A week before I began my freshman year at Howard University in 2011, I went to my local barber, sat in the chair, and told him to cut off all my hair. After years of perms and hot combs burning my scalp and leaving me to equate beauty with pain, I knew it was time for a change. Amid the many stares of the men in the shop questioning why I would want to do that, I felt the buzzers on the nape of my neck and knew I wasn’t turning back. When I left the barbershop, I felt empowered and free; however, the consistent looks and accompanying commentary that soon came with it from people I didn’t even know made me wonder why seeing a woman with a short haircut was such a taboo topic. To be frank, I can count the times I was asked about my health status or sexual orientation — as if either of those were determinants of a woman’s hair choice.
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But now more than ever, women are reclaiming their power — and the power that has long been given to their hair. In lieu of long, flowy tresses, many individuals are sporting short, cropped, or buzzed looks. Lest we forget, back in the late ’80s Sinéad O’Connor rebelled against the societal norms of women in the music industry by cutting off all her hair, and Grace Jones lopped off her tresses in an act of rebellion against how women were meant to behave.
It seems this moment is becoming longer than a running trend — celebrities such as Willow Smith, Keke Palmer, Kristen Stewart, Amandla Stenberg, Cara Delevingne, Sanaa Lathan, and the list goes on — have all rocked buzzcuts. Women like Amber Rose pushed the envelope before it became a “thing.” And who can forget even the moments that have forever been encapsulated in pop culture, like Britney Spears infamously shaving her hair off in 2007?
There are modern characters like Eleven from Stranger Things, the amazing Dora Milaje warrior women in Black Panther, and others who have reintroduced what it looks like to be a beautiful, badass woman without hair. Oh, and don’t mistake that the only ones making a difference are on the big screen — even in local communities, buzzed beauties are getting things done, like Emma González. González not only has become a symbol of hope for speaking out on gun reform after the Parkland, Fla., shooting, but also a symbol of female empowerment in her decision to shave her head as a marker of her preparing to continue war against those who uphold current gun regulations. As she puts it, “When you got work to do but your hair’s gettin too long #StonemanStrong #BaldiesGetTheJobDone #MarchForOurLives.” And while it’s not necessarily a political move, it’s still pretty bold.
“I think right now with the movement of women moving into their own, it’s literally like #TimesUp. We can do things to make our own selves happy. We don’t have to do things to appease other people anymore,” says Camille Friend, the lead hairstylist of Marvel’s Black Panther and founder of HairScholars.com. “When women are cutting their hair, it’s a statement that we are not tied to our hair. Your hair is not who you are; that’s based deeper.”
Yahoo Lifestyle chatted with seven women on the importance (or lack thereof) of hair, and how this influences and empowers young girls and women today.
Ashley Weatherford, senior beauty editor at the Cut
Yahoo Lifestyle: Is the conversation about women and the relationship with their hair shifting?
Weatherford: I think that hair in many ways has always been a form of self-expression. If you look at the natural-hair movement, it obviously marks a moment where women of color are changing how we view our hair and how we style it. In terms of the movement, we have seen a shift in how women are choosing to just relate to their hair — more so now, it’s not following a style, it’s exercising the freedom of choice. Previously we were told, “This is presentable,” or “This is beautiful,” but now we’re seeing a shift.
I think for some women, the stigma has really shifted for them. No one thing should be the definitive factor in what makes you feel or look beautiful. I think that the idea of just doing what you want is more prevalent in the past. Now we have more examples of women showing us the versatility of hair; when you see others doing it, it gives you the confidence to try.
How do you hope the conversation evolves?
When talking about young girls, it would be nice that a clear message was received that their hair, like any part of their body, doesn’t have to be one way. It can be any way and that’s OK. We have pressures from culture, from parents, to perform these roles, and I’m happy to see that those messages are changing. [Hair] should just be a thing in their life that they have power over, and not make them have to perform to a certain set of standards that they don’t subscribe to.
Camille Friend, lead hairstylist for Black Panther
Yahoo Lifestyle: Do you believe there has been a gradual shift in how women perceive their hair?
Friend: I think it’s been a gradual progression. Black Panther brought it all to the forefront, and then there are new companies that just make hair that has texture or curl. All of these things have made the movement evolve, but Black Panther put it on showcase for everyone to see the beauty of black hair.
How did you conceptualize the looks for Black Panther?
Anytime I do a movie, I think how can we create looks that will be timeless. This was the greatest opportunity — Marvel was very open to it, and I wanted to showcase all the hair that we have. It shows our hair is versatile, and we can do whatever we want when put in the right hands.
Why do you think women were previously afraid to cut their hair?
I think it’s culture, community. In a lot of workplaces, that wasn’t accepted. But now, we’re stepping into our power. We don’t care what you think; we’re doing what makes us feel happy and feel strong. Women have to support other women; that’s important in all aspects. You have to be the teacher and be the example instead of tearing others down. Helping others doesn’t take away from you; it makes everyone better. People will follow.
How do you hope the conversation evolves?
I just hope the conversation becomes a nonconversation. It’s something we don’t have to talk about anymore because it becomes a standard, and people don’t have to live in fear.
Stephanie Saltzman, beauty editor at Fashionista
Yahoo Lifestyle: Is the definition of beauty changing?
Saltzman: As people in the fashion and beauty industries — and outside of them — have turned more to social media in recent years for inspiration, they’ve been confronted with a more well-rounded, diverse representation of beauty in all its forms. I think showing women with shorter hair or styles that may have been viewed as fringe or extreme in the past is just one manifestation of that. Personally, I think that any type of content that shows a one-note, idealized form of beauty is boring as hell. Celebrating short hair and buzzcuts in addition to longer styles is one more way to build a diverse notion of what beauty can be, and what it looks like in the real world.
