August 1, 2021

‘Whip My Hair’ Off: How shaving their heads empowered these women in music

For a lot of women, their hair is their crowning glory, but for others it’s nothing more than society-dictated bonds that sap women of their money, their energy and their confidence. Fear instils many who attend hairdressers; the dread that one may leave with a much shorter do than they had intended. After all, long hair is so often seen as traditionally beautiful. Losing it can feel like losing one’s beauty.

Willow Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith at Cannes Film Festival 2012 / Photo credit: ABACA/PA Images

It’s no wonder that so many modern women have opted to brave the shave instead, reclaiming their identities along the way and discovering an easier way of living, while simultaneously discovering that their hair was never the determining factor in their beauty.

These five musicians are just a handful of those women who have felt so wonderfully empowered and liberated with shaved heads.

Willow Smith

Willow Smith hit headlines today after she shaved her head on stage during a performance of her 2010 debut single Whip My Hair as part of her Facebook live event “Willow in Concert: Lately I Feel Everything”.

It certainly wasn’t the first time she made the bold move, but there’s something important behind it each time.

“I’m always shaving my head at monumental times in my life, when things are really changing,” she said. “And this is definitely one of those moments.”

She previously shaved her head back in 2012 during her Whip My Hair Tour when she was just 11, and again for a performance art installation in 2020. Mom Jada Pinkett-Smith defended her daughter the first time round saying, “Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair.”

MORE: Watch the video for Willow’s new song Transparent Soul

Grace Jones

The famously gender-ambiguous Grace Jones confessed why she decided to shave her hair off in her autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. She thought that a shaved head would be “less tied to a specific race or sex or tribe”.

“I was black, but not black; woman, but not woman; American, but Jamaican; African, but science fiction,” she wrote.

Elsewhere in the book, she revealed: “Shaving my head led directly to my first orgasm.” Her logic regarding that situation came from the fact that that particular sexual encounter was actually with the hairstylist who shaved her head. It makes sense; the man who liberated her from social constraints about women’s hair was the man to give her the sexual freedom all women deserve.

Sinead O’Connor

For Nothing Compares 2 U singer Sinead O’Connor, shaving her head largely came out of a desire to be safe.

Sinead O’Connor in 2003 / Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images

“I didn’t want to be pretty,” she said in an interview with Dr. Phil. “It was dangerous to be pretty because I was getting raped and molested everywhere I went… Other girls beat you up if you were pretty too.”

It was also partly an act of rebellion when she was trying to make it in the music industry, which at the time had very few qualms about selling female musicians as sex symbols rather than artists.

“I was asked one day would I grow my hair long and wear short skirts because they wanted to sell me on my sexuality,” she said. “I didn’t want to be sold on that. If I was going to be successful, I wanted it to be because I was a good musician.”

Solange Knowles

When Solange got a buzzcut in 2009, there were many who compared it to Britney Spears’ breakdown in 2007 – an example of vulnerability rather than empowerment. But she was quick to shut down the haters.

“I’m not trying to make this a style or a statement,” she said. “I just wanted to be free from the bondage that black women sometimes put on themselves with hair.

This phase of my life, I want to spend the time, the energy and the money on something else. Not in the hair salon.”

Halsey

When Halsey shaved her head in 2015, it had to do with similar reasons to Solange, though with the addition that she wanted to see if she could still love herself without her hair.

“Hair has also been a big indicator of racial issues in my life,” she told Nylon. “It’s one of the ultimate symbolic struggles for women of color. Shaving my head was important to me because I needed to be able to prove that I could still love myself if I did it.”

Since then, she’s gone back to the hairstyle once again, though now appears to be sporting braids.

Halsey at the 2018 American Music Awards / Photo credit: Image Press Agency/SIPA USA/PA Images

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