Imagining a Body Image

Imagining a Body Image

This January I shaved my head—or, rather, cut off and donated 13″ of hair to Locks of Love and ended up with a .2″ buzz cut. I did this for a couple of reasons. I wondered how much my appearance really affected the way others thought about me, and wanted to see what people would say when they saw this dramatic change in my physical appearance. Also, the mere realization that it scared me made me want to do it even more.

My parents’ opinions were fairly predictable: my mom said, “It looks cute” and my dad said, “It’s a lesson in responsibility.” They said the same thing when I got my first tattoo—which they paid for. Mostly, I was really curious about what my composition teacher would have to say. I thought there would be this funny moment where he would look at me and be surprised and laugh, though I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. In the end, he said nothing. He wasn’t fazed in the slightest and didn’t even acknowledge it. It was the best response ever, because it reflected exactly my reasons for doing it: to prove to myself that, hair or no hair, however I look physically doesn’t change a damn thing about who I am.

My friends and peers were all super complimentary and encouraging, drawing positive connections to Sinead O’Connor and Natalie Portman. I think, because I was happy with my decision and came off as confident as opposed to looking like I was regretful about making a terrible mistake, as long as I was happy they didn’t care much. I learned that, mainly, it’s about how I present myself to people, not what I look like.

But the question of “How do I want to present myself to the world?” doesn’t go away. Sometimes, I want tattoos all over my arms of naked women, dragons, and anchors. Sometimes I want to be a chain smoker and smell like cigars. I want a purple, spiked 6″ Mohawk. At various times I’ve wanted a nose piercing, a cartilage piercing, two earlobe piercings, a lip piercing, an eyebrow piercing, or all of the above. Sort of like slam poet Staceyann Chin’s existential dilemma from her piece “If Only Out of Vanity

I wonder about self-presentation in the music business. Should I be worried about looking business casual at an interview, or wearing an attractive, formal dress to the premiere of my new piece? Will an armful of tattoos make me come off as interesting, or as a warning to stay away? Does anybody have any personal experience with this, or any stories to share?

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2 thoughts on “Imagining a Body Image

  1. Jeremy Howard Beck

    On the Shaving of Heads
    I’ve been shaving my head–with an actual razor, down to the skin–for the past two years. Everyone who knows me from grad school has never seen me any other way. And it’s actually become sort of a trademark; whenever I have a piece played, or I perform myself, people generally have no trouble spotting me after the show to let me know what they think. My attitude is that anything that makes you distinctive as a composer–whether it’s musical, sartorial, physical, or just your sense of humor–can only be good in terms of cultivating an artistic identity that other people can identify (what advertising folks like to call a “brand”).

  2. jennjolley

    What to wear
    I sometimes feel like I don’t know what to wear as a female composer. I feel like I need to be presentable, but I also need to stand out as a composer. Right now, I think male composers can get away with a suit jacket, crisp collared shirt, jeans, and sharp shoes, but I don’t think that look looks good on me. Anyway, I think you will definitely rock the buzz cut.


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