What do you hope to see in the future?
I hope that we’re getting to a point where it will no longer be newsworthy when a woman makes a drastic hair change or chooses any beauty look that’s unexpected. Sure, maybe it’ll be covered from an inspiration or trend perspective — that’s my job, and I love that — but that tabloid/clickbait/hyperbolic angle of “she’s unrecognizable!!!!” that’s so common nowadays is getting pretty old. As far as I’m concerned, the only “necessity” when it comes to a woman’s beauty choices is that they are hers — and hers alone — to make.
Marissa “Mars” Hili, model and actress
Yahoo Lifestyle: What made you cut your hair?
Hili: I’ve always had long hair but I was always changing it — dyes, layers, bangs, etc. One day I cut it into a bob, then a pixie cut, until I was finally brave enough to shave my head this past November. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It was a fresh start. I could no longer hide behind my hair. Now it’s all me.
How do you feel about the movement of women embracing short hair?
Short hair has been becoming a trend the last few years. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of girls with shaved heads on Instagram as well as in mainstream media. Slick Woods, the face of Fenty Beauty, has a buzzcut, tattoos, and a gap tooth. She’s not the typical model we’ve seen before with long hair, long legs. … I think the public finally wants to see real people represented and not the same European beauty standards, which we’re so used to seeing in the U.S. Hair is just one way people express themselves, and trends often start as a result of what we are fed as consumers. It’s cool to see bald women stepping into the spotlight.
Why do you think people were afraid to cut their hair in the past?
Older, more traditional women who have told me they favor me with long hair have also told me that boys don’t like girls with short hair or that I look “butchy” or “unfeminine.” There are all sorts of stigmas that come with having short hair. I say the length of my hair doesn’t define me.
Who are some of your bald superheroines?
Slick Woods and Jazzelle Zanaughtti were two of my biggest inspirations in making the decision to shave my head. Their styles are so unique, and they are so authentically themselves in a way that demands a certain kind of unapologetic confidence.
I think more women are starting to care less about male approval and starting to say, “We can look however we wanna look and do whatever we wanna do with our bodies.”
Grace Brumley, photo producer
Yahoo Lifestyle: Why did you cut your hair?
Brumley: The first time I cut my hair short I was 15, living in the Midwest, and a huge Agyness Deyn fan. I was in awe of how beautiful and confident she looked, and I wanted that for myself. I’ve had short hair on and off for 10 years, growing it out every few years before chopping it off again after a major life event (graduating college, getting laid off, dog dying, getting a new job, etc.). Making the decision to chop off my locks gives me confidence and power in times of instability.
Does anything surprise you about people’s reactions to your hair?
It still shocks me how many times I hear “I could never pull that off” or “Wow, you’re so brave,” when in reality this is the easiest, stress- and fuss-free haircut. It requires no product (not even shampoo), and you can go to a barber shop or buzz it yourself, which saves an ungodly amount of money every year. Those type of comments make me uncomfortable, probably because having short hair is very revealing. You don’t have long, beautiful hair to hide under. Every imperfection is exposed.
Have you seen a shift in the conversations of women and their hair?
Women with buzzed and short hair are dismantling the age-old stereotype of long hair being necessary to be beautiful, and it’s really cool to see a younger generation embracing that. In the past few years, friends’ daughters have started asking for short haircuts. They definitely see it as a practical move, but I can see we’ve started to move the needle. It’s really nice to see women embracing their natural textures and feeling comfortable with natural, nonstyled hair.
Who are some of your bald superheroines?
My inspiration to cut my hair 10 years ago was Agyness Deyn, and these days it’s Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted and Charlize Theron in Mad Max. Women with short hair exude a confidence that is unparalleled. There’s something about exposing your entire face, neck, and ears that makes you feel vulnerable.
Tara Well, psychologist and research scientist
Yahoo Lifestyle: What role does hair play in the way we are perceived?
Well: First impressions are extremely important. Before we even speak, people sum up us in a matter of seconds based on our physical appearance. We make a lot of assumptions about people based on very little actual information. Our hair plays an important role in first impressions. So how we chose to wear our hair may seem like a small decision, but it’s really a big decision.
What role do you see hair playing for future generations as we continue to grow more open to various forms of beauty?
Hairstyles have changed over time. What looked very fashionable a century ago or even a decade ago can seem a bit bizarre by today’s standards. What’s more important is how women felt wearing their hair in these styles. I think hair will always be an important vehicle for people to express their individuality, and hopefully as time goes by a wider range of expression will be enjoyed by all.
Tomi Adesokan, strategic insights and analytics coordinator
Yahoo Lifestyle: How would you describe your relationship with your hair?
Adesokan: My relationship with my hair is wonderful. I love my hair; my hair loves me. She doesn’t bother me; I don’t bother her. I give myself a haircut every week. I feel liberated, I feel like a #BOSS after I cut my hair or get a fade.
Who are your short-haired superheroines?
My hair inspirations are Amber Rose and Danai Gurira. I don’t care what anyone says; Amber Rose is that girl. She made being bald sexy, and she just walks around like no one is going to f*** with her. Danai Gurira wears her hair so effortless as an African woman, while advocating for women’s rights. She didn’t cut her hair for a movie role; she cut it off just because. It is amazing to see a black woman in the entertainment industry just doing as she pleases with hair and not caring about what others think.
Do you believe the conversation is shifting on beauty and hair?
The conversation has shifted and changed. It’s changed to black women doing whatever the hell they want to with their hair, and they could care less about your thoughts or the stereotypes. It’s amazing to see women of color in media wearing various hairstyles. As always, representation matters. I just hope this isn’t a trend/fad and that this shift continues.
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