The day that British model Ruth Bell shaved her hair for Alexander McQueen, her agent came over and wept. Bell herself laughed, as her blonde waist-length locks fell to the floor. Sharing her experience with Elle, she said that “it was more emotional for the people around me. But I didn't care. I was like, 'Let's do this.'” When a woman cuts her hair, why is there always such a knee-jerking emotional reaction? Could the sudden resurgence of the buzz cut on it-models, like Ruth Bell and Kris Gottschalk, be a telling sign that as women, we are finally reclaiming our aesthetic autonomy?
Historically, long luscious locks have been associated with femininity. From renaissance paintings like Sandro Botticelli’s depiction of the Birth of Venus, where Venus arrived by the shore with her long wavy hair, to August Renoir's routine depiction of women with long locks glistening in the sun, the male gaze of prolific artists shows us that for centuries, women with long hair have been the feminine ideal in the West.
The association of hair and femininity has not changed and even today, we see the emphasis of long hair in feminine beauty. Whenmodel and actress Agyness Deyn chopped her hair for a pixie cut, she was often pigeonholed into the androgynous look. It seems that once a woman’s hair is removed, the 'feminine' aspect of her identity becomes removed from the equation, willingly or not. AReuters study showed that the majority of hetero men prefer women with long hair. Apparently, the biological imperative to find a healthy, fertile mate may tell us why, at least in men; psychological theories contend that while women look for resource-richmates, men are chiefly seeking reproductive wellness in theirs.
John Berger’s theory on the male gaze argues that “men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at.” His theory in the BBC television series Ways of Seeing sought to explain how women were depicted in art in favour of the male gaze. In a more contemporary sense, women are still depicted in a way that caters to masculine preferences; Victoria's Secret models are known for their beachy tresses, and it is no surprise that top models of the moment such as Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid have long hair too.
But every now and then, among the sea of long maned models, there are breakthrough anomalies such as Ruth Bell, Kris Gottschalk, Lineisy Montero and Lina Hoss. These models demonstrate a look that is divergent from the male gaze by neglecting to cater to its ideals. If what Berger said was true, then perhaps the reclamation of women’s visual power is through disregarding the beauty standards of the male. Runways showcase these buzz cut models as they are - women - beyond the limited definition of "androgynous." (Gottschalk walked in Givenchy’s SS16 collection in a sexy sheer lace ensemble and Bell opened for Jason Wu in amore traditionally feminine floral number.)
With such power, there is an apparent shift in fashion to cater to the female gaze, and connect more deeply with the consumers of the womenswear industry. The increasing visibility of a spectrum of self-expression through hair and beauty seems to forecast the inevitable trendiness of the buzz cut (see: Hoss’s i-D cover and Saint Laurent’s Spring 2016 campaign featuring Bell and her bold 'do). Whether most women are gutsy enough to reach for a pair of clippers this season or not, be rest assured that we are making our own decisions from now on.