To celebrate my birthday and the start of a new year for me, I decided to get my hair chopped off into a small buzz on June 1st, 2015. Because my birthday is roundabout halfway through the year, I thought it would be a good time for new beginnings. Hair is a huge part of my identity, and I felt incomplete the way I was.

I’ve wanted to shave my head once (and be bald) to see how it feels at least once in my life. The thought has been with me for over a decade. I never had the strength to take the plunge because my parents and brother were dead set against it…until now.

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Growing up as I did, having dark, thick, lush hair is a sign of health and beauty among Indians (the anthropology of hair – I’ve even written a thesis on it!). Cutting off one’s hair deliberately is done when grieving the loss of a parent, child, or spouse. This why some Hindu widows are seen with shaved heads, mourning for the rest of their lives. And individuals who join the ascetic order shave or pluck (in Jainism) their hair as well to show their renunciation of the worldly life and its associated attachments. It was also mentioned that it would be insensitive for me to be walking around in the UK looking like a Skinhead – believed to be the South Asian-hating British equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan (this is not a fair and whole picture of Skinhead members, but the stereotype). And in a more mainstream point of view, having no hair is obviously also linked to cancer patients and the side effects of chemotherapy. For all these reasons, I couldn’t go against my family and get the haircut I always wanted.

So, understandably, the fact that I nearly shaved it all off was not taken all too well by the family when they saw me after my transformation, but they have thankfully come to terms with it. When I had made up my mind to carry through with my plan a few days in advance, I had tried to prepare my grandparents and family members as best I could to minimize the shock factor. But my reasons for taking the plunge are unrelated to the reasons given by my family…and no less important.

I got my first professional haircut when I was in high school I think. Until then, my dad – who liked me with long hair – had always been in charge of trimming my hair. Going with my friends for my first haircut was a thrill and gave me a strong sense of liberation. My hair was still long, but it was nice to have it styled. It wasn’t long after that I convinced my mom to take me to get brownish highlights. I don’t think she realized what I had done until she saw my locks bleached and had a mini-shock. I don’t think my dad was best pleased either.

Anyway, not too many years later, I started cutting my hair shorter and shorter. From below my shoulders to shoulder to a long bob etc… Every time I’d cut it, I’d wait for it to grow out for about a year before cutting it short again. The same goes for my highlighting experiments every year or so.

Getting a haircut is something of a stress buster for me though. If I’ve been particularly sad and stressed, I’m known to get up one morning, get dressed up, and head to any local hairdressers willing to give me highlights or a cut. Doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday, snowing outside, or a day when I knew I’d have to be in the library studying all night. I guess that’s the power of hair and a makeover. It’s an instant pick-me-up. So my family is used to seeing my medium length pixie cuts since I was in Chicago.

The decision to buzz my hair had multiple reasons. But first, these are the reasons I opted for the short buzz instead of my much-wanted shaved look:

  • I thought my scalp would be too itchy and hard to manage if I shaved my head
  • I didn’t know if the shape of my skull was pretty enough for me to feel confident (as opposed to embarrassed) about shaving it
  • My grandfather was ill at the time and I didn’t want everyone to misunderstand my shaved head as a sign of impending grief.
  • I didn’t want my hair growth to be in the ‘awkward and spiky’ phase when I attending my cousin’s wedding in 6 months.

Why I finally decided to get buzzed!:

1. I find this celebrity hairstyle to be bold, beautiful, attractive, and sexy.

2. I think going against the cultural norm is empowering for women and a major confidence boost.

3. It shows I don’t care what others think about me and that I’m comfortable in my own skin…being me.

4. I don’t have extra pressure (spouse or in-laws) stopping me from doing something I’ve really wanted to do for as long as I can remember.

5. I have never seen a picture of a female buzz I haven’t instantly loved.

6. I was always jealous of all my male friends who had short spiky fuzzball scalps and I wanted one myself!

7. I love having short hair but hate the feeling of hair falling into my eyes and face, and tickling the back of my neck, so this would be perfect!

8. If I can go through with this, I can do anything!

And the last 2 points are more philosophical and probably the most important:

9. I wanted 2015 to be a milestone year for me which would shed the negativity, hardships, and depression I had endured for the preceding 10 years with hopes of happiness, fearlessness, and contentment for the next decade. I wanted to replace my old skin with the brand new me!

10. Because Indian hair grows an average of 1cm per month, I wanted only the newest memories created in 2015 to grace my head, so to speak. So buzzing my hair to 2 to 4cms meant I could do that to some extent. I wanted to detach myself from the old pains and not have them burden me in my new quest.


“During the last few months of the camp’s existence the shortage of food was so acute that the prisoners (the camp staff were still well fed) resorted to cannibalism, and one former British internee gave evidence at the trial of the Commandant and some of his staff that when engaged in clearing away dead bodies as many as one in ten had a piece cut from the thigh or other part of the body which had been taken and eaten, and that he had seen people in the act of doing it. To such lengths had they been brought by the pangs of hunger.

  This witness said:

I noticed on many occasions a very strange wound at the back of the thigh of many of the dead. First of all I dismissed it as a gunshot wound at close quarters, but after seeing a few more I asked a friend and he told me that many of the prisoners were cutting chunks out of the bodies to eat. On my very next visit to the mortuary I actually saw a prisoner whip out a knife, cut a portion out of the leg of a dead body and put it quickly into his mouth, naturally frightened of being seen in the act of doing so. I leave it to your imagination to realize to what state the prisoners were reduced, for men to risk eating bits of flesh cut from black corpses.”

