The Bald and The Beautiful

So in April I was sitting at work in a busy ER and I had an ‘aha’ moment. Right there. I had to stop what I was doing (don’t worry I wasn’t with a patient), find whatever piece of paper was around (normally a yellow post-it note) and write as fast as I could before the thought disappeared. Now this isn’t just any thought. This was an idea for a performance art piece I was going to do. I knew at that moment it would be done. I wasn’t scared or nervous. In fact I was excited. But, I had to wait. At that time I was working on the biggest art installation/performance I had ever done. I was stressed. Why oh why would this other idea come into my head??? Well who was I kidding. That happens all the time.

Anyway. After my show ended in June, things fell into place. I was invited to give a talk about my work  at an event called Artist21. I was really excited to be part of an amazing line-up of artists before me who had talked about what it means to be an artist in the 21st century. After speaking with the guys who were hosting the event, I had the idea to do my ‘aha’ performance on the same night. It was going to be perfect.

I have been working on a project for the last few years that deals with body image, self confidence and media’s distortion of beauty. My new media work using the online 3D virtual world of Second Life has been an ongoing dialogue with my avatar, Gracie Kendal.

Gracie is the id and ego that sit on my shoulder. She is one aspect of myself that I strive for. Maybe my inner beauty? She is helping me work through an eating disorder as well as to find the confidence to call myself beautiful.

Last April, I decided that Gracie and I should shave our heads. I am so sick and tired of seeing people judged as beautiful based on their appearance. While the media has always criticized people, especially celebrities for weight gain, cutting their hair or choice in clothing I also see it more and more in the general public. In a perfect world people could be who they want, wear what they want, look however they want without judgment of their physical appearance. Why not? Beauty comes from within. Just today a friend said “Confidence is the new beautiful.” Of course another friend pointed out, confidence has always been beautiful. It is just always pushed aside for the physical.

So what if I shaved my head. Why would I do it? How would I feel? Would I change?

I am an overweight woman. I have a double chin, big nose and crossed eyes. Going into this I didn’t think I would look very good with a shaved head. When I was in my early 20’s, I was a little overweight and decided I wanted a pixie cut. A friend’s dad told him later that I looked like a _____ . (Insert a not so nice description here.) While that was over 15 years ago it has stuck with me. What would people say I looked like with a shaved head? Would I care? Should I care?

For at least the last 20 years I have been getting my hair colored. Mostly blonde. My natural color is dark blonde, but I normally go even lighter, sometimes platinum. This last time, I went platinum blonde to look like Gracie. There was a study done at Stanford that showed how we are influenced by our avatars. If Gracie is beautiful, blonde, confident, talented, strong, etc., can’t I be these things too? What would happen if Gracie went bald?

Of course being blonde has its own symbolism/stereotyping. People have been judged for years based on this hair color. They have been called blonde ‘bombshell’ (where did that term even come from???), ditzy, barbie, bimbo, dumb blonde and how many blond jokes are there that are degrading to women.

So a few hours before the performance, I  was sitting at the computer and decided to google images of women with shaved heads. I am not sure  if this was a good or bad idea. But  I did it  anyway. Most of the women were celebrities of course; Charlize Theron is the most recent, for a movie role. Demi Moore, Sigourney Weaver, Natalie Portman, Halle Barry, Cynthia Nixon, Anne Hathaway and of course Britney Spears were there too. Britney got a lot of flack over shaving her own head in a moment of crazyness. So what? Geez!!!

There were also some non-celebrity women’s pictures there too. They looked lovely. It gave me hope. There I go being superficial again about my looks.

The performance went off without a hitch. It was amazing. The experience was wonderful. You can see the whole performance in the video below. I had so much support. The audience had this amazing  energy that made me feel beautiful from start to finish. I was happy. My friend said I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time. This was good as I wasn’t sure if I would cry.

The Bald and the Beautiful from Gracie Kendal on Vimeo.

Once the hair was gone, it was such a weird feeling. I felt light, free, released. I felt open and exposed in a good  way. I wasn’t hiding behind a curtain of hair anymore. I actually did feel more beautiful and confident. I felt natural. I felt like myself. Something I haven’t felt in many years. I felt like this was the true self I had been searching for. My beauty, my identity, my self doesn’t come from my hair nor my clothes nor my accessories. I am not defined by these. I am defined by my inner self. My personality, character, smile. Getting rid of the hair, letting it fall to the floor was a way to let my inner self to emerge and breathe. I am not going to get all spiritual on you. It is just a feeling at the time.

I am more than my hair. I feel so much less pressure to try to look beautiful for someone else. Maybe because I feel beautiful for me? Do I really though? Someone at the performance said that this will change my life. He was right.

Part of the performance was creating an OkCupid site with a picture of me with my shaved head. I wanted it to be an experiment. I don’t know what to expect. I hope that some guy will see the  real me in  the picture and profile, but it may just reinforce the idea that looks seem to be everything.

When I went to work a couple days after the performance, There were mixed reactions. Some people thought I looked great. Some people didn’t say anything. They didn’t know what  to say. Some people asked why I did it. I explained and they totally got it and applauded me for it. One person said “It opens up your face. It suits you.” Another said, “I don’t know, I love long hair on women.” Sigh!!

One  guy said “What, did you lose a bet?” I should have clocked him right  there. No, actually I should have said, “No I won one!”

Two women came up to me and said “Hello beautiful lady!!”

I am still grinning from ear to ear.

Kristine Schomaker is a new media and performance artist, painter and art historian living and working at the Brewery artist complex in Los Angeles. For over 14 years she has been working with various interdisciplinary art forms including online virtual worlds to explore identity and the hybridization of digital media with the physical world. Whether virtual or physical, the object-based work Kristine creates combines elements of color-based gestural abstraction, animation, pattern and design, neo-Baroque and Populence. Using installation, text, photography, mixed media, video and performance for her ongoing conceptual project My Life as an Avatar, she visualizes a narrative/dialogue with her virtual persona, Gracie Kendal. Kristine then documents her experiences on her blog. In 2012, exploring ideas of community, Kristine turned a local gallery into a modern day creation of Gertrude Stein’s salon of the 1920’s with a live mixed-reality dinner party merging the physical world with the online virtual world. Over the summer she also performed The Bald and the Beautiful in which she had her head shaved as a statement to challenge society’s standards of beauty. Currently, Kristine is working as an Artist-in-Residence through the Linden Endowment for the Arts creating an immersive virtual environment which she is planning to bring into the physical world via sculpture/public art work.

11 thoughts on “The Bald and The Beautiful

  1. oh, and, hahaha, I almost forgot to say…

    Wow — we’re all so thrilled to have you come by!
    Thanks so much for sharing this powerful, compelling work with us.

    Do feel free to poke around, comment on anything that’s of interest, and/or do another post, long or short, any time!

  2. Awesome post, Kris!!!!!!! Doesn’t it feel good?! I’ve taken the doggie clippers to my head twice already lol! This summer I toned it down a bit and went for a short pixie… it still feels great though 🙂

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