It's 2017 and there's still something shocking about a woman shaving her head.
On International Women's Day, it would have been marvelous to begin the morning with the establishment of equal rights for both sexes and an eradication of sexism across the globe. Fat chance, but at least we were graced with images of Kristen Stewart showing up to the premiere of her latest movie, Personal Shopper, with a bleach-blond buzzcut. Stewart is one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood. To shave your head during a movie's promotional campaign can't be played down. It was a move that spoke loudly, particularly given the circumstances of the entertainment industry, which not only peddles conventional standards of female beauty to consumers but also pressures its subjects to adhere to those rules to maintain their commercial viability.
Even though K-Stew has a legion of fans from her Twilight years, even though she's proven her acting chops time and again in films as varied as The Runaways, On the Road, Still Alice and Certain Women, even though she's considered a global fashion muse as the face of Chanel and Balenciaga and — yes — even though most people would agree that she's one of the Western world's most compelling young figures, Hollywood reckons the ticket-paying public want a head with hair. Long, beautiful hair.
Last week, I'd considered shaving my own head. While having some deep discussions with friends about hair, specifically my hair, the conversation became so emotionally fraught that I felt compelled to just shear it all off and go full-on Ripley in Alien 3. I haven't. Yet.
The stereotype suggests that women spend too much time thinking about hair. We sit together for hours, deliberating and agonizing over what to do with it, why the split ends, how much bangs are too much bangs, what's the right dye for Coachella, etc. It's true, women make a big deal about their locks, but it's justified. Beyond your skin, your hair is the palette you've been given to present a statement about who you are before you even open your mouth. Furthermore, we debate so much because it seems that the society we live in has something to say about the correct statement we should be making with our tresses.
On to my hair. I'll never forget the day in 2008 when I finally pulled the plug on a master's degree I was hating, saw the 'Take a Bow" video by Rihanna and decided to shed 21 years of life with thick, golden, long hair. I cut mine for the same reasons many do – the thrill of change, the fact that the risks you take with the physical strengthen your inner self. If you can do something that bold with the parts of you people can see, it gives you the courage you need to make tougher changes on the inside. Throughout my 20s I wore my hair in various short styles. At my most confident I'd keep returning to Jean Seberg in Breathless – a pixie crop so short I could feel nothing but air and freedom all around me.
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But I pretty consistently felt like the elephant in the room. My short hair confused people. Some were vocal. One day while I was traveling on the London Underground, a man stood up in my carriage, pointed at me and repeatedly shouted, “Are you a girl or a boy? Well? Which is it?” As a cisgender female who's always been tomboyish, preferred chunky boots over heels and identified most with Sporty Spice, I shrugged it off. It was the people who'd known me for years, however, who really disappointed. They thought this haircut came with a sudden revelation of a new sexual identity, and that sporting a “nonprofessional” 'do was an act of rebellion, some desire to remove myself from the workforce. Really, I just wanted to feel like Rihanna. I also noticed that men didn't respond to me as much in bars, at clubs, in the street. I wouldn't get cat-called as I once did – a welcome development.
When I moved to L.A. more than two years ago, life changed again. This time I grew my hair out. It's over my shoulders now, middle-parted, thick and naturally lifted by the sun. I haven't felt this femme in years, but it doesn't feel me. The decision to return to my roots now weighs heavier on my mind as I get older. With longer hair I've noticed it's been easier to get asked out on dates. The cat-calling has been revived. On a deeper level, this creeping notion has entered my over-analytical brain, telling me that my hair length is what holds the keys to my future. That to cut it again is to not grow up but to keep this youthful, forthright single existence. Ridiculous, I know.
Talking to friends, I realized they felt exactly the same way, particularly one who just got the mullet cut she always wanted, a cut that looks majestic on her and defies everything bad anyone's ever said about mullets (excluding Andre Agassi's; sorry, Andre). It seems that women are constantly seeking the validation of the patriarchy when it comes to their hair length. We cut our hair based on the perceived desires of men we don't even yet have in our lives, regardless of our own sexuality or relationship status. Our hair shouldn't be the thing the world outside wields control over to oppress us. It's our most striking asset, ours to customize to our pleasing. Our hair frames our faces and it gives us an excuse to indulge in our own physicality.
What does a buzzcut say about Zayn Malik or Ryan Gosling or David Beckham or Ryan Reynolds or Will Smith or any man for that matter? Why does it say anything different about Kristen Stewart?