John McCall/Getty Images
InStyle Staff
Feb 22, 2018 @ 10:15 am

A woman shaves her hair, and the world pays attention. It's a choice that still prompts all the questions, no matter how inappropriate those questions are. Why did you do it? What does it mean? How do you feel? That's because hair is powerful. The way we present ourselves says something about how we’re feeling inside, so we ascribe meaning to such a striking choice, especially when it challenges traditional gender norms.

As Rose McGowan explained in her recently released book Brave, which features an image of the actress shaving her head on the cover, a buzz cut was her “battle cry” against sexist stereotypes. "I broke up with the Hollywood ideal, the one that I had a part in playing,” she wrote. "The ideal version of a woman that is sold to you by every actress in every hair commercial telling you, 'this the secret to being beguiling, the secret to getting a man to want you.' Long, glossy Kardashian-esque hair that says, ‘f*ck me, big boy.' As if that's all we are and all we can be. Hair. Hair is what I broke up with.”

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In a similar act of resistance, Sinéad O'Connor revealed that after record executives told her she’d look “much prettier” with long hair, she walked into a barber shop to shave it all off.

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Sometimes, though, a shaved head is a purely practical move. Emma González, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting in Parkland, Florida and now a leading figure in the fight to end gun violence, adopted the haircut back in September. In a video that's gone viral of her powerful speech at an anti-gun rally, the haircut was hard to miss, iconic. But as she explains it, her look has nothing to do with a political or social movement.

“People asked me, ‘Are you taking a feminist stand’? No, I wasn’t. It’s Florida. Hair is just an extra sweater I’m forced to wear,” González revealed in an interview.

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In an interview she did with her school’s Instagram account, Humans of MSD, Gonzalez said her long hair was heavy, required too much work, and led to headaches. “It was expensive to keep it up, and as prom time came around, I figured it would be cheaper to not have to worry about doing my hair. The more my parents said no, the more I wanted it. Actually, I even made a powerpoint in order to convince them that I should do it. I figured I would look really good with it, and I do. So, it all worked out fine."

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Despite her no-nonsense reasoning, Gonzalez clearly recognizes the visual power of the cut. In a recent Twitter post, she wrote, “When you got work to do but your hair's gettin too long #StonemanStrong #BaldiesGetTheJobDone #MarchForOurLives,” alongside a video of her shaving her head with clippers.

A buzz cut just a haircut. Yes, it is utilitarian, a no-frills style that means business. For a woman, such practicality can be revolutionary.

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