Monday 12 November 2018

Why do we have to jump to conclusions when a woman shaves her head?

Crisis, what crisis: Katy Perry has opted for a close cut
Crisis, what crisis: Katy Perry has opted for a close cut
Kristen Stewart also opted for a close cut
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

You may have noticed that the buzz cut is having a moment, with the likes of Cara Delevingne, Kristen Stewart and Katy Perry chopping off their locks in favour of no-nonsense, close-cropped styles.

You may also have noticed 101 think-pieces trying to understand what this new trend means (because when a beautiful woman chops off her locks, it has to be meaningful).

Delevingne and Stewart, it should be noted, shaved their hair off for film roles, but that hasn't stopped cultural commentators from examining their new hair styles with a fine-tooth comb, attributing the trend to a new wave of Riot Grrrl feminism, the rise of gender-fluidity, and whatever you're having yourself.

Those with even less imagination believe that a female buzz cut is indicative of a woman's sexual orientation. Stewart and Delevingne are bisexual and Perry kissed a girl and liked it, so that must explain why they can't be nice and heteronormative, and keep their hair mid-length or longer, like the rest of us. We always insist upon a revolutionary narrative when a female celebrity opts for a buzz cut - even if she did it for a film role or because she became sick and tired of colouring pesky greys.

Kristen Stewart also opted for a close cut
Kristen Stewart also opted for a close cut

It can't be something as mundane as following fashion, either. Delevingne parlayed her buzz cut into a statement on unconventional beauty when she sprayed it silver and showcased it at the recent Met Ball. "The more we embrace who we are as people and rely less on our physical attributes, the more empowered we become," she said afterwards. She didn't say how many hours it took her stylists to affix rhinestones to her head.

When examining the whys and wherefores of female buzz cuts, commentators tend to overlook the obvious, yet inconvenient, fact that the look started to appear on catwalks back in 2015, while women began experimenting with shaving the sides of their heads a few years before that.

In fashion terms, it's like rising hemlines ushering in the mini skirt. (And like all high fashion trends, it will probably start to decline when a former Celebrity Big Brother contestant jumps on the bandwagon.)

This isn't to say that all women's buzz cuts are merely inverted vanity fashion statements. Grace Jones truly embraced androgyny when she added a buzz cut to her muscular, 5'10" frame - all the better to scare us with in A View to a Kill. Women today, however, tend to shave their heads only when they have hyper-feminine features like huge eyes, pillowy lips and delicate shoulders to balance the masculinity.

Katy Perry has been praised for being brave enough to chop off her Rapunzelian hair, but if you want to see the bravest embodiment of a female buzz cut, check out a 21-year-old Sinead O'Connor singing 'Mandinka' at the 1989 Grammys with no hair, no make-up and no back-up dancers jumping out of giant cupcakes.

Similarly, Sigourney Weaver's buzz cut in Alien was a game-changer whereas Charlize Theron's buzz cut in Mad Max: Fury Road felt predictable - not least because it played right into the tedious film trope that when a woman loses everything, she has to lose her hair too.

When men have lapses of sanity in film, they pull out guns in fast food restaurants that don't serve breakfast.

When a woman loses her marbles, she cuts off her hair - because a woman who no longer desires male attention is clearly in need of psychiatric intervention.

It's important that this sacrificial offering up of her femininity is done haphazardly and impulsively, with a look of steely determination and a scissors the size of a secateurs. It also helps if Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit' is playing in the background.

The irony, of course, is that while we associate female buzz cuts with mental breakdowns and breakthroughs, we never examine a woman's choice to keep her hair long, even when her best friend, her hairdresser and her split ends tell her otherwise.

As someone who pretends she last had her hair cut six weeks ago (try six months) when the hairdresser inquires, and has mild palpitations when their scissors slice off more than an inch, I know from personal experience that there is as much to be assumed about the psyche of a woman who desperately holds on to her long hair, as there is about a woman who decides to lop it all off.

Irish Independent

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