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What shaving her head taught one woman about hair, society and herself

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

What growing out a buzz cut really looks (and feels) like

Whether you have long, flowing locks, a cute pixie or anything in between, I think it's safe to say that every woman has had a bad hair day and thought about shaving her head at least once. Then we think about the growing (out) pains, and we don't. But one woman did it — and then documented exactly what happened afterward by taking a picture every day for a year.

Samantha McGraw doesn't have cancer. She's isn't trying to make a social statement. She isn't into extreme looks. And yet a year ago she shaved her head bald. Why? She was inspired after hearing that Shailene Woodley, the actress who played Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars, really took the clippers to her own scalp to film the scene where cancer patient Hazel shaves her head.

"That just got me wondering how big of a change could shaving your head really be?” McGraw, who works as an event planner and substitute teacher, said in an interview with HelloGiggles. "How did that affect Shailene's life, and how was she treated?"

From red carpets to photo shoots, Woodley rocked short hair like a boss, but would it be so easy for your average girl to go bald? McGraw decided to find out by donating every inch of her shoulder-length hair and then buzzing her head. (She said it felt almost like breaking a nail — all sensitive, exposed skin.) To complete her project, she then documented her hair with a picture every day for a year, which she made into a video.

She was prepared for how it might change how others saw her but was surprised at how it altered how she saw herself. "Doing this really changed how I felt about myself,” she said. “I looked in the mirror and didn’t really feel pretty, I guess. I felt like I couldn’t hide behind my hair anymore. I felt naked.”

Hiding behind our hair is a sentiment I'm sure many of us can relate to; I know I've totally used my hair as a shield or distraction! But she quickly got past that and on to the daily business of living. She handled criticisms from strangers like a pro: When one woman said she must be a lesbian now, she promptly quickly fired back that hair doesn’t define sexual preference, and got used to styling it through the growing-out period.

It wasn't all social justice and sparkly headbands, though. And she wanted to make sure she shared the downs as well as the ups: "There were also some days when I would go to take my picture, and I didn’t feel like taking it because I kept looking miserable in the photos. But I didn’t want to fake a smile or anything. Those ended up looking worse. So I kept the grumpy or sad looking ones too, because not every day we have is a good day. We have some really awful days."

Experts say the average person's hair grows 1/4 to 1/2 inch a month, so somewhere between 4 and 6 inches a year. So by the time the year was up, McGraw's beautiful curls were just past chin length. But the real growth was inside. "I definitely without a doubt feel more confident with the way I look now. Like, out of this world more confident!" she explained, adding that she's considering cutting it all off again because she liked it so much.

In the end, I love this experiment for the reminder that we are not beautiful because of our hair (or any other feature), but because of the light inside each of us. And if cutting off your hair lets more of that light shine through, then that is an experiment worth trying. Here's to no more hiding behind hair, no matter what the length!

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