It wouldn’t be surprising if the buzzcut becomes one of the most enduring symbols of the coronavirus pandemic, along with face-masks and empty shelves. With barbers around the country forced to close their shutters, Héctor Bellerin, the bloke from Line of Duty and half of the men on your Instagram feed have been racing for their beard trimmers to make a rash, but great, decision.
As someone who recently had a shaved head, I feel conflicted about the phenomenon. Why are all these johnny-come-latelys ripping off my haircut, even if I no longer have it? But on the other hand, having long been an enthusiastic supporter of shaving off your hair, I am vindicated by history. Like getting pegged or throwing a punch at your dad, it’s something all men should try at least once.
If you’ve ever had the slightest inclination to shave your hair, there’s never been a more practical time. Lots of people’s working lives are now taking place entirely at home, which can allow for more informal or out-there aesthetic decisions. If you end up looking like a repulsive freak (I’m not going to lie to you – it’s possible), isolation means you're not going to see anyone for months anyway. Your friends might take the piss out of you on Houseparty, but a virtual slagging doesn’t carry the same sting as it would if you were down the pub, where you would also have to reckon with the judgement of strangers.
“To be honest, I’ve always wanted to do it,” says Tom, who shaved his head with his wife’s assistance last Saturday. He initially thought the the right wing connotations of a skinhead would but his colleagues off, but then decided to go ahead anyway. That’s not to say the reaction has been entirely positive – lots of people have been calling him an “egg”. After initially being quite enthusiastic, Tom’s wife has now decided she hates it. But none of this matters – shaving your head is about you.
Shaving your head can be an act of joyful abandon. It can also be a gesture of despair and dissolution, rivalled only by bleach blonde as a crisis cut. As I learned myself, shaving your hair off is extremely cathartic. The first time I did it, I was drunk, heartbroken and couldn’t stand the sight of my own reflection in the mirror. Pretty soon, I found myself shaving my hair often. Just like taking a pill or having an orgasm, it’s never as intense as the first time, but the cathartic effect never entirely wears off either. If I was feeling a little bored, or if it was grey outside, or if an Elliot Smith song had happened to come on Spotify, I’d reach for my clippers. Even though I was just going from a skinhead to a slightly balder skinhead, I never lost that sense of making myself new.
Beyond the practical reasons, perhaps people are shaving their hair as some kind of trauma response to the pandemic. “It’s hard to say,” says Jack. “ I couldn’t say that shaving my head definitely wasn’t due to stress. I haven’t felt like ‘oh my god, I’m going to shave my hair off – I can’t deal with this!’ But I did say to my dad, ‘it’s honestly pissing me off, can you please just do it now”.
Ben, 26, says the trauma of living through a pandemic was central to his decision to cut his hair. ”Sure. I was feeling very stressed by that. I would be lying to say that it wasn’t a stress that I felt I was relieving.” Experiencing the act as cathartic to the point of even being exhilarating seems to be a pretty common experience; it feels like relinquishing your conception of yourself and the way you look.
But above all, the number one reason why you should shave your hair is that it will help you come to terms with what you will look like if you lose your hair. Before getting a buzzcut, I was terrified of going bald, which meant that shaving my hair was a way of confronting and thereby overcoming one of my greatest fears.
Nowadays, I wouldn’t be delighted if I started to go bald, by any means, but nor would I despair. If the fear of going bald is the fear of ageing, and the fear of ageing is really the fear of dying, then you could take this a step further and say that shaving my head allowed me to conquer my fear of death and, as such, ascend to a higher level of consciousness. Pretty cool!
Not all who shave their heads are so obsessed with balding and mortality, though. “Had I not done it before, it would probably have that effect,” says Tom. “But going bald isn’t something I was afraid of, so it doesn’t really apply to me. The affirmation that my wife still loves me is probably the best thing to come from it.”
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.