Sunday, 18 September 2011

Shaving to save slaves

Hair is an odd thing. Desired in some places, detested in others. It can be a method of rebellion or a means of making a statement, a demonstration of faith or a social label. Musicals have been written about hair, songs sung and decades discernible by their signature coiffures. In more extreme cases, it is a tool for exerting control over and dominating someone.

Hair is a very subjective thing. Some men recoil at the idea of a woman with short hair and will only go for the longhaired blonde variety. There are girls who get giddy at men with long hair. The issue of facial hair (yum) on men is one of much contention among girls and gays. Whatever your hair management strategy, you will never satisfy everyone. Deciding to shave my head for charity demonstrated this even more sharply. After announcing that I was shaving off my hair for Anti-Slavery International I was met with a mixture of heart-warming awe and support or shock and scorn. I was even offered money NOT to shave my hair.

Luckily, the admiration came from the people I cared most about – save for my mother, who, refusing to donate any money, dismissed it as another ridiculous post-adolescent act of rebellion, done only to shock the family. In truth, I arrived at the decision after cutting my very long hair short. After making that leap, a whole new world of hairstyle options lay before me. A long harboured desire to shave my head at some point in my life was jettisoned in to action after my lovely hairdresser, Christy, suggested I could always raise money for charity at the same time as going hairless. She begged to be the one to do it, and was.

I have a habit of being impulsive and going with ideas, which, quite literally, burst into existence in my mind: I know I am being reckless and that I may very well regret the consequences of these ideas. (The trick is to sign a mental disclaimer form with oneself).  But is shaving one’s head and doing away with hair really so reckless? Hair grows back. There are many voluntarily bald men – why shouldn’t a woman voluntarily go bald? Buddhist monks – the very bastions of level-headedness and altruism – shave their heads. Yes, the visual impact of not having hair is dramatic, as a hairstyle can completely change how a person is perceived, but I think the boldness of the change is completely counteracted by the benefit of giving over £500 to a charity who works towards abolishing slavery. If shaving my head is extreme and drastic, it ain’t nothing next to the way in which some human beings treat others.
Choosing what kind of charity to donate to was hard. There are so many evils to fight against, and so many good causes to support. Perhaps slavery had been at the back of my mind after seeing many tweets pertaining to the anniversary of its abolition on 1st August 1883. I had also recently watched a Russian-Swedish film, Lilja-4-Eva, which tells the story of a Russian girl lured to Sweden under false pretenses to work as a sex slave, and when I discovered Anti-Slavery International I knew this was a fantastic organisation to support and that I was supporting a cause I feel very strongly about.
Freedom is one of our most valued ideals and one of the most sought after rights. The current uprisings in nations which have had their freedom suppressed demonstrates this. It is seen as a basic human right: without it nothing else can happen.

My best of friends, Rachael, came with me to support and film the proceedings. In the car on the way to the salon, I felt the same kind of nausea I did when about to do a bungee jump off Victoria Falls: biology says no! Rachael was preparing herself to clean up a psychological meltdown. Perhaps the clippers exerted some calming vibrations or the remembrance of why I was doing this made me forget any nerves. I was surprised by how much I not only liked, but also loved, my new aesthetic. I was also surprised by how many wonderful compliments I am receiving, many from absolute strangers who come into the deli in which I work.

For the last month, every time I receive an email from JustGiving informing me someone else has donated to my charity I get a little surge of satisfaction. My darling mother even came round and donated very generously. It makes me feel as if I am doing something great. What may have started out as a selfish idea to merely have the experience of being G.I. Jane, has now led to over £500 (and counting!) being raised for charity. The page will stay open for a while longer.

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