Last week, Chris Pine shaved his head because he was bored. Last December, I did the same thing for more or less the same reason. Before I took some clippers to my skull, I had similar hair to Pine — a sort of relaxed slicked-back part, like Andy Garcia in the ‘90s — though I wouldn’t dare claim Pine’s Hair-God status.
I received my fair share of, “What were you thinking?” looks after the fact (of course, no one on the internet freaked out about it.) And yet, in the aftermath of what might be considered a genocide against my mane, I briefly felt liberated and a bit smug in my new look — until I felt nothing at all.
Much ink has been spilled about women and the “breakup haircut,” but this was not that for me nor Pine. Men shave their heads for any number of reasons—foremost among them because they’re going bald. But I wasn’t losing my hair; quite the opposite, it was my crowning glory. Which is why it took another man, a famous man, with better hair and more to lose, for me to better understand what I’d actually done when I gave myself what I now call the buzz-kill buzz cut.
In 2014, British GQ declared that it was time to buzz it all off. Months later, The New York Times wrote that the next big trend was buzz cuts. But that was three years ago. The half-life of a trend these days is less than the time it takes to play through a Snapchat story, which is to say that both my buzz cut and Mr. Pine’s have less to do with trends than with slicing away something that has come to define you—i.e., killing everyone else’s buzz over your luscious locks.
Charles Bukowski wrote a short story about a beautiful woman named Cass who deliberately injures her face to see if the male protagonist still finds her attractive.
“Why do you haggle your beauty?” the narrator asks her. “Why don’t you just live with it?”
“Because people think it’s all I have. Beauty is nothing, beauty won’t stay,” she replies.
In large part, the buzz-kill buzz cut is an act against your own vanity. Like Cass’s ugly self-harm, the buzz cut says to the world, “I’m getting rid of this thing because I know how much you like it.” Which is why, in most any movie scene, the man shaving his own head is shown looking back at himself in the mirror with a sadistic grin on his face. The man who shaves his own head out of boredom is the man who wants to watch the world burn.
The buzz cut is also a self-imposed dare. We’d all like to think that we could do without our hair and the attention it brings us, but until I actually did it and the top of my head felt cold and naked, it was impossible to know for sure.
For women, the buzz cut represents a very different agenda—and is of course scrutinized much more harshly. When Britney Spears shaved her head, everyone assume she’d lost her shit. And maybe she had. But for most women, shaving their head can be a source of breaking away from gender role constraints, to show rebellion against default society or a post breakup reboot. And for Hasidic Jewish women shaving their head is a symbol of fidelity and a way to denote they are off the market.
Beyond that, there’s a bareness associated with women who shave their head that’s not nearly the same for men, who have historically shaved their heads as part of various rites of passage. Buddhist men going into priesthood are required to shave their heads, as are soldiers joining the military. And of course being incarcerated doesn’t so much require a shaved head as it strongly suggests it.
For me, however, there was no impending baptism. I had no plans of signing up or signing in. I was bored, curious and a bit vengeful toward all the people who’d asked if they could touch my hair, as though I were a puppy, before they even asked my name. And for a few weeks the change was enough to keep me happy. I’d run my fingers through the thin spikes on my head and I could feel the endorphins flood my body. And then a month passed, and my hair though still short, was no longer buzzed. The coarse sound of punk rock had begun to morph into the melodies of indie rock. And it was then that I realized that the only person I had hurt with my rash decision to shave it all off was myself.
Luckily for both Chris Pine and me, hair grows back. But until mine does, I have only myself to blame for ultimately killing my own buzz. Thankfully, as history has shown us, the world doesn’t burn when one man sets fire to himself or his hair.