The Hair Myth by Tristan Grove August 04 2013, 0 Comments


 I'm almost certain you'll have read the word splashed across a glossy magazine's cover at some point. It's not just any old decision at the hairdressers that makes it into the headlines, but for some reason shaved heads appear again and again in our news. There's not an editor in the world who's bat an eye if a man shaved his head. No, the remarkable thing is that there is really only one decision a human can make about their hair that regularly gets into the headlines, and that is the decision of a woman to shave her head. Why?

      Perhaps the most prominent cases are the daring actresses who have agreed to shave their heads for roles. In recent years, actresses such as Charlize Theron, Anne Hathaway and Natalie Portman have caused a stir like this. But why? What does it mean for an A-Class actress and beauty icon like Anne Hathaway to shave her hair off? Well, it clearly meant a lot to her at any rate. In an interview she stated that, “I’ve now done backflips out of windows. I’ve jumped off buildings. And cutting my hair reduced me to, like, mental patient-level crying. I was inconsolable.” This is, very simply, because a woman’s hair is conventionally a fundamental part of her beauty.

      Note that I say conventionally. This is partly because I’m a man (and not one of the rare Gok Wan-esque ones with fashion sense) and so wouldn’t dare to tell you what defines your beauty! It is also because there seems to be a very clear flip-side to this. While Anne Hathaway “was inconsolable” at the loss of this conventional aspect of her beauty, Charlize Theron responded very differently to the experience. She told an interviewer that shaving her hair for a role in the upcoming Mad Max remake was “the most freeing thing”.

      Though Natalie Portman’s worry that “some people will think I'm a neo-Nazi or that I have cancer or I'm a lesbian,” probably means she would disagree, her character in V for Vendetta (the cult film for which she shaved her head)would almost certainly support Theron’s view. Evey Hammond’s shaved head becomes a symbol of her resistance and defiance of a totalitarian state. It can become this because the decision to have a heroine without hair is its own particular sort of defiance: the defiance of the modern conventions of beauty.

      Contrary to what Gok Wan and the other gurus of fashion convention may say, hair doesn’t need to be fundamental to a woman’s beauty. (I reiterate: not that I, a fashion-bereft majority-man, am trying to define your beauty to you!) An actress shaving her head can be “freeing” because it can represent empowering resistance to the conventions of beauty. Further, when a famous actress, whose career has to a large degree been built on her beauty, shaves her head, it is also “freeing” for women at large. This is because beauty conventions are not just defined by the Gok gurus of the world, but also by famous women like Charlize Theron. When female celebrities who not only follow fashions but create them shave their heads, they start to change fashion conventions (take, for instance, the craze for the half-shaved punk hairstyle following the release of the Swedish and then American The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo adaptations).


Editors the world over splash BALD and similar headlines across their publications when female celebrities shave their heads because what these women do can shape fashion for women everywhere.

      I don’t say that you’re soon going to come under peer-pressure to shave your L’Oreal-conditioned locks off just because Charlize Theron made an unusual decision at her hairdressers last week. No. What I would say though, is that if you look around, you’ll see that there are now more women who shave their hair, and that it is more socially acceptable as a result of A-List celebrities with short hair.

 We live in a culture where women have equal voting and education rights to men, sexual and reproductive freedom and, theoretically, equal employment and wage rights. As Naomi Wolf points out in her groundbreaking work The Beauty Myth, however, women in our culture nevertheless “do not feel as free as they want to”. There is still something holding them back - something that is, as Wolf claims, “poisoning” freedom. There is still, essentially, the myth that there is a way women ‘should’ look - a set of physical conventions women ‘should’ conform to. Women like Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway are splashed across magazines worldwide when they shave their heads because while they have previously been at the vanguard of conventional beauty, by shaving their heads they have chosen to challenge one of the most central beauty conventions, the myth that there is a way women’s hair ‘should’ look.