Buzzed off

Last month, the New York Times decided to run a feature on the number of young women who have been getting buzzcuts recently. I shaved my hair really short for the first time this summer, so I was interested to read why the Times thought someone like me might choose to get the clippers out. Apparently, it might all be to do with: rejecting the male gaze /expressing a fluid gender identity / admiring models like Ruth Bell / wanting to make a statement / filtering out potential suitors who don’t approve of the skinhead look / having the right shape head to get away with it. The article mentioned androgyny, self-expression and hailed a generation of women who are “not afraid to not look pretty” (itself an ugly phrase, as it goes).

img_3344The NY Times list didn’t say anything about spending the best part of August climbing and camping in East Greenland without anywhere to wash and liking the practicality of a velvety skull, but hey. If I’m honest, a mountaineering trip was a convenient excuse. My hair’s been getting shorter for years and I’ve always liked the idea of having no hair to hide behind. And anything that’s good enough for Agyness Deyn is good enough for me.

As a woman, you might decide to get a buzzcut for any of the reasons suggested by the NY Times or none of them. But, personally, I’d recommend it for the endless entertainment it provides in social situations. Since I got a buzzcut, I’ve been called ‘Sir’ at Gatwick airport customs and one of my oldest friends has asked me if I’m having a midlife crisis. Two other acquaintances have thought it appropriate to come up and – repeatedly – tell me that they thought I was a boy when they saw me from afar. I’ve even been interested to note how I’ve started second guessing people’s reactions (‘warning’ people in advance if I haven’t seen them in a while, sending texts like: ‘just so you know, I bear a passing resemblance to a Belisha beacon at the moment.’). Equally, lots of other people have given the thumbs up.

What interests me most is the way that some people need to comment vociferously on hairstyles in a way they wouldn’t feel entitled to remark on other aspects of physical appearance. It’s pleasantly surreal, the kind of thing that makes me feel like a bemused, off-duty anthropologist. Looking through poems about hair on Google, I found lots of examples of it a sign of abundance, from Wesley McNair’s wry ‘Hair on Television’ to the ‘leaf-coloured’ locks in Robin Behn’s ‘My Hair’. Then, there’s ‘Snip Your Hair’ by Regina DeSalva which begins with the threat:

I’ll snip your hair
Cut it all off until you look like a man…

But I was most entranced by Minnie Bruce Pratt’s account of the process of cutting hair, seen through the eyes of someone who cuts it:
       ….All night, for weeks, her white hands lie clothed like  
those of a young girl going to her first party.   Sleeping alone,  
she opens and closes her long scissors and the hair falls under  
her hands.   It’s a good living, kind of like an undertaker,  
the people keep coming, and the hair, shoulder length, French  
twist, braids.   Someone has to cut it.   At the end she whisks  
and talcums my neck.   Only then can I bend and see my hair,  
how it covers the floor, curls and clippings of brown and silver,  
how it shines like a field of scythed hay beneath my feet.

2 thoughts on “Buzzed off

  1. A distressing number of years ago when I was an undergrad at Liverpool U all the men on my course had long hair. I’d worked a summer in Newquay and arrived at the start of the second year with very short surfer-style hair––a buzzcut, if you like. I was bullied, threatened and ostracised by these people who surely thought of themselves as non-conformers. As someone once said, it ‘gave me furiously to think’. Why does hair arouse such passion and fury? If you don’t mind me saying so, your buzzcut is just great.


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