Although it’s certainly nothing new – in fact, both women and men from the earliest civilizations were known to sport shaved heads – there is undoubtedly a current trend (for women in particular) to shave their hair off.
Model Adwoa Aboah has been featured everywhere from the cover of Vogue to the Gigi Hadid-lensed Versus campaign, while Cara Delevingne and Kristin Stewart are some of the latest (and most notable) faces to adopt the look. Of course there's also Grace Jones, Sinead O'Connor and Amber Rose, who can all comfortably say a shaved head is intrinsically tied to their personas.
It’s a bold statement no matter your gender – for men, a shaved head is often associated with military service or might be linked to religious affiliations, not to mention the large numbers who eventually shave what is left of their receding hairlines in a bid to maintain dignity (as society would have it).
Whether for practical purposes or institutional ones, or in some unfortunate cases as punishment, having a shaved head sends a strong message. After all, who could forget Britney Spears' infamous head-shaving incident in 2009?
That said, the resulting effect can have both positive and negative connotations. For example, a man with a shaved head might be viewed as striking and strong but, depending on how he looks, could also be typecast as a delinquent or even a skinhead. Meanwhile, women might be viewed as harsh and butch; black women who've chosen to avoid painful chemical relaxers and instead shave their hair for manageability are considered beautiful and natural by some and receive scorn from others. As with everything, context is important.
It’s a double standard – one which works the other way for men with long hair – that shines a light on society’s unfair beauty ideals. It’s something I’ve encountered first hand, and while having a shaved head brought about many doubts in myself, the overall experience was one that I can’t recommend enough. To anyone willing (both male and female, but for the purposes of my experience I’ll write from a female perspective), I highly recommend shaving your head at least once in your life. Here’s why.
Five years ago I shaved off all of my hair. I went from having type 2B, nipple-length hair (I have no idea how else is best to measure it besides “long,” which, as a woman, you realize means nothing) to a close crop at clipper length #2, which means one-quarter of an inch (or 6.35 millimeters). Think more tennis ball, less waxed apple.
It was a liberating experience to say the least, but I’ll get to that in a moment. First, let me tell you about how I actually got to the moment where I was drinking champagne in my usual hairdressing salon and shaving off my hair, while making a video that would end up as PG-rated YouTube porn (more on that later, too).
I can pinpoint exactly when I first decided I would shave my hair at least once in my life. I was 12 years old and a die-hard Spice Girls fan. I’d read that Sporty Spice had said something along the lines of wishing she had a nicely shaped head so that she could have it shaved and never have to style her hair. I was intrigued. Not only by never having to style my hair, but as a woman to shave it all off – it felt rebellious. Why not, I thought.
Over the next decade or so, I exhausted almost every haircut and color imaginable, from a short pixie cut (indebted to another Spice Girl for this decision) to slightly-longer-than-nipple-length (it just couldn't grow further, I found); while my color had gone from my natural brown to black, blonde, red, any mixture of the aforementioned, purple, pink, blue, and green if you count the time I botched an at-home color job.
Like Amber Rose – who was my eventual hair inspiration – reclaiming the word “slut,” I’ll do the same and proudly say that I was a hair slut. I did it all, and by my mid-20s I was bored. The only way forward was to hold true on my promise and shave it all off.
In Australia, there is an annual charity event called the World's Greatest Shave, where people fundraise for the Leukemia Foundation. In solidarity with those undergoing chemotherapy treatment, one can nominate themselves to shave their head and raise money for Leukemia research in the process. My grandfather had passed away a few years earlier from the disease and, along with female relatives who’d also undergone chemotherapy, I wanted to show my support. So, I signed up, and the rest is history.
I raised nearly AUD $3,000 for the World’s Greatest Shave and felt great. That was until the pangs of self-doubt and defeminization hit me.
For my crop, I’d decided to follow in the footsteps of Amber Rose – shave it off, bleach it blond, be fabulous. It worked for a bit, but then the psychological fallout crept up. Why did people stare at me on the street? Why did they immediately assume my sexual orientation? Why were random creepy guys making derogatory comments about my appearance, something that had nothing to do with them in the first place? Why in the hell did I have to explain why I’d gotten rid of it to every person who asked? 20 fucking questions.
I’d signed up to raise money and lose hair, not to be thrust in the throes of an existential quarter-life crisis which made me question identity, sexuality and gender all over again. Call it my secondary bildungsroman, I guess.
But from the ashes (or stubble) of hair, rose a completely new version of myself; a 2.0 model that had an even deeper understanding of who I was as a person. I challenged the social norms of beauty and wound up conquering not only my own insecurities – of which there were many – but subverted the status quo with regards to women’s beauty ideals. It became apparent to me that not only did I (and as I’ve found, many other women and men) hide behind my hair, but I used it to help me fit in, to stick with the crowd.
I did find myself answering those absurd questions early on in my newfound buzzcut life, but realized quickly enough that everybody else’s opinions didn’t matter. Not even the “supporters” who commented on the YouTube video of my head shaving (since deleted, but had clocked over 13,000 views) egging me to “go the whole way with shaving cream and a razor” and that I was “so beautiful with no hair.” I guess there’s a fetish for everything these days.
I ended up connecting with other hairless women on social media – whether they were undergoing chemo, had alopecia, or also just felt like chopping it off – and that was the most rewarding part of the whole process, to stand in solidarity with others. To help other women understand that society’s aesthetic ideals are toxic and, most importantly, unnecessary.
In an age where the rise of individuality is ever-growing, it’s more important than ever to overthrow the system that places unrealistic expectations on both women and men. Sure, it’s just a haircut, but for me it was so much more than a haircut: it was a fast-track through years of potential therapy.
Which is why, although I’m skeptical of trends for trends' sake, I’m ecstatic that more women are choosing to shave their hair off. Especially when these women are not only public figures, but women who are paid for their looks, and ultimately inform the beauty ideals that are pushed on society.
It’s a positive message for beauty inclusivity and further strengthens women's’ right to determine how they look, on their own terms.
While you're on your journey to self-empowerment, read about how body positivity in fashion went from fringe to mainstream.