help from Google Image Search, you could come up with five or ten examples of women identifiable by haircut on the spot. Hell, I think Jennifer Aniston and Madonna might be responsible for five or ten iconic styles between them. Every day on Pinterest, I find yet another worshipful gallery of wish-list hair styled created by yet another woman. And so we’re clear on this, I’m not immune.

The more you think about it, the worse it gets: How many hours do we spend on our hair? And how many dollars? Even worse, how much emotion do we have tied up in it? How often do we judge—ourselves, our friends, complete strangers—on something as evanescent and arbitrary as hair? This person is [old/hip/stylish/frumpy]. To be [pitied/admired/envied].

Just how attached are we to our hair? Or, by extension (you’ll pardon the pun), to any of our other external markers?

Like most things I write on my blog, when I say “we,” I’m most definitely saying “me.” When she did my chart, my first-shrink-slash-astrologer warned me that with Venus in Leo, my obsession with my hair wasn’t going to end anytime soon. “You’ll always need to be happy with your hair,” she said.

Which is why I thought of her when I woke up last Wednesday morning and really looked at myself in the mirror for the first time. Could I be happy with my hair, I wondered, if my hair was no-hair?

Because unless I had completely lost my head along with the stuff on top of it, I was actually digging my no-hair, and was thinking of not-keeping it.

* * * * *

Trust me when I say that I have thought through the angles on this baby. I know that my no-hair could easily become as much of a “thing” as my hair ever was, if not more. Already, it’s my new toy: I have endless fun in the store, trying on this or that, seeing what works with the not-hair.1 While I have no hair, I have no less vanity. Indeed, I may have more: I actually like how I look! And I am not at all embarrassed that I like it!

So (a), it’s clear that I have not exactly evolved to a higher plane and, (b) it’s bizarre as hell, but there it is. Me, bald equals me, pretty. Go figger.

But it’s not all vanity. I’ve jokingly referred to the effect the shave has had on me as a “reverse Samson”, and I wasn’t kidding—I feel almost shockingly more powerful than I did pre-shave. Part of all this feeling good is doubtless a residual effect of accomplishment: raising more than $50,000 is a not-insubstantial achievement, and overcoming my fear of doing something I considered impossible is arguably a bigger one. (It’s the lesson I hope anyone looking through all this for one will find, anyway.)

The thing is, I am not sure what the thing is just yet. There’s so much to unpack about this experience that it could take me some time. More time than nature allows: hair grows fast. In a week, I’ve already gone from razor-smooth to sandpaper to velcro to enjoyable fuzz. Seriously—I’d be the hit of the rave these days, if they still had raves, and if I could be talked into going to one. My friend The Other Colleen, who was also bald for a time, warns me of weeks to come that will be filled with people wanting to rub my head like it was a Buddha belly or an especially soft cat.

For now, then—until I can figure this out, and until I can get some mileage from my surprisingly feminine new wardrobe—I’m sticking with not-hair. And when I find I have some answers, or perhaps that I’ve become a wee bit overly attached to turning heads (albeit for reasons of freakiness), or I’m through The Change, or I’m assured that it will grow in the luxurious shade of silver I’m longing for, then I’ll probably grow it out again.

Maybe. Possibly.

Unless, of course, I don’t.


Photo by the amazing Josh Ross. Full gallery of his “photobooth” shots of the head-shaving is here. There’s also a terrific series of “event” photos by the equally amazing Barry Schwartz. 

1Slim, clingy, simple, and dark, for starters; “patterned,” “structured,” and “outré,” my former go-to looks, now make me look like a tiny lesbian court jester. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!


  1. Oh, this is so lovely, Colleen! The attachment and socially-induced myths about hair and femininity. I’ve fantasized for years about shaving my head, and once offered to shave my head in solidarity with the wonderful Molly Ivins and my incredible supervisor when they both lost theirs to chemo. The last time I saw Molly, at my boss’ memorial at her home, she was subdued, but flamboyant, either gloriously and shinily uncovered, or nonchalantly flaunting her huge, black, velveteen “Black Rabbit” hat. There’s real, authentic revolutionary spirit in detaching with love from anything that stands for equality, truth, and humanity. I am in awe of what you’ve accomplished, and am already seeing the results in other awesome women stepping up and making significant, peaceful, compassionate change in the world. We need medals for people like you, my boss, Molly, and any woman who dares to take action to help others. We need more exalted words to describe the new wave of feminism, the state of caring for and about all people. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    1. Thank you for invoking the great Molly Ivins on this blog. And I am all for any wave of feminism to replace the funfeminism that Jill so expertly eviscerates on I Blame the Patriarchy. ANY.

