I’m a 90s kid, but I don’t remember 90s culture – I’m only 20, so I was born in ’97 – by the time the 90s had closed, all I remembered was that I wore a lot of cute rompers.
I’m on the cusp of the turn of the century, so while I’m categorized as a “90s kid” I wasn’t aware of the culture, fashion, & political issues going on at that time. That’s because I was under 4 years old.
The 90s were groundbreaking in many ways – & I won’t turn this into a history class, but hear me out: the first supermodels were born, universal healthcare became a widely discussed topic…& Natalie Portman shaved her head for the role she played in “V for Vendetta.”
Natalie Portman was not the first woman to get her locks chopped; she most certainly wasn’t the last, either, but she was one of the first people that popped up on my Google image search when I looked for buzzcut inspiration back in 2016. Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman – two powerful actresses that shaved their heads in the 90s for film roles.
But…how about we skip back a few years, to a name I never heard (I know…shame on me) until I started really looking into buzzcuts: Sinéad O’Connor.
Sinéad’s buzzcut was done a few years before Portman or Theron made the call to go bald – & she didn’t do it for a film role, either. O’Connor’s look was admittedly “edgy” – the singer/songwriter burst in on the scene, looking like someone no one had ever seen before…& love it or hate it, O’Connor was different. She garnered attention for her buzzcut. She was “more interesting” because of it.
After I buzzed my head, I got a lot of “you look like Sinéad!” comments. I don’t really see that close of a resemblance; Sinéad & I don’t have the same face shape or eye color, & while we’re both fair-skinned with brunette buzz cuts, I wouldn’t call us twins. Still – the continued comparison to O’Connor picqued my interest, & I looked a little further into what Sinéad was all about. I wasn’t around in the 80s, & I never listened to O’Connor. I came in pretty unbiased; all I knew was that she was bald, & that she liked being bald.
I saw that O’Connor was extremely open about her mental illnesses & her past with sexual harrassment & assault. It seemed evident to me that her shaving her head (& continuing to do so) was one of many ways to cope with her traumatic past – but it was also a way for her to break barriers; a way for her to assert herself in Hollywood, an industry that we all know by now is rife with misogyny.
I came across an interview O’Connor did for “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” One of the questions addressed her being a young woman in the Hollywood/music industry, & how her buzzcut helped her “keep safe”:
“They wanted me to grow my hair really long and wear miniskirts and all that kind of stuff because they reckoned I’d look much prettier,” she told Oprah – “so I went straight around to the barber and shaved the rest of my hair off.” O’Connor went on to say that she felt as though her buzzcut protected her in many ways. “I always had that sense that it was quite important to protect myself — make myself as unattractive as I possibly could,” she finished.
A couple things here: I don’t think Sinéad for one moment felt “ugly” when buzzing her head – at least, that’s not what it seems like to me, particularly because she’s been very vocal about continuing to shave her head…perhaps until the very day she dies. In a 2010 interview with Patrick Barkham for The Guardian, she said: “I don’t feel like me unless I have my hair shaved. So even when I’m an old lady, I’m going to have it.”
Clearly, O’Connor enjoys the way she looks with no hair…& I do as well. In researching O’Connor’s past, how/when/why she shaved her head, I found a lot of parallels between the two of us.
I initially shaved my head in the summer of 2016, when I really wanted a tattoo. At the time, I couldn’t get one – my blood counts (thanks, chronic illness!) were too low to ensure that I wouldn’t get an infection. I was frustrated by this; it felt like just one more affirmation that I was not in control of my body, & it made me feel incredibly angry & sad at times.
I came across a few models on my Instagram explore page with freshly shaved heads around that time. I looked, & I flipped away. I went back to look again. & again. By the end of June 2016, I was heading to Supercuts.
The initial reception I got from my very short hair wasn’t all positive. Many were confused; a few were angry. That made me confused – all of a sudden, I was wondering: is my beauty/value placed solely on how much hair I have or don’t have? After all, my face looked the same. I had no permanent ink on my body. I just had (very) short hair.
Because of the somewhat mixed reception, I shaved my head two more times that summer (just to touch up) & let it be by the time I went to school in September of that year. By the end of the year, my hair was curly/wavy, & I looked a bit like Finn Wolfhard (yes, from Stranger Things).
