You Are Your Hair

Before buzzing all of your hair off, ask yourself, “What does my hair say about me? What do people think?”

Just kidding. Don’t ask yourself those silly questions; just do it.

When asked about why she buzzed her hair, Maddie Allen (pictured above) responded, “Well I really didn’t think too much about it; I just always felt like doing it, and if I didn’t do it then, I probably would have never done it.”  It did help that Maddie had a bit of a ‘pregame’ when she was 4 years old. Her older sister, Jenny, gave Maddie one penny to cut off all of her hair.

After the initial adrenaline rush and feeling of empowerment, the fears set in the next morning when a brush of the hand had transformed from shoulder length hair, into a smooth, bumpy shape she had never truly felt: the shape of her head. This humanistic discovery about oneself sent trembles down her spine as it finally hit her that this was new, but most importantly this was real. She was getting to know herself, her body, in a way she had never before. Despite feeling completely comfortable in her surroundings with a shaved head, the most difficult step was showing her new bald head off to her mother. Shock? Expected. Tears? Not so much.

Maddie’s mother was tied to memories of ‘her little girl,’ who now looked like a skinhead in a dress. Not until she saw Maddie’s smile and noticed parts of her face in a different light, did the sad tears turn into happy ones. She saw beauty, but in a very different way.

A mother weeping at the sight of her bald daughter is understandable. For many mothers, they have a hard time seeing their children as adults, especially in their early 20’s. On top of this, they are likely accustomed to most gender norms as it relates to hair. A buzzed head speeds up the process from ‘my sweet little girl’ to ‘my rebellious adult WOMAN.’

This mother daughter dynamic as it relates to hair, represents just a taste of the implications and understandings of long hair on women, and the growing trend of women buzzing their heads as a statement. Society today seems to be moving in a gender fluid direction, but we still teach, model and encourage our male/female children to fall into the short hair/long hair categories. What is it about long hair that makes women feminine?

More and more women are buzzing their heads and it’s not just because they’re tired of washing their hair. It’s safe to say that the female buzzed head makes a statement — it’s not something we’re used to in our society. Femininity goes hand in hand with long bouncy locks in brown or blonde, maybe even pastel shades (perhaps lilac), that you drop hundreds for each month just so you can get that perfect Instagram photo standing in front of some brightly colored mural. Even “statement hair” can be a security blanket, something we can hide behind, something that deems us as objectively attractive. This isn’t to bash on hair — mine is long and I don’t plan to go at it with an electric razor anytime soon. But what about those women who do buzz it all off? We — myself included — often interpret their appearance as a social statement or a middle finger to gender conformity. We make assumptions regarding their sexuality and we turn them into a categorized think piece. A quote from Maddie, post-buzz describes this well:

“Overall male attention decreased whereas a specific-male attention increased. I found that there was a certain type of male that would approach me as a sort of challenge; ‘she has short hair so she must be edgy, translated to ‘crazy in bed’ or she’s a confused lesbian who just needs that male testosterone to cure her lesbian anger.’ These were the worst of men.”

We ultimately objectify these women based on the length of their hair. Let us detach from our own discourse of their own personal aesthetic and discover the underlying sexist foundation that allows for this public critique.

A majority of women these days, including Maddie, see the trend of buzzing your head as a retaking, a redefining of what femininity is. It is an act of freedom that provides a blank slate when it comes to how one seeks to express her/himself. For many with shorter hair, a beautiful face appears more confident, more striking with a shaved head. It is a strong decision and it is a strong look, but that doesn’t mean it’s masculine by any means. We see this quite clearly in House of Cards’ main character, Claire Underwood, who maintains a sharp, short cut throughout the entire series. This is no coincidence. Her character seems to be her haircut personified: first lady and aspiring president, but more importantly her look displays the ability of women to retake and redefine a strong femininity that is not directly tied to gender norms, twisted history, and the need to please the male gaze.

Buzzing your head as a woman flips this concept upside down; it adds and takes away from the complexities of how femininity and gender are defined. Even today, more than ever, a woman buzzing her head can be seen an impulse, or strictly a decision of rebellion that symbolizes freedom from the ties of traditional femininity. Either way, our hair is a part of us. It’s on our bodies that we carry around each day. It is what is seen; it is touched; it is us.

Lady Gaga says it perfectly in her song ‘Hair’ when she sings, “All the glory that I bare, I am my hair.” We embody ideas, feelings and attitudes, and for most people a way of expressing this embodiment is embodiment itself, i.e. using our body to express who we are. 

Just take a look at some of the celebrity buzzers: Gabi Hoffman, Charlize Theron, Solange, Anne Hathaway, Amber Rose, Kate Blanchett, the list goes on. Let’s hope the trend continues so we can see further dismantling and restructuring of what it means to be a woman today.

After all, we are our bodies and our bodies are us. Let’s celebrate each part — even the middle part and side part, unless of course your head is buzzed.