In Her Words: Yasmin Ahram on Freeing Herself

5 years ago by

We met Yasmin last Summer and have loved her ever since! She’s an incredible writer with a unique international background and a strong voice to share. Several months ago, in an act of self-empowerment, she decided to shave her head. Since we’re big fans of dramatic hair-change tales here, we couldn’t be more excited to bring you Yasmin’s. Her decision had everything to do with ridding herself of other’s expectations and making an autonomous choice in regards to her own womanhood…


Everyone had an opinion about it, but only because I let them. It wasn’t about proving other people wrong, although that was a great byproduct. It was about proving to myself that I could. My hair was such a big deal, and I wanted to strip it from all the meanings it had accumulated.

Most of my friends doubted I’d do it. “Yasmin, you like your hair too much,” “you’re beautiful, but what if you have a weird head shape?” “You’re gonna complain SO much if you do, can we avoid that please.” My dad had kissed my hands begging me not to, and what millennial doesn’t love challenging their dad to test the limits of their “open-mindedness.” “I get you’re trying to prove a point,” he said, “but is there another way to do it? Does it have to be this drastic?” My mom was pretty indifferent, but warned me I couldn’t come crying to her if I regretted it; this one was the worst, because it forced me to look within and make my OWN decision.

I had let everyone else’s definitions of beauty and womanhood influence my own, to a fault. For the most part, I was aware that I was trying to fit in and please, seeking acceptance and validation from others to feel good within myself. I kept asking for their opinions, and that’s exactly what I got, other people’s opinions. It wasn’t until I did it, until I shaved my head a few months ago, that I realized the extent to which I had become a puppet in a play I was trying to convince myself I believed in. Strings attached to every joint, each move dictated by the powers I had let be.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked having long hair, and I was praised for it. I would try to grow it as long as I can, do the “does it touch my butt” test in the shower every time and bend my back to inch it closer, longer, my hand reaching for the ends of my hair – yes, split– crane my neck a little more g…ah! Yep, touches.

Every now and then, after many many months of growing, I’d do a big chop. I never liked it short and would just wait for it to grow back. The comfortable shield that would frame, uhum, hide, my face, would be gone and I would feel too self-conscious. The thought of anything shorter than the bob I already hated simply wasn’t in any realm of possibility. Ah, if only I’d known how cute I look in a buzzcut…

My mom always encouraged my haircut urges, as she herself had gone through many, and still does. I had looked up to her hair journey and her attitude towards it, sifting through old photos of her, looking through her many hair transformations. She has never been one to conform to or listen to anyone. She once got a perm as a birthday gift TO MY DAD while they were dating in college, to his dismay. Does it get anymore badass than this? Absolutely no care. My favorite of all is the “coupe garçon” as she calls it, the cut to match her tomboy sense of style. She rocked this short short during the end of her grad years through to her wedding day in the early ‘90s. A Greek Orthodox Lebanese woman marrying a Muslim Palestinian man, pulling off an iconic young DiCaprio cut (specifically this one photo of him in tween entertainment mag Big Bopper.) The levels of defiance, resistance and choice still have me in awe… that puppet had been sailing solo for a while.

Other than the fact that she’d proven to me that you can pull off any haircut you decide you want–another great lesson in risk-taking–the common denominator was that she did all of these changes paying no mind to anyone else’s opinion while pushing her own boundaries and letting go of her own judgement as well. After all, it is her hair, why should anyone have a say in it other than herself? If only it was that simple, but that simplicity is exactly what I needed for myself.

The most opinionated person was my teyta (my grandma.) Although there hasn’t been a day where she hasn’t showered me in compliments and love, she had instilled in me the idea that I am beautiful because of my long hair.

She found out despite me not wanting to tell her, for fear of crippling back to the comfort of the direction her gender-normative strings had confined me in thus far. She caressed my long, wavy, sunkissed hair that had gotten its length and share of sunshine to both our liking. “You are a queen, and your hair is your crown. The longer your hair is, the bigger your crown, so wear it as such.” Beauty was no longer the string being pulled, it was regality, dignity, self-worth, status and stature, and not just my own, it was hers too. All boiled down to the length of my hair. That’s some heavy-lifting.

