Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Bald Truth

February 20, 2007 The Guardian

The hairdressers at Esther's Haircutting Studio in Tarzana, California were locking their doors for the night last Friday when a cavalcade of cars drew up outside. Britney Spears jumped out of one of the vehicles and, accompanied by her bodyguards, marched into the salon. When owner Esther Tognozzi refused to shave off the pop star's hair, Britney took hold of the clippers and removed her locks herself.

Does losing her hair equal losing her mind? Or is she finally regaining control of her chaotic life?
Throughout history, a shorn head has been heavy with meaning. The bare-headed Christian or Buddhist monks told of their devotion or a renunciation of worldly pleasures. More commonly, shaven heads have been associated with trauma, brutality and the loss of individuality or strength. In biblical legend, Samson was deprived of his incredible power and killed when his hair was cut off while he was asleep. In ancient Greece shaved heads were a mark of the slave.
Shorn hair is inflicted on the sick, and has been deployed by armies to both dehumanise their own soldiers and punish their enemies. In the second world war, the heads of French collaborators were shaved as part of their public humiliation. Among skinheads, a shorn head was a symbol of aggression. Among lesbians, a shaved head, or short hair at least, came to be a symbol of their abandoning of traditional man-pleasing femininity.
With time, a shaven head became fashionable, among men at least, and skinheads eventually lost their shock value. The image of a woman with no hair, however, can still pack a visceral punch.

"There are lots of positive connotations in men," says Alastair Ross, a social psychologist at the University of Strathclyde. "But in women it's seen as being out of control because it's outside the normal distribution of hair behaviour." In other words, baldness is still relatively rare in women, and is generally treated as a sign of crisis or stress - or if it is known to be self-inflicted, a sign of madness.

Becoming untouchable is the most widely postulated theory behind Britney's trip to the barber. One eyewitness to Friday's strange shearing scenes, Emily Wynne-Hughes, told the press that Spears had said that "she didn't want anybody to touch her". This idea that is her saying, 'I need some control of my own,' according to psychologist and author Dr Linda Papadopoulos.

Esther Tognozzi, a woman smart enough to refuse to shave Britney's head for fear she might change her mind and then sue, had little time for elaborate interpretations of what went on on Friday.

"I did say, 'Is this getting rid of the old and starting afresh?' and she said, 'Yes,'" Tognozzi told the media. More pertinently, though, the hairdresser revealed Britney's extensions were in a terrible state with only "about four inches" of natural hair underneath them. "Maybe she just got sick and tired of all the extensions and chemicals in her hair, and maybe she just wants a new beginning," said Tognozzi. "It's only hair. It grows back".

Photo caption: Cutting edge... Britney Spears snapped after shaving her head.
Photograph: AP

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