hairy situations

What to Expect When You Buzz Off All Your Hair

Photo: Getty Images

In May of 2016, I buzzed off all my long hair. About six months later, I went to interview Kristen Stewart at the New York Film Festival, and the first thing she said to me was, “I really want to shave my head.” Technically, I can’t claim credit for the platinum buzz cut Stewart premiered six months later — the next few words out of her mouth were, “I think I’m going to do it after this next movie I’m in” — but I like to think I offered some constructive encouragement.

Stewart’s was the first celeb buzz, but Cara Delevingne soon followed suit (although hers was for a movie role), and so did Zoë Kravitz and Katy Perry, giving rise to the phrase “team buzz cut.” As someone who’s been on that team for more than a year now, here’s what I’ve learned about what happens when you decide to join.

You will have a V for Vendetta moment.
You know that moment in V for Vendetta when Natalie Portman sobs and shivers while getting her head forcibly shaved in “prison”? And then, a few scenes later, that other moment where she straddles a roof, arms up, face tilted ecstatically toward the falling rain? Those are the two phases of getting a buzz cut. The first is like an ice cube just slipped into your stomach, and the second is like flying. Personally, I went from waist-length mermaid mane to bob to pixie cut to buzz, but even with the gradual transition, this haircut was a shock to my system. Sitting in the barber’s chair (I shave it myself now, but that first time I hired a professional), I experienced a moment of gut-dropping panic as clumps of my hair hit the floor. But when it was all over, I rubbed my palm over the barely there bristles and walked out of the shop feeling invincible. As Cara put it, “It’s one of the most liberating things I have ever done in my life.”

You are always cold.
I’m a thermally challenged person in the first place — when I get too cold, my fingernails turn blue, which I should probably get checked out — but I wasn’t prepared for how much a shaved head would amp up that particular trait. In May, and all through that first summer, I looked around at everyone with hair and thought, “suckers.” Then came September, which is about when I started wearing hats. I didn’t stop until mid-April, and I still keep a beanie in my desk drawer for days when the office AC is cranked.

Strangers want to (and will) touch your head.
When Kristen made her first red-carpet appearance post-buzz, she couldn’t stop touching her head — turns out that’s a common side effect, even among strangers. The nice ones ask permission, but the bolder ones will just get right up in there and give it a rub. Most recently, an Australian tourist at a gay bar I’d gone to with friends asked the question, “Do you mind if I touch your head?” midway through touching my head. I didn’t mind — it feels like a gentle scalp massage, which is to say: good — but the number of people I do not know who suddenly feel entitled to a piece of my scalp is astonishing.

You spend exactly zero time on hair care.
When I was a kid, I used to descend the stairs each morning holding a paddle brush. I was obsessive about brushing and styling my hair — something that stayed constant through my teens and into adulthood. Even with a pixie cut, I’d spend a good quarter of an hour making sure my bangs were perfectly mussed. Those days are over; in fact, I rarely use shampoo. My waxes, mousses, and masks are long gone — the only maintenance this cut requires is a once-a-week buzz to keep any fluffiness at bay.

You get the weirdest catcalls.
My favorite catcall of all time happened when a guy almost got hit by a car on Myrtle Avenue because he stopped in the middle of a crosswalk to compliment my sparkly pink Vans and completely disregarded the light change. My second-favorite came from a construction worker in Union Square who said as I walked by, “I really love your haircut.” I expected my androgynous look to draw less attention on the street, but now, instead of hearing “Nice ass!” the comments usually have something to do with my hair (or lack thereof). Don’t get me wrong — they’re still problematic. But honestly, the type of catcalls I’m now getting are a welcome change. (Then again, I now get the occasional tweet telling me I look like a “little boy” — you win some, you lose some.)

You discover new things about your face.
Being international celebrities, Cara, Kristen, Katy, and Zoë all have annoyingly symmetrical faces. But when I buzzed my head, I began to notice little imperfections about my face that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen: My right ear is slightly higher than my left, for example. Yet somehow those imperfections have engendered, if not a fondness, then at least a familiarity with my own features in a way long hair never could. I’ve made peace with my face because I have nothing to hide behind.

No one necessarily assumes you’re queer.
An ex-girlfriend recently told me that when we first met she assumed I was straight, buzz cut and all (which, rude). Granted this truism might only apply in New York City, but these days just having short hair won’t prompt most people to instantly label you a lesbian.

People call you “brave.”
A certain vocabulary comes into play around short hair in general and buzz cuts in particular: Words like dramatic, daring, drastic, bold, and extreme make it sound less like you’ve gotten a haircut and more like you’ve stormed an enemy fortress. I hear a lot of “you’re so brave” and “I could never pull that off,” which I know is well-intentioned, but it makes me roll my eyes. To me, you “pull off” a buzz cut in the same way you “get” a bikini body: Put a bikini on your body. Shave your head. Done.

What to Expect When You Buzz Off All Your Hair