I wanted to expose myself, my flaws, my insecurities, every nook and cranny of my face and my head. Since I am a reflection of my family, a puppet among a larger cast of puppets, this meant I had gone rogue– a puppet on the loose (an actual expression in Arabic that means someone is defiant and misbehaved, “filteneh!”) This meant my parents, and their parents, had not instilled in me the proper values– they had failed me. My grandma had raised yet another defiant kid she couldn’t control. But if anything, defiance was a value necessary that my parents taught me, both explicitly and implicitly.

This also raised concerns of sexuality and identity. Coming to NYC and escaping the setting that had the strong gender-normative stereotypes. Girls wear skirts, boys wear pants. Girls are cute and dainty, guys are sporty and macho. Girls have long hair, guys have short hair. This was also a place where people just minded their own business. It gave me the push I needed to let go of the attachments I’d made between my femininity, gender, womxnhood and my hair. My mom had begun the journey of loosening the string ties, she had set it up for me. I just had to take the next step for myself.

I’d built up to the buzz and decided to have fun with it. I didn’t have to worry about hair damage since it was all coming off anyways. First, chopping off my long locks (I still have the ponytail my friend Rose so kindly cut off with her kitchen scissors.) Next I bleached my hair and finally I dyed it seafoam green/turquoise. It was time.

I found myself on a Wednesday afternoon, sitting in front of my mirror on my bedroom floor with my friend Austen’s razor in my right hand. I pressed it right down my middle part towards the back, the feeling of the vibrating razor on my head buzzing an instant rush of adrenaline through my body. I go for another strand, and there it was, my scalp. A weight was lifted off me, a weight much heavier than the turquoise strands of hair messily fallen onto my lap, and before I knew it I’d shaved most of my head, unaware of the wide grin that grazed my face from ear to ear. The cliché of the catharsis I’d experienced was too real. I was in disbelief that I actually liked what–and who–I was looking at in the mirror, it felt so normal. The newfound confidence was beaming through my face, features and flaws out in the open. I was invincible and you couldn’t tell me otherwise. I hadn’t felt more like myself as I did in that moment, and that I have felt ever since.

I proceeded to have an electric blue buzz, a bleached fade and a black pixie since and I have loved each one of my looks, holding myself and my crown with the confidence of my own, stringless. The same confidence with which I approach my grandma, who cheers on my smol hairs through facetime, in hopes I am growing my hair back out, knowing I am not doing any such thing anytime soon, ha.

Just because there was physically less of me doesn’t mean there was any less of me that people knew. If anything, there was more of me, a fuller image of me. This isn’t to say I will never have long hair again or that I have cured all my fears and insecurities, come on now… but, it was the first choice I made fully for myself. It put many other decisions I had made and still make into perspective, and I try to approach things with that same confidence, the same trust in my gut. My range of motion had increased and it was on my own terms now.


Add yours
  • C. Swash April, 5 2019, 9:57 / Reply

    You go girl!

  • Sara F. April, 5 2019, 10:40 / Reply

    She is an amazing storyteller and her eyes are pools of light! Total love.

  • Isaac Hindin-Miller April, 5 2019, 3:22 / Reply

    You are so badass and now I wanna go shave my head so we can be FILTENEH together ??

  • Bravo!

  • YOU DO YOU GIRL! Sometimes you just have to do things on your own terms and not allow other people to affect your judgment. Cheers to us!


  • Naydeline April, 21 2019, 3:11 / Reply

    This story reminds me of when I did my big chop – cut off all my permed, chemically-treated hair. It was a big leap because for so long my worth, and attractiveness as a Dominican woman was related to my hair and how “bueno”/”good” it was – aka straight. I especially like this line: “Just because there was physically less of me doesn’t mean there was any less of me that people knew. If anything, there was more of me, a fuller image of me”, because this is exactly how I felt after my big chop – freer and a more fuller image of myself.

  • Shireen Bora April, 1 2020, 7:07 / Reply

    filteneh haha, families!!

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