    1. Right? I was so startled by it when I saw her, I forgot to comment on it specifically. Just lots of incoherent babbling about how great she looked. Which she did, but still: one wants to remark on a significant haircut!

  2. Hey Colleen. Well done and you do look great. That’s some beautiful profile you’ve got.

    What a freedom to let those tresses go and redefine your beauty. Have fun exploring.

    Applause from Canada!

  3. You look great, Colleen and so happy too. I love the photo with your other bald friends! Congrats on your huge accomplishment + thank you for making 50 look not so scary after all.

  4. I have to admit I’ve been itching to ask “WHY”, but I held off because I figured you’d tell if you wanted to. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the answer via Daniel.

    As a woman I get how personal the hair can be. The whole appearance thing, and dealing with age. I actually have found it a relief to be be 50= and let go of some of it. The hair was a big piece of that some.

    For around 15 years from 25 to 40ish I had a genius hair dresser (David) that gave me head turning dos consistently. I was one of those women defined by their hair. Then he retired and I was never again satisfied.

    Last year after a series of especially bad cuts I buzzed it and have been cutting it myself ever since. It is far from perfect, and even further from the magic that David did, but it’s free and freeing!

    I admire this so much Colleen. You are so honest and real. This project hair aside has inspired me to think far bigger and take more chances. You have tossed a big pebble into the pond my friend, and the ripple will be HUGE!


    1. I will be hitting you up for electric clipper recos soon. Need one that clips very, very close, and is sturdy enough to withstand many, many uses. :-)

      (Thanks, Gwyn.)

  5. Love it. Love everything. The road you traveled and shared with us, the reason WHY you did this for WriteGirl, the goals, the incentives, the over achieving, the tears, the outstanding support….and the hair. I mean, no hair. Love it all Colleen. I’ll say it till my own hair falls out – you inspire me and this world needs more inspiration. ooooxx Jenn

  6. Echoing @jenn forgie and all about this post, the project, and beautiful you!

    Plus @Claudia for invoking Molly Ivins. (Wouldn’t she be horse-laughing about this year’s GOP presidentialists? I miss her!) Like you, a true model for writing girls.

  7. First, just because, you do look wonderful. Very pretty, I agree. More delicate, if that makes sense?

    Second, the question of women and their hair is a wonderful one. I’ve been growing my hair out grey, out from under blonde highlights and then additional brown lowlights. Oddly, I too feel prettier. I look forward to more of your thoughts and discussion on this.

  8. Colleen! It was so great to meet you last week! So my first impression was without the hair and I have to say that you look great – hip, cool, “artsy”! The 50-for-50 Project was very inspiring to us! We had just started working on the “Square Inches of Love” project and your story helped push us forward. We officially launched yesterday! See what we are doing to help children with catastrophic diseases [CW: you can click on Mark’s name to find out more]. See you again soon!

  9. You look fucking incredible. It suits you so well. And you’re welcome to be an honorary lesbian, as far as I’m concerned (and I feel I can rightly dub you as such).

    I’m still so proud, so full, and so beaming over this whole thing.

    And I keep hearing you asking me, “Are you *sure* it’s impossible?”

  10. Wahoo! We’re in the metaphorical salon of tomorrow! Inside the head not outside. Fantastic!

    So going with the not-hair, does that mean shaving regularly?

  11. You look radiant! And all that you wrote about feeling more powerful. Hum?

    Long ago, Persis Khambatta, a beautiful, bald woman, adopted the Kojak look to play Lieutenant Ilia, the Enterprise’s Deltan navigator, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Since then, I have considered shaving. Sad, that my hair is falling out from thyroid issues but if it grows in thicker, this may be an option.

  12. Having shaved my head twice, I can confidently say I know what all that interior weirdness feels like. And the funny thing is that I’m feeling a lot of the same things now that I’m growing it all out. My hair is just cresting over my shoulders, the longest it’s been since…third grade? Confusion, power, and sexiness all came with it as soon as I got past the dreaded mullet stage. The other funny thing is that I’m considering whacking it all off again. My hair and I have an interesting relationship, apparently. Thank God I don’t have Venus in Leo.

    Regardless of whatever you decide – hair or no-hair – you rock that shit.

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