— Lord Russell of Liverpool 2008, p. 178

The “camp” that Lord Russell of Liverpool, also known as Edward Frederick Langley Russell, was referring to in this quote was Bergen-Belsen. I originally came across this account by Lord Russell in Garry Hogg‘s 1958 book Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice (p. 188-189) while doing research for an essay on survival cannibalism in the 20th century. Because The Scourge of the Swastika was originally published in 1954 by London: Cassell, with this 2008 version just harboring a new introduction by Alistair Horne, I was able to track this second-hand reference to its source.

Two of my quotes posted on this blog have made mentioned of cannibalism. To read them please click here and here. I have already evaluated that the practice of humans eating flesh from other humans is neither a strange nor rare practice around the world.  This practice is thought to be most justified as a method of survival. Thus, the act of cannibalism taking place in the mortuary of Bergen-Belsen due to acute starvation and hunger is understandable. For prisoners to have to resort to such ‘inhuman’ measures, however, can often lead to much embarrassment and a devaluing of self-worth. Still, it would be erroneous to assume that the prisoner mentioned in the witness testimony speedily ate the chunk of human flesh because he was “naturally frightened of being seen in the act.” If this act referred to the prisoner being caught by Nazi officers for not following orders, that would be true. However, to assume that anyone would be appalled or would retaliate to see a prisoner commit “the act” of cannibalism is unlikely and unknown. At least that is what I believe.

Surprisingly, this is the only (direct) evidence I could find of cannibalism taking place during the Holocaust. You can read this section here on Google Books. While many sources express that cannibalism was rife during this episode in history, I have been unable to find details in the literature. This may be because of the embarrassment felt by camp survivors who partook in this activity post-WWII. As their dire circumstances have been replaced by comfort and reintegration into societal life, this may in fact be a memory many have repressed or hidden from historians, archivists, and loved ones.

Reference: Lord Russell of Liverpool 2008. The Scourge of the Swastika: A History of Nazi War Crimes during World War II. New York: Skyhorse Publishing

“People eating [people] occurs the world over from time to time regardless of whether the eaters and the eaten come from societies that approve or disapprove of the practice. There is no puzzle as to why they do it… [they] must eat each other’s corpses or die of starvation.”

Marvin Harris 1985, p. 199

Now, I have mentioned in another post that cannibalism (humans eating flesh from other humans) is not only practiced to ward off starvation. Rather, people have eaten people for many reasons and for many millennia. Flesh, crushed bone, raw, cooked, for a celebration, in a funeral, for longevity, for control, for survival, for gastronomic pleasure, as a remedy, or as a form of filial piety – the factors of cannibalism are numerous. Interestingly, the ‘victim’ may not even need to die for cannibalism to take place (think of vampires that don’t need to suck all the blood from their food source)… Cannibalism doesn’t even have to involve two parties, a person can cannibalize parts of themselves while still alive through actions such as consuming their newborn baby’s placenta, for example. What this means is that while Marvin Harris is right about the universality of cannibalism practices throughout time, space, cultures and history, he mistakenly assumes that cannibalism exists among the human race due to our inherent survival instincts. I, for one, would need more proof before I could decide that this was the only original reason for its inception…

 Reference: Harris, M. 1985. Good to Eat: riddles of food and culture. London: Allen & Unwin

“As a primal mode of connecting the human body to the world, refusal to eat existentially signifies one’s rejection of the body as well as its material relationship with the world. Thus, the absolute rejection of food also signifies something absolute: the will and power to kill oneself, a social behavior unique to the human species.”

— Gang Yue 1999, p. 51

It seems it is human nature to eat for survival, thus it is the act of eating that makes us worldly beings. While this quote by Yue is used as a justification for acts of human cannibalism, I also found this to be highly relevant to the cases of the renunciated, hermits, and fasters. Before, discussing its other meanings however, it is important to say something about cannibals. Simply speaking, cannibalism is the consumption of human flesh by other human beings. While many factors are involved, the resulting impacts on society are varied as cannibalism is considered a social taboo in many societies, and a social necessity in many others. Eating the flesh of a fellow human can be a sign of deep respect and a form of embodying someone’s best attributes, a necessity to avoid starvation (i.e. in times of famine), or a way to showcase one’s power over the weaker other…even beyond death. However, the motivation and function of being a cannibal can, of course, only be discerned based on the socio-cultural context of the person performing these acts.

 Gang Yue makes the point that if one refuses food – any kind of food – then that is akin to proof that the person is not eager to live. However, as I said, a much deeper meaning can also be gleaned from such a refusal. Fasting, whether political, religious, or health-related, is also the act of abstaining from food and drink by personal choice. Therefore, the absolute rejection of eating can be used as a form of control and power over the eating majority in these contexts without the aim of killing oneself.

 I realize I’ve taken this quote slightly astray from its context, however, but it is such a thought-provoking idea, as a whole, that justice can only be made through further discussion it seems. My opinion? Yue makes a statement where he mixes up the meanings of starvation and fasting. Both involve lack of food in the human body, but starvation is endured through suffering and involves the loss of self-control and personal power, while fasting is something embarked upon – which leads to heightened control and power over oneself and others. Generally speaking, only two exceptions exist – eating disorder patients and hunger strike activists – both tread the tightrope that distinguishes and blurs the lines between starvation and fasting.

Reference: Yue, G. 1999. The Mouth that Begs: hunger, cannibalism and the politics of eating in modern China. North Carolina: Duke University Press.

P.S. I also found an interesting article called Hunger Politics: Towards Seeing Voluntary Self Starvation as an Act of Resistance which raises questions about the meaning of hunger, self-starvation, and the starved body among women living in the West. Have a look!