Head shaving

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Hockey player David Perron with a shaved head by choice

Head shaving is the practice of shaving the hair from a person's head. People throughout history have shaved all or part of their heads for diverse reasons including practicality, convenience, fashion, style, religion, aesthetics, culture, and punishment.

Early history[edit]

The earliest historical records describing head shaving are from ancient Mediterranean cultures such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The Egyptian priest class ritualistically removed all hair from head to toe by plucking it.

Contexts[edit]

Military[edit]

Barber at the souk (1897) by Enrique Simonet

The practice of shaving heads has been used in the military. Although sometimes explained as being for hygiene reasons, the image of strict and disciplined conformity is also accepted as a factor. Upon the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, many soldiers chose to have their heads completely shaved to deny the defending Nazis something to grab onto if they found themselves in hand-to-hand combat. For the new recruit, it can be a rite of passage, and variations become a badge of honor.

The militaries of the United States, Russia, and several other countries welcome their recruits by giving them haircuts using hair clippers with no guard attached. As of 2011, a shaved head continued to be the standard haircut in the Air Force, Marine Corps, Army, and Coast Guard of the U.S. during basic training; upon graduation, grooming restrictions are relaxed in accordance with each service's regulations. There have been traditions spawned from this, such as shaving one's head when a service member enters the Mediterranean Sea by ship for the first time (known as "Med Head").[citation needed].

In Greece, this practice was abolished on 25 June 1982, when the military started allowing recruits to have up to 4 cm of hair. Before then, the regulation haircut in the Greek Army for recruits was en hro (an archaic phrase for "shaved to the bone").[citation needed]

Prison and punishment[edit]

photograph
French women accused of collaborating with the Nazis being paraded through the streets barefoot, shaved, and with swastikas burned into their faces in 1944

Prisoners commonly have their heads shaven to prevent the spread of lice, but it may also be used as a demeaning measure. Having the head shaved can be a punishment prescribed in law.[1] The Nazis punished people accused of racial mixing by parading them through the streets with shaved heads and placards around their necks detailing their crime.[2]

During and after World War II, thousands of French women had their heads shaved in front of cheering crowds as punishment for either collaborating with the Nazis or having sexual relationships with Nazi soldiers during the war.[3][4][5] Some Finnish women also had their heads shaved for allegedly having relationships with Soviet POWs during the war.[6]

Religious[edit]

A Buddhist monk shaving the head of a devotee to prepare him for priesthood

Many Buddhists and Vaisnavas, especially Hare Krishnas, shave their heads. Some Hindu and most Buddhist monks and nuns shave their heads upon entering their order, and Buddhist monks and nuns in Korea have their heads shaved every 15 days.[7] Muslim men have the choice of shaving their head after performing the Umrah and Hajj, following the tradition of committing to Allah, but are not required to keep it permanently shaved.

Hasidic Jewish men will occasionally shave all of their head except for the sides to emphasize their payot (sidelocks). In certain Hasidic sects, most famously Satmar, married women shave their head every month before immersion in the mikveh (ritual bath).

Class[edit]

Throughout much of the 20th century in many Western countries, head shaving was considered somewhat unusual or lower-class.[by whom?] Head shaving was often associated with manual workers such as sailors, dockers, and soldiers, as well as with prisoners and hospital patients.[citation needed] In contrast, ancient Mayan nobles shaved their heads.[8][9]

Sport[edit]

Mo Farah with a shaved head
Randy Orton with a shaved head by choice

Competitive swimmers will often shave their body from head to toe to reduce drag while swimming. The same may also be true for sprinters, joggers, and other runners.