I didn’t consciously make the decision to grow out my hair; I think that I subconsciously told myself: people don’t think this is attractive. You’re probably going to get weird looks. Just grow it out – it’s hair, it’s not a big deal. So – I grew it out.
Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t feel as though any stage of my “growing-out process” was awkward or ugly. I enjoyed seeing my hair change – & it changed quite quickly. First it was a fluffy pixie, then it was a flat pixie, & by the time February 2017 hit, I could pretend as though I was just slicking back very long hair (thanks to lots of bobby pins) I could make a quiff, or I could leave it be & look like Harry Styles, 2013 era. I didn’t ever hate my hair – let me make that perfectly clear.
But – but! June came around. It was summer 2017, & I’d just had a very scary doctor’s appointment on my birthday (fun, I know). The information I was given was incorrect, & I was in a full-fledged panic attack. I was told that if I didn’t have X surgery or Y procedure, I would surely die. This was incorrect, but a doctor was telling me that. It wasn’t something I could just brush off – lots of research & careful decisions needed to be made before I “broke up” with that doctor.
In the meantime, my mind was in shambles. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself in the days between that initial appointment – & the decision I finally made (which ended in me departing from the practice). Not everything is 100% clear in my mind around those 10 days or so, but I remember sitting in the car on the way back home (my mama driving) both of us crying, & me thinking over & over again: I need to shave my head. I need to shave my head.
That evening, my mama went out with a friend (it’s what she deserved) & I went to supercuts. I took a before photo – my eyes look sleepy & dull, & I look very sad. Then there’s an after photo, taken the moment I walked out of Supercuts (I was sitting on the curb when I took it). The outfit is the same, the photos were taken 30 minutes apart – but I truly believe my eyes look happier & brighter once my hair was off. You can see:
At that moment, getting rid of my hair was one of the most empowering decisions I could have made. It was me telling my mind that no matter what happened to me, I still had some control over my body. My body is my body, no matter what – & I am in control & ownership of it.
I’m not sure if people knew I intended on keeping it around this time, but it was my full intention to do so. In fact, about a month later, I bought my own clippers & started shaving my head myself. Initially, it took about three hours – the end result was uneven (& that’s me being kind) & my parents were mad, because I left a big mess in the bathroom. I don’t blame them.
I kept redoing my head, & as with most things, it got easier. I kept getting asked why I wanted to keep doing it. I was often asked if I shaved my head because of my illness, or whether the medications I was on caused hair loss.
The answer to that is no! I do not shave my head because of my medication side effects. I do shave my head because of my illness (at least, it’s one of the reasons why) but it’s not because I would have a patchy head of hair if I didn’t shave it.
Another question I get: Did you “pull a Britney? Is this a mental breakdown?”
First of all – no, I didn’t “pull a Britney.” Even if I did, it’s insulting to use an actual mental breakdown as an expression/jokey slang. Spears clearly was going through a lot when she shaved her own head, & perhaps it helped her cope – perhaps it didn’t. That’s not the point, though. Although I shaved my head to cope, it wasn’t because I was in imminent danger. It was simply a way for me to replace past negative coping mechanisms with a positive one.
I had a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms for the past two years when trying to wrestle with my illness. Some of them fall under the category of self-harm. Others just made me feel badly about myself. I tend to fiddle with/twist my hands or fingers when anxious. That only made my arthritic symptoms worse. I would have panic attacks, & would not know what to do with myself – so I would run around, I’d hit the floor, I’d punch my stomach, hoping that something bad would happen.
Thankfully, nothing did. I’m lucky nothing did – but that’s just a small peek at some of the very unhealthy ways in which I “tried” (& failed) to cope with my illness. Self-harm only brings greater mental anguish; sometimes, it can be life-threatening. I’m lucky I’m alive today, & I am grateful that I’ve moved past that toxic mindset & replaced those toxic behaviors with healthier ones.
Now, when I’m anxious, I rub my head. It feels velvety & soft; it’s like having a stress ball – except the stress ball is my head. I’ve found that I do this more now. I don’t twist my hands. I don’t hit my stomach. I just “fuzz my head,” as I call it.
