The Big Bangs Theory



As I felt pounds of my hair slide off my head, I cast my mind wildly for a positive spin on my new reality. But I could latch on to only one thing: At least this would be the beginning of something new.



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{shortcode-24643cedbe14221289878261864001a8ceef067a}ne Saturday in ninth grade, I sat on the stage of a shopping mall in Singapore as a man I didn’t know stood behind me — electric razor buzzing — ready to shave all my hair off. In front of me, a motley assortment of friends, family, and strangers cheered, their phones clicking away. I kept a smile plastered on my face, even though I was quickly realizing what a colossal mistake I had made.

One month before, a friend said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we all did Hair for Hope?” She was referring to the annual fundraiser hosted by the Children’s Cancer Foundation, which involved participants shaving their heads to raise awareness for childhood cancer. Laughing, I’d agreed. Wouldn’t it be meaningful, raising money for a good cause? And wouldn’t it be a laugh, doing something memorable with all my best friends?

No, it really wasn’t a laugh, I realized as the razor sounded dangerously close to my head. I would soon be painfully familiar with the fact that human hair grows just half an inch every month, no matter how much tugging or rosemary oil one massages into their head; the fact that I relied heavily on my hair to conceal the pimples on my forehead; and the fact that some people could pull off a bald head, but I, alas, could not count myself among the blessed few.

As I felt pounds of my hair slide off my head, I cast my mind wildly for a positive spin on my new reality (Wigs? Homeschool? House arrest?). But I could latch on to only one thing: At least this would be the beginning of something new.

***

{shortcode-7b0d78f749b7c9782f39de42e5139c59e2b30f27}einvention’s becoming a corporate term now — a quick Google search brings up buzzwords like “growth model,” “technological disruption,” and “business trends.” Like most business buzzwords, they’re devoid of any actual technical meaning, but that desire to change it up feels indicative of a larger societal impulse for a clean slate.

I’m skeptical of how useful these reinventions actually are. They feel like PR gimmicks, creating nothing more than a more marketable, more appealing facade. Yet I wasn’t immune to the allure of it either. “This is the week,” I swore to friends on weekends, “that I’m getting my shit together and cleaning my room.” Then I would go home, do my laundry, make a Spotify playlist, and then lie on my newly-made bed for three hours to read a book, foolishly proud of the new me that I had just invented.

Most of my frantic reinventions stemmed from a desire to fix some issue I’d identified in myself. The inability to care for myself, for instance, or feeling shitty about my exercising habits, or my general disorganization. But the consequent changes I made — a new running routine, or new skincare products, or increasingly complicated ways of arranging the various knick-knacks on my desk — didn’t manifest in a brand new identity any more than they manifested in new ways of hiding what I didn’t like about myself.

I treated myself as a palimpsest, plastering over the things that I didn’t like with a shiny new bumper sticker. Meanwhile, all my existing tendencies accumulated below the surface, hidden under layers and layers of superficially built habits and artificial declarations of becoming a new person.

A friend recently taught me about the Big Bang Theory’s counterpart, the Big Crunch, which is the idea that the Universe could eventually collapse just as quickly as it was formed. I’m not a science person, but the notion that everything that we create can be destroyed in less than a second made sense. All my reinventions tended to collapse within days of being instituted, because — as I was well aware — I was very much the same person, but with slightly cuter shelves.

Maybe that was why shaving my head was so crazy, because it meant, literally and figuratively, that I had nothing to hide behind. You can’t cut bangs when your hair is gone. There was nothing I could change about my appearance to rectify the situation. For the first time, I had to face the world un-reinvented, bumper stickers peeling slightly for everyone to see.

***

{shortcode-dd08abb0bb2b02bf4881baaa9fb305566107f8d4}wo days after The Event, I had an ultimate frisbee tournament. On the train I found myself tucking phantom strands behind my ear, grasping at nothing. A woman offered her seat up to me, and I felt too embarrassed to decline.

I loved my teammates, who were friends that I’d known since elementary school, but we shared a brutal honesty born from years of insulting each other. As I walked across the field, my flip-flops crunching the wet grass, I doubted whether I could trust them with this — if these people whom I’d known longer than I didn’t would understand how vulnerable I felt. Goosebumps pricked my skin as I approached.

“Nice head shape,” someone said. Everyone laughed, and then we moved on, as if nothing happened, as if I was the same person I always had been. And I guess I was, but it felt like a miracle that that was true.

When it came down to it, what I really loved about the idea of a reinvention was the notion that I could turn my whole life around. Don’t we all think that? That there is just one thing that’s been holding us back, and that making this tiny change will fix everything else that’s going wrong in our lives?

Shaving my head was the first time I realized that the reverse was true. For once, I had nothing that I could hide behind — and nothing, fundamentally, had changed. The bumper stickers — those tiny attempts at reinvention — weren’t actually what was holding me together. The very thing I was trying to re-invent, after all, was my self.

***

{shortcode-be29865d8a9c7908fa05930b7f2d42574eaa573c}n the coming months, my hair began to grow out. First, a soft fuzz covering my head, the length where I would debate whether to use shampoo or soap. The worst period, I came to realize, wasn’t being bald, but rather the months following it: too short to properly style, but long enough to unattractively stick out in multiple directions.

Others agreed. “I’ll never shave my head,” a friend said to me. “It’s not even about being bald, but how bad it looks when it’s growing out.” As she talked, I stared at her, my hair standing up on end.

But I let it slide, like how I learned to let so many comments slide. I had to, for the sake of self-preservation, because not every encounter was as happy as the one with my frisbee team. On vacation with my parents and sister, we were seated for dinner with an older couple we had never met. “What a beautiful family,” the woman cooed. “So perfect, having a girl and a boy!” I laughed, because the alternative was to get upset and scream.

Sometimes, though, I loved being bald. I had made my peace with being imperfect, rather than burying myself in an avalanche of reinventions. Each little lifestyle switch I made, I began to understand, didn’t have to signify some bigger cosmic change. And in a way, that realization was freeing.

My hair took two years to hit my shoulders, and when it finally did, I took to cutting my own bangs, whenever I felt like it. I would try to emulate whatever hairdressers do, angling the scissors vertically to layer, or pinching my hair between two fingers like chopsticks, but I suspect that the method had little bearing on the result.

Either way, it doesn’t matter. My hair is no longer a symbol of some seismic shift in my character or personality — it’s just something that I alter out of curiosity, or even boredom. Because I am not the Universe, and this isn’t the Big Bang Theory. I wouldn’t become a new person, for better or for worse, the instant I cut curtain bangs.

Recently, I’ve made another bad hair decision. Emerging from a shower, I stared in the mirror, took a pair of Fiskars scissors, and cut my bangs again. I didn’t realize my error until I woke up the next morning, hair dry, and stared into the mirror again. My new bangs covered only half my forehead. I looked like Daphne in Bridgerton, except without the fancy gowns and demeanor to pull it off.

But it was all right. I was calm, even as I texted a friend a picture accompanied by a text in all caps: “SEND HELP I MADE A MISTAKE.” Because, as she replied: “It’ll grow back.” And she’s right. It always does.