Gabrielle Giffords, Her hair is no longer long and blonde now; it’s short and dark. But the first photos of US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords taken since she was shot in the head in January show a smiling, engaged woman with barely a trace of the physical wounds resulting from the attack that killed or injured 19 other people in Tucson, Ariz.

The photos, posted to Rep. Giffords’ Facebook page Sunday morning, are an important step in a story of private perserverance and recovery as well as public soul-searching about gun violence and political rhetoric in America today.

The photos were taken outside the TIRR Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, where Giffords has been undergoing rehabilitation. She is expected to be leave the hospital for outpatient rehabilitation within a month.

Jared Loughner, the man accused in the January shooting of Giffords and the others, has been declared incompetent to stand trial in the case.

In making his decision last month, US District Judge Larry Burns relied on the findings of two forensic mental-health professionals who evaluated Loughner at a federal prison complex in Missouri. Judge Burns ordered that Loughner be tested again in four months. If, after treatment, he is then determined to be competent, the court proceedings can move forward.