Tyler Gross

My senior year of college, I borrowed some clippers, wore a giant trash bag, and buzzed off my long Afro in a friend's bathroom.

I didn't expect to be doing this. I grew up on the Eastside (if you're new to Seattle, that's the suburban stretch along I-405), and by the time I was old enough for college, I longed for a radical change in environment, which is how I ended up at Wellesley, a women's college on the East Coast. There's a phenomenon there called the "Wellesley chop," where some students dramatically cut their long hair into a pixie cut. From celebrating coming out to saying a giant "fuck you" to beauty standards and expectations, many students use this "fresh start" as an opportunity to try out different versions of themselves.

My hair was the thing that I felt most connected me to being Black and being a woman. Black women the world over have sat between their mothers' knees, feeling their hair being pulled into tight, neat cornrows or twists. I still remember the smell of the product my mom used as she pressed my curls straight with a hot comb. I prided myself on how long my hair had gotten, how diligently I'd oiled, conditioned, and cared for it. I felt like a beautiful, femme, Black woman. To sever that connection was to sail into unknown waters.

But college is the perfect time to experiment with your appearance, to push the limits of what you know yourself to be, and to have power over your body in a new way. Everyone from friends to my own mother said I was crazy for doing it. My hairdresser almost convinced me that my head looked like an actual peanut beneath all my hair. Had I believed her, I could never have served the adoring public Black hipster Furiosa—a look I was destined for.

Don't shave your head because I did, or because you want to get some person's attention, or because everyone else has a shaved head and you don't (this is unlikely unless you hang out with actual skinheads, in which case, we need to talk about your friend group). It'll make that super-awkward ugly-duckling phase of growing your hair out a million times worse if you do it for un-punk reasons.

Also, if you do it: Document "before" for future reference. It's maybe the best part of any transformation story. Here's me with hair, and here's me without. I've used this party trick to get laid for years: I'm beautiful and I contain multitudes, fuck me please!

And bring a friend along. I don't know why, but there's really something special about having another human being witness your transformation. It's like they are a priest blessing the passing of a soul to a new body. I asked an older queer Black femme classmate to help me shave my head to make it feel more like a rite of passage rather than an impulsive decision. We humans are social animals; lean into that.

Then revel in your new appearance. If I had known how great it feels to have a cute girl massaging my nubby head, or to have the steady warmth of direct sunshine on my scalp, I would have shaved my head in high school, no doubt about it. Don't get me wrong, transformation is rough—sometimes I felt so raw and vulnerable, I cried. I looked into buying wigs on the internet. But I learned a lot more about myself in the process.

Despite the change in my appearance, I hadn't fundamentally changed. I was just giving voice to a different version of myself—a version that was edgier, more vulnerable, and fearless. Which is fucking awesome.