Every year, as spring becomes summer, the people who date men undergo a collective loss as guys spontaneously shave off their gorgeous hair.
From essentially puberty onward, this was a universal truth in my life. The boy with a beautiful head of bouncy, thick hair would show up to school after the first hot day in May, newly bald. Still in the grips of heteronormativity, the girls would all ask him, mournfully, why he had done such a thing. The answer, of course, was always basically, “Why not?”
Dig a little deeper and the truth probably resembles that one scene from Napoleon Dynamite where Pedro explains that he couldn’t cool off, so he decided to shave his head.
But dig even further and the truth might be that shaving one’s head is a sign of distress, a means of feeling control in a state of powerlessness.
Or maybe he’s just sweaty.
Maybe it’s both.
Obviously, the most iconic head-shave of all time was delivered by wealth redistribution activist Britney Spears. At the time, it was seen as a complete mental breakdown, and perhaps it was: Britney has never entirely clarified the incident herself, though people who knew her at the time say it was an act of rebellion against the oppressive control music executives, paparazzi and other figures in her life had over her body. It was her way of making a decision that felt truly her own.
According to Cathy Allsman, a psychologist in Miami, shaving your head as a coping method isn’t much different than buying a new lipstick or getting a tattoo. In terms of temporality, shaving your head sits somewhere in the middle and mimics the feelings of getting something new, while offering a sense of catharsis. “Shaving your head also has the whole stripping down for action metaphor going for it,” she says. Shaved heads are featured in the opening scene in Full Metal Jacket for a reason: While a clean-shaven head might have some practical purpose in the military, it’s ultimately a means of deconstructing individual identity and shaping a new collective one.
At the solo level, shaving one’s head can have a similar deconstructing and reshaping effect. Particularly for people who might keep their hair shorter anyway, shaving it all off is a quick and easy stylistic shift. This is probably why so many guys are quick to shave their heads in the first place — it can basically be done alone with zero technique, and it’ll grow back soon enough, anyway.
But still, for the people who admire someone else’s flow-y head of hair, it can feel like a loss to see it gone. In Clueless, Dionne is basically in tears seeing her boyfriend Murray have his head shaved: “What have you done?!?! Why did you do this to your hair?!?!”
“Because I’m keeping it real,” he explains.
Perhaps Murray shaved his head simply because it looked cool, or perhaps it was a means of curating his own image in a relationship where his partner primarily did it for him.
While this sense of mourning when a partner shaves their head might be universal, it might not be that healthy. In watching these clips and TikToks on the topic, I recall the several occasions in which my high school boyfriend would show up to class in the morning looking ready for combat. “Whyyyyyyy????” I’d think, and often say aloud. The answer was always some combination of it being hot out, wanting a change, salvaging a bad haircut or just plain being depressed. Looking back, I should have been more supportive. It was his hair, not mine.
As summer looms and barbershops remain closed, surely we will see buzzcuts increase in drastic numbers. Most of these will probably be the result of heat and an inability to trim one’s own hair. But for some, the cut might mean a bit more. Regardless, our collective sadness over a newly shaved head is probably unwarranted.