Bald is beautiful: Challenging "feminine" standards
2020 saw the buzz cut make a comeback in all its bold and beautiful glory. So, what’s it really like to shave your head when you identify as a woman?

It took a moment of self-sabotage for 23-year-old Lucy Hager to shave her head, something she’d wanted to do for years. Sitting in her Berlin flat, she decided to dye her hair a crazy colour with terrible dye. It ended with predictably unflattering results and gave her the perfect excuse.

“I thought, ‘Oh, well. I guess we have to shave it off.’”

Within minutes Lucy was sitting on a stool, mirror in hand, while her two flatmates used beard trimmers to shrink her hair down to a three-millimetre shave.

“I don’t think it was scary; it was really fun if anything else. We all just drank a bit of wine, I was in my pyjamas, and at some point we turned on Sinéad O’Connor because we just thought it would be funny.”

Lucy’s not alone. A look through social media and you’ll see scalp is in. Sure, the buzz cut is by no means a new style on women — gals have been rocking the look for decades — but last year saw a revival in the trend, along with the hashtags #baldgirlsrock and #baldisbeautiful all over Instagram.

Buzz cut season

So how did the age-old buzz cut make its trendy comeback? Celebrity influence has no doubt played a role. In April, a video of Bruce Willis shaving the head of his daughter Tallulah got over 35,000 likes, providing the ultimate stamp of approval. But it’s not just influencers leading the way.

According to Dr Hannah McCann, a lecturer in cultural studies from the University of Melbourne, the closure of hair salons during the global pandemic likely contributed to the trend. “For some people this has led to more experimental styles, like trying bleach and bright hair colours at home, or cutting their own bangs. The buzz cut has been a go-to hair trend for many because it’s a short hairstyle that is relatively easy to DIY.”

She adds that both boredom and control could also be factors here in the context of lockdown. “A buzz cut might offer a sense of dramatic transformation, alleviating boredom, but also provide a feeling of control over yourself via your hair.”

Cutting off all your hair is certainly one way to take control when you’re a woman. Especially if you’ve ever felt boxed in by a gender narrative that defines your womanhood through your hair length.

Mirror mirror on the wall

No matter what the trigger to shave your head or how edgy you consider yourself, you never really know how you’ll feel until the hair drops away. It can be a moment of true raw vulnerability.

For 26-year-old Rachel Paterson, shedding her hair wasn’t a reaction to the pandemic or a search for identity. In fact, it wasn’t about her at all. “Ever since I was in high school, I wanted to shave my head for Shave For A Cure after a family friend had been diagnosed with leukemia,” she reveals.

The Noosa-based teacher finally got the big chop in front of her school in March, raising almost 4000 dollars for charity. While she doesn’t regret it, Rachel admits the new look challenged her self-image, something she hadn’t anticipated.

“I was single at the time I got it done and my confidence took a huge hit. I really struggled with that actually. During COVID-19 I tried online dating for the first time in my life and I was terrified.”

Meanwhile, Lucy sitting in her pyjamas in Berlin had a completely different experience. From the moment she stripped away her hair, she felt fabulous. She described feeling like a naked version of herself with nothing left to hide behind.

She talks of the unforeseen perks of her new hairdo: she can go for a run now without getting cat-called in the street and it has even given her a step up at work. “I did notice people taking me more seriously. At meetings I felt like people were really listening to me, like I have more of a presence in the room.”

But it hasn’t all been a smooth ride for Lucy. “My boyfriend at the time said he could no longer find me attractive,” she shares. “He thought it was this huge rebellion against him. Which is really frustrating because it’s something I did for myself.”

Perceptions of beauty

The reaction from Lucy’s ex-boyfriend isn’t unique. A quick look through social media and you’ll see it’s a contentious hairstyle on a woman. Comments (from men and women alike) range from adoring praise to insults bordering on abuse.

Is this why so many women are afraid to do it? Both Rachel and Lucy said they thought about it for years before actually taking the plunge. Delving through the experiences of these two women raises many questions about culture and our inherited perceptions of beauty.

What is it about a shaved head that leaves some women like Rachel feeling insecure? Is that a conditioned response or just her own personal taste shining through? Why did the new look give Lucy an edge in the workplace — do people attribute a sort of “masculine power” to the haircut? Most importantly, who decides our collective beauty standards? The hair on our heads is not really anybody else’s business, right?

Rachel can’t quite explain why she felt insecure with the haircut, especially with all the positive feedback she’s had. Her students in particular have been big fans of the buzz that is now growing into a pixie. It would be easy to disappear down a rabbit hole to explore the many levels of conditioning we face and how that moulds our perceptions of beauty.

But should Rachel feel bad that she wants to grow out her hair? Hell no. Should Lucy revel in her amazing platinum buzz? Hell yes. The length of your hair (short, long or barely there) doesn’t make you any more or less beautiful, vibrant or feminist.

The real challenge to rise to is blocking out the noise of anyone trying to tell you how to look or feel. Be bold, be brave, take risks and decide for yourself, whatever that may be. Those are the signs of a strong woman.

Whether you aspire to shave it all off or get hair extensions, do it for you and only you.

Lauren Furey is a freelance writer who spends her days hauling two small children around on a bike. She enjoys tea, recycling and talking to strangers.