As women begin to reject the bonds of the patriarchy by not shaving their underarms, there is one thing they're still happy to pick up the razor for: their heads. A new generation of women have decided to reject the notion that women should have abundant locks flowing, or curling, from their heads and instead are choosing to shave it all off.
OMG She's Bald captures this phenomenon perfectly. The short, artistic film written and produced by creative director and Instagram influencer Charnah Ellesse – as part of gender-blurring collective girlswillbeboys – explores modern ideas of femininity through women of different cultures who have shaved their heads.
Some of the women talk about how it has made them feel sexually empowered, while others say that the act has made outsiders questions their spirituality and religion. Overall though, the film is a love letter to feminism, and it might even make you want to go for the chop.
The film starts with a quote from Gloria Steinem saying that everyone should try and do outrageous things. Do you think that shaving your head is still an outrageous act?
Charnah Ellesse: Well that was kind of the irony of it. The whole video is kind of saying, it’s not outrageous but to everybody else, it kind of is outrageous. So I was kind of playing on the message.
You feature in the very beginning. When did you decide to shave off your hair?
Charnah Ellesse: I was 21, so it was three or four years ago? But I had wanted to do it since I was 16 but I was too scared. I’m from Leicester, so until I moved to London I was trying to fit in where I was from. I would go through cycles of relaxing it and putting it in weaves because it would break off, and then relaxing it again, and I was going out all the time and wearing my bodycon dresses. That was just not me at all. When I moved to London where I felt like it was a bit more acceptable? But now I want everyone to feel like anywhere you are it’s acceptable, because I held back for so long. People told me for ages, just shave your hair shave your hair. I was like “ah dunno”. The same things that everybody says: “Oh my head’s too small” “Maybe I won’t have a good head shape”. Blah blah blah.
And do you think that the movement of more women shaving their heads we’re seeing at the moment could be said to be led by black women?
Charnah Ellesse: It was definitely the images I’d seen of the black women that inspired me to shave my head. I remember my step mom always had Black Beauty magazines in her house (which featured women with shaved heads). And I just flicked through them and they looked so good! Recently I did an Instagram post on it. Because I feel like it’s being picked up and classed as acceptable now that white women are shaving their heads. I’m not saying the black women do it better, I’m just saying that black women have been doing it for time. But it’s only coming into the industry as a thing, like oh my god Cara Delevingne, she shaved her head! We kind of started it and now it’s become more of a trend. But I don’t want it to be a trend thing, I want it to be something that you do for you. Because black women did it for themselves.
So how did you choose the other women who feature in the documentary? Interesting that you have quite a spread of ethnicities and people from different backgrounds
Charnah Ellesse: I don’t think you can send a message without it being acceptable for everyone and inclusive of everyone. So I always wanted to include a lot of races. I was supposed to have an (east) Asian girl but that fell through. The first girl is my best friend, she recently shaved her hair – the girl that has the leopard print spots. That was like the final push for me to do this project. Like, if she’s gonna do it and she had like long, black hair, I need to send this message out. The other girl, from New Zealand, she was also a friend. And then the Malaysian girl, I found her on Instagram, and I found the other girls that have a short interviews on Instagram as well.
And they’re also all quite creative with it, it’s not like you guys just shaved your hair and that’s it. Yours I think was green in the video? And your best friend’s was leopard print – I thought that was pretty wild
Charnah Ellesse: Yeah, I think if you’re gonna do it, you might as well be playful with it. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t really do things by half – everything I do is wholeheartedly. If I’m gonna shave my hair off, I’m gonna experiment with it, I’m gonna really take advantage of not having to worry about bleaching my hair and it falling out. How you do your hair is like how you do your makeup or how you dress – you play around with it, you experiment. It’s freedom of expression. Everyone says when they shave their hair, they feel so liberated and so confident. And so you have the confidence to do it once you shave your head.
All of you look very beautiful and very fashionable. How do we encourage women who are not as young and as confident as we are to make the move?
Charnah Ellesse: I feel like, the visuals show that it’s quite creative, it’s quite fashion-y, it’s quite arty. But I wanted the message to just resonate with people. As much as I wanted the visuals there because it was like captivating, so you would watch it and find it interesting, it really was the underlying message that was the important thing. My mum sent it to her best friend and she shared to her friend who had cancer, who was about the same age as my mum. She just found it amazing. And everyone who has messaged me afterwards has said the message is incredible. I didn’t want it to be like, “Yeah you’re young, you’re free, you can do what you want”. I just wanted it to be, “You are a woman, you’re free, you can do what you want”.
What do you think are still some of the negative associations for women who do decide to shave their hair?
Charnah Ellesse: I think it’s just apparent that people still assume things about your sexuality because of your hair. Even the thing with like Katy Perry shaving her hair, and they’re saying she’s going through the Miley Cyrus phase. It’s like why does it need to mean anything? It’s kind of similar to what the girl Ash was saying at the end. It’s seen as such a sign of instability if you shave your hair, when actually it’s probably the most stable hairstyle you can probably have. And I think it’s kind of ignorant as well. I don’t feel offended to be assumed to be a lesbian but does that mean that all lesbians have shaved heads then? It just doesn’t make any sense at all. I think it shows a lot about the people who are questioning this and that because of a woman with a shaved head, rather than anything about the woman with a shaved head.
One of the girls said how she actually felt sexually empowered by shaving her head. Were you expecting that to come out?
Charnah Ellesse: Yeah so that’s like the flip side of the assumptions of you being a lesbian. We have that balance. So we can go out and wear, I don’t know, a leather bralette and leather chaps or something tight, but then we still have that edge because we have that shaved head. I quite like it, it’s kind of like. Jo said, my best friend, says she feels so sexy with her shaven hair! And she thought it would be the opposite. Because literally there is nothing else but you. It’s just so empowering, you can be who you want, especially when you have no hair. It’s kinda like a blank canvas.
Written and Produced by Charnah Ellesse @ellessechar
Director of Photography - Stephan Knight @stephanknight_
Second Camera Operator - Lucy Hubbard @lucyluckyyou_
Creative Director - Isabella Rider @isseyrider
Follow Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff on Twitter here @CharlieBCuff