It’s a year since lockdown began and, by now, whatever collective enthusiasm we had for self-transformation has disappeared. Our stick-and-poke tattoos have faded; our poorly conceived novels languish unfinished on Google Docs; the sourdough ingredients gather dust in the farthest corner of the kitchen cupboard, and the Duolingo owl has taken to loitering outside our bedroom with a boombox, begging us to give him one more try.
In April 2020, we spoke to five women who’d shaved their heads in the early days of lockdown. In a devastating blow for the buzzcut community, every single one of them has grown their hair out. Still, the experience hasn’t all been bad. We caught up with them to find out what it was like navigating a pandemic while bald.
“I got really cold,” says Robyn, explaining her decision to grow her hair back. Back in lockdown, the journalist posted a selfie of her shaved head on Twitter, which was liked over 2,000 times. “I was freezing all the time and I found I was wearing a hat 90 percent of my life.”
Despite the cold, having a buzzcut was a mostly positive experience. “It definitely changed the way that people spoke to me,” she says. “I am not like the world's most stylish person and I’m a few pounds overweight and stuff, maybe you would think shaving my head would bring out those insecurities more. But for some reason it didn't. It did the opposite. People just thought it was cool. Especially if I wore makeup and earrings, I could make zero effort and look like I'd made a lot of effort.”
Joely with her shaved head and after growing it out. Photo: courtesy of subject
Joely initially shaved her head while trapped in lockdown in Peru. She says she loved having a buzzcut but, after a while, just got bored. “Sometimes it was a bit harder to look nice and I felt like I had to put a bit more effort in – especially after I stopped being tanned after summer. It just wasn't really working for me so much.”
But as with Robyn, she found that it changed the way people interacted with her in a positive way. “People think you are more interesting,” she says. “They’re like, ‘Maybe she's got something to say.’ People paid more attention to me than they did before. They'd be more likely to chat to me. It made me much more confident.”
Kitty with her shaved head and Kitty now. Photo: courtesy of subject
Former buzzcut enthusiast Kitty adds: “It was definitely a really interesting experience for me, and I don't regret it at all.” It was the growing-out phase that proved difficult: “There’s that horrible stage between having a shaved head and actual hair. I'm actually not overly preoccupied with looking feminine, but I did find when I was in that quite ugly stage, it made me feel quite self-conscious.”
Jennifer with her shaved head and Jennifer now. Photo: courtesy of subject
Jennifer shaved her head the same week she spoke to VICE last year, and also struggled with growing it out. “I went to the barbers to get it trimmed at the side, and they asked, 'What does your boyfriend think about it?' I was just like, ‘I don't give a fuck.’ They said that because I was wearing trackies and had a skinhead, I looked like a boy – grow up! It was just weird.”
Getting a buzzcut also had some unexpected advantages. “I used to have scalp psoriasis that went away when I shaved it off,” Jennifer explains, “and even now my hair’s grown back in, it never came back – so I don’t have psoriasis anymore! Also, before when my hair was bleached, it was in such a bad condition, whereas now it’s so smooth.”
Grace with her shaved head and Grace now. Photo: courtesy of subject
Unlike the rest, Brighton-based blogger Grace already had a buzzcut before lockdown last year. If anyone was likely to have kept it up, it would have been her – yet she too has made the decision to grow hers out. For Grace, it was giving up her buzz-cut that was the radical makeover.
“Lockdown gave me the perfect free pass, because I haven’t been going to see anyone or going to any parties or events, which has weirdly been a bit of a blessing,” she says. “I can just look how I look. It’s actually been a really freeing feeling just letting it grow.”
As with everyone we spoke to – although in reverse– Grace noticed a real change in how people treated her after making the change. “I don’t turn as many heads with long hair, which I’m only slightly ashamed to say upsets me,” she says. “One of my absolute joys that I used to have pre-lockdown was when I’d go out for the day in London or Brighton: I would walk through the train station down the street, full of people, and people would turn and look, and I would meet their eyes and smile and they’d immediately smile back.
“That was always such a joyous feeling. It would invite conversation and I miss that social side of it.”
Grace also misses how easy and straightforward a buzzcut was to maintain, with never having to worry about washing it or having a routine. She plans to grow her hair as long as possible and then shave it all off again.
All of the women felt that they’d experienced some psychological benefits from shaving their head and would recommend to everyone. “I think every woman should try it once,” says Kitty.
Robyn adds: “I don't want to go as far as saying ‘it awoke something within me’ but there were definitely points while I had a shaved head where I really felt myself, in a way I haven’t with other hairstyles.”
None ruled out having a buzzcut again, but they also all agreed, to various degrees, that growing it out is a pain in the arse. Then again, lockdown is supposed to end on the 21st of June, so there’s still plenty of time to go through the whole arduous cycle.