So – one of the biggest reasons I shaved my head in the first place (& continue to do so) is because it helped me find a healthy coping mechanism; one that would soothe me rather than harm me. I find now that shaving my head is very ritualistic. Since I do it myself, I have a whole routine. It used to take three hours; now, it can take 30-45 minutes if I do it right. I like to shave my head the evening before some serious testing or a big medical procedure. It’s a reminder to myself: this is my body, & no one can take that away from me.
Let’s move back to Sinéad for a second.
When I read that O’Connor shaved her head to protect herself; to make herself look as “ugly” as possible – I started seeing a lot of parallels between my behavior & hers.
As someone who now ID’s as lesbian, maintaining my buzzcut makes me feel “gayer.” Does one need to have a shaved head to “feel gay?” No – absolutely not. Personally, however, I feel more confident, more assertive, & more myself. I feel comfortable with my identity, & my very short hair helped me come to terms with my sexual identity. Sinéad’s explanation pretty much nailed it: I wanted to avoid the male gaze. Cishet men do not typically find women (or non-binary folks) with buzzcuts sexually appealing. Never say never, of course – & I’m not trying to imply that it solves the problem of being approached in a sexual way by men, because when a man wants to catcall, he will – but it helps. It’s an outward way for me to say: Hey – this is who I am. I feel very comfortable like this.
Would I be any less gay if I didn’t have my head shaved? Of course not! If I grow out my hair in the future, will I be less gay? Of course not! Right now, though, it’s what I need. With the help of my $50 WAHL clippers purchased at Walgreens, I’m maintaining my own G.I. Jane, reaffirming my identity to myself every time I look in the mirror – & I think I look pretty great, too.
When asked: Are you keeping your hair this way forever? I don’t have an answer, because I don’t know. I do know that every single time I shave my head, I feel comfortable, calm, & at peace with myself. It’s an incredible coping mechanism for me – it’s a healthy one. It’s not putting me in danger. It makes me feel freer, more assertive, & more willing to put myself out there. It’s been integral in helping me feel more comfortable with my identity as a chronically ill lesbian.
Buzzcuts have been breaking gender norms on & off the runway in the past few years. Although many of the models sporting a buzzcut identify as cisgender heterosexual women, just as many do not. LGBT model Ruth Bell got her career kickstarted when she shaved her long blonde hair. Adwoa Aboah (model of 2017) has had a buzz for quite a while, & Sudanese models (& runway icons) Ajak Deng & Grace Bol have had them for even longer. Off the runway, Rihanna & N.E.R.D. “broke the internet” with the music video Lemon. The song Lemon (by Pharrell) features Rihanna rapping (the first time we’ve ever heard Rihanna rap) & the music video (watch it here) features Mette Towley, a dancer who got her head shaved on camera by Rihanna (!!!) who proceeds to dance for the remainder of the video. That sparked even more interest around the buzzcut. When Rihanna’s involved in a project, the people pay attention. I have no doubt we’ll continue to see even more buzzes pop up after this.
The acclaimed hair stylist Guido Palau had this to say on the return of the buzzcut (as told to Allure):
“[A buzzed head] makes you feel that a woman is strong, she has her own mind, and wants to let people see her the way she wants to be seen.” says Palau. “I often find that when I do buzz cuts, girls would change the way they dress, the way they stand, their whole attitude.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. My fashion, my stance, & my attitude have made leaps & bounds ever since I consciously made the decision to maintain my buzzcut. As someone who struggles with body image, thanks to chronic illness, that’s incredible to experience. It’s an incredible existence to live. & it makes me feel more comfortable with my sexuality.
So – sorry, everyone! If you don’t like my buzz, it’ll be staying around for at least a little while. I don’t have any plans to grow it out at the moment. Who knows what the future will hold, right? In the moment, I’m grateful to my clippers, my own personal growth, & my Instagram explore page for initially introducing me to the style.
Have any of you thought of buzzing your hair? Let me know if you have already done it, if you’re planning on doing it – or if you’re just not sure! I do get this question a lot: “Will a buzzcut look bad on my face shape?” To that, I say:
Do men wonder the same thing before getting a buzzcut? Do little boys? There are always a few exceptions, but the overwhelming majority would probably not worry about it. Remind yourself of that – & if you still want the buzz after that, go for it. Be free.