Imagine a beautiful woman is walking on the street. I would dare to bet that you, whether you are male or female, have just pictured her with long hair. It is very interesting how the way we think about beauty is related to hair. At least you did not imagine this beautiful woman in the first instance bold headed, right? While if I asked you to imagine a beautiful man, the chance is bigger you picture him bold headed…

In April this year, part of the Mindfulness Project team will ordain as monks and nuns for one month. And you have the opportunity to do this as well! As a man, your head and your eyebrows will obligatorily be shaved off during the ordination ceremony. Women have the choice to skip this section of the ceremony and keep their hair. However, it is recommended that women also shave off their hair and eyebrows to have the full experience. However, it might be extremely hard for you to do this.

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In this blog post, we provide you some background information about our relationship with hair, why you most likely don’t want to shave it and why it would be a great experience to do it anyway. Because the choice to shave the hair is generally more difficult for a woman than for a man, we focus on women in this blog post. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to men…

Our relationship with hair

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A big part of our personality is attached to our looks. And how we look is strongly affected by our hair. Hair has so many different associations in our society, like youth, beauty, pride, and success. Long hair is in most cultures a symbol for femininity. The fact that the general perception of head-shaven woman in societies often remains negative, shows how prejudicial to femininity the symbol is. The cutting or complete removal of the hair as a woman seems to affect the message of femininity, whereas it does not affect that of masculinity. Men may shave their heads, this ‘look’ is completely normalized – if not fashionable. Whereas the main image associated with a female shaved head is probably disease, especially cancer. So as to most women, shaving your hair will most likely be a big sacrifice to you. So why would you do it?

Finding out who you truly are

There is a number of reasons why Buddhist monks and nuns shave their heads. The biggest one is that the hair is an aspect of the identity and is more often than not, associated with vanity. To find out who you truly are underneath the many layers of conditioning society has put on you, the hair is removed so that this level of identity is also removed. It puts everyone on the same level, and it is also for practical reasons as you save time by not having to take care of your hair.

Becoming a Buddhist monk or nun is about completely letting go of any preconceptions of who or what you should be, and all about finding out about who and what you already are underneath the conditioning. It is about leaving your old life behind and starting to live a life away from the trappings of vanity, attachment, personality, and ego. The symbolism of shaving your hair and the occasion of the ordination ceremony will have a deep impact on your subconscious.

Complete detachment

Another reason why nuns shave their heads is to symbolize their growth to detachment. Attachments are the cause of suffering. Buddhists see the act of shaving their heads as the first step on their journey of complete detachment. So when they shave their head it is a big symbol to others that you are on this path of enlightenment. Our concept of self is attached to so many things, but when you pursue enlightenment you have to let go of yourself. There will be no ‘you’ anymore in full realized enlightenment. For most people, their self-image changes radically when shaving their hair, so it’s the first step in that direction.

Celibacy

Hair is strongly related to beauty and beauty is strongly related to sexuality. The shaved head does symbolize celibacy and renunciation for the Buddhist nun. The choice to shave your head involves a conscious and accepted renunciation of worldly desires and the traditional feminine destiny of marriage and procreation. At least during the time of the vow, if temporary, or until the woman disrobes. But in the meantime, the shaved head, for both men and women, symbolizes this renunciation, whose core is celibacy. It is the gender identity that is being lost with the totality of hair on a woman’s head. This loss can mean a renunciation of gender identity through celibacy for Buddhist nuns. This choice of renunciation of sexuality will lead eventually to purification and liberation.

Still in doubt to shave your hair?

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Buddhist nuns show an example of chosen baldness. But it remains the case that this body treatment is counter-intuitive for a woman especially: a shaved head is considered to be contrary to femininity, and therefore is challenging women more than men. Hair is central to the definition of a woman since its absence seems to challenge feminine identity. Both in the eyes of the woman, as in the eyes of others. So if you have the choice to keep your hair, why would you decide to shave it?

If the above reasons why Buddhist nuns shave their heads have not convinced you yet to do it as well, it’s probably because you are afraid. Afraid of what you will look like. Afraid of what others think of you. You might have thoughts like ‘It’s easy for those Thai Buddhist monks to shave their heads and return to society after their vow, everybody will understand their choice. But if I will go back to my western society people won’t understand and think I’m crazy to ordain as a nun for a month/ I am an extreme feminist/ having a severe disease/…’. But try to see shaving your head and having this type of thoughts as a personal challenge to grow.

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Also, Thai people will not see and treat you as a full nun if you don’t shave your hair. So you won’t get the same level of respect and therefore not the ‘real experience’. Of course, it’s up to you if you mind this, but having the full experience might be a reason to persuade you. So are you ready to ordain as a nun (or a monk) now? Then book your spot!

Hair grows fast…

Eloura Wild made a short video about her experience of shaving her head. She hasn’t been a nun, but had a terrible relationship with her hair and decided to shave it to see what would happen. She realized you don’t have to have hair to be beautiful. You don’t have to have hair just because you are a woman. You can be beautiful without hair, hair doesn’t define you. Another nice thing about her video: she took a photo of herself for one year after shaving. And you’ll see how fast it grows.