Baldness[edit]

Russian-American actor Yul Brynner popularized a shaved head in the 1950s...
... as did American basketball player Michael Jordan in the 1990s...
... alongside French soccer player Zinedine Zidane...
... and American professional wrestler Steve Austin

People suffering from hair loss may shave their heads in order to look more presentable, be more convenient, or adhere to a certain style or fashion movement. Those with alopecia areata or pattern baldness often choose to shave, which has rapidly become a more common choice since the 1990s.[10] It has also become more common for bald men to accessorize with small hoop or stud earrings, a look famously adopted by figures such as basketball player Michael Jordan and professional wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin upon shaving their heads in the 1990s.[11]

Notable people[edit]

This list focuses only on individuals who are notable in mainstream pop culture and for whom a shaved head is an important part of their public image.

Fiction[edit]

In modern fiction, shaved heads are often associated with characters who display a stern and disciplined or hardcore attitude. Examples include those played by Yul Brynner, Vin Diesel, Telly Savalas (Kojak), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), and Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Ripley), as well as characters such as Walter White, Mr. Clean, Kratos, Agent 47, and Saitama. Baldness is sometimes an important part of these characters' biographies; for example, Saitama lost all of his hair in exchange for receiving his superpowers. Shaved heads are also often associated with villains in fiction, such as Lex Luthor, Colonel Kurtz, and Ernst Stavro Blofeld. A notable exception is Daddy Warbucks.

A goatee, usually of the Van Dyke variety, is often worn to complement the look or add sophistication; this look was widely popularized in the mid-to-late 1990s by professional wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin. For the majority of the crime drama series Breaking Bad, often regarded as one of the greatest TV series of all time,[70] the aforementioned Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) wore a Van Dyke with a shaved head, contributing to the character's iconic status.[71]

In futuristic settings, shaved heads are often associated with bland uniformity, especially in sterile settings such as V for Vendetta and THX 1138.[72] In the 1927 sci-fi film Metropolis, hundreds of extras had their heads shaved to represent the oppressed masses of a future dystopia.

It is less common for female characters to have shaved heads, though some actresses have shaved their heads[73] or used bald caps[74] for roles.

Skinhead and other subcultures[edit]

In the 1960s, some British working-class youths developed the skinhead subculture, whose members were distinguished by short cropped hair (although they did not shave their heads down to the scalp at the time). This look was partly influenced by the Jamaican rude boy style.[75][76] It was not until the skinhead revival in the late 1970s—with the appearance of punk-influenced Oi! skinheads—that many skinheads started shaving their hair right down to the scalp. Head shaving has also appeared in other youth-oriented subcultures such as the hardcore, black metal, metalcore, nu metal, hip hop, techno, and neo-nazi scenes.

Sexuality and gender[edit]

A sexual fetish involving head shaving is called trichophilia. While a shaved head on a man is often seen as a sign of authority and virility, a shaved head on a woman typically connotes androgyny, especially when combined with traditionally feminine signifiers. It may, but does not always, express membership in the LGBT community; gay men sometimes incorporate a shaven head into their overall look, particularly amongst the bear subculture. Those with the stereotypical "Castro clone" look commonly shave their heads in order to project a homoerotic, ultra-masculine image. Drag queens have sometimes adopted shaved heads to express a genderqueer image. In the BDSM community, shaving a submissive or slave's head is often used to demonstrate powerlessness or submission to the will of a dominant.

Fundraising and support[edit]

Cancer[edit]

Women shaving their heads at the 46 Mommas event, a cancer-related fundraising and awareness program

Baldness is a well-known side effect of the chemotherapy often used to treat cancer, and some people shave their heads before undergoing such treatment; some people chose to shave their heads in solidarity with cancer sufferers, particularly as part of a fundraising effort.

Covhead-19 Challenge[edit]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries imposed strict lockdown procedures and actively encouraged members of the public to self-isolate. Many people, particularly men, initially began to shave their heads as a way of fighting boredom during lockdown and because they were unable to have their hair cut due to all barber shops being closed.[77] In the UK, a fundraising effort began to support the NHS, which suffered from the enormous pressure of the pandemic. The effort was started on Just Giving with a goal of £100,000; dubbed the "Covhead-19 Challenge", it encouraged people to shave their heads whilst also donating money to the NHS. Various celebrities have also taken part.[78]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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