In her newly released memoir, the singer says that shaving her hair off in 2007 was a way of saying ‘fuck you’ to the world and to the male gaze
Britney Spears shaving her head encapsulates the general mood of celebrity, paparazzi and tabloid culture in the early 00s. The images of Spears taking clippers to her hair were splashed all over the press in 2007, and she was subsequently painted as erratic, crazy, and on the brink of breakdown. At the time, the singer didn’t have a voice and couldn’t share her reasons and motivations behind the act. But now, 15 years later, she has been able to tell her own version of the events.
In her new memoir, The Woman in Me, out today, Spears shares more about that moment of shaving her head, and how it was a reaction to being constantly looked out, touched and judged.
In 2007, she was struggling – going through a divorce, in the midst of a custody battle, being relentlessly harassed by paparazzi. “I’d been eyeballed so much growing up,” she writes in the book. “I’d been looked up and down, had people telling me what they thought of my body, since I was a teenager.” Shaving her head was a way to push back against all of that, she says.
In February of 2007, she walked into a hair salon and asked a stylist to cut off her hair. When the stylist refused, she did it herself. “I went into a hair salon, and I took the clippers, and I shaved off all my hair. Everyone thought it was hilarious. Look how crazy she is! Even my parents acted embarrassed by me. But nobody seemed to understand that I was simply out of my mind with grief. MY children had been taken away from me.”
After shaving her hair off, Spears writes that everyone was “scared” of her, even her mum, and that no one would talk to her anymore because she was “too ugly”. “My long hair was a big part of what people liked – I knew that. I knew a lot of guys thought long hair was hot… shaving my head was a way of saying to the world: Fuck you. You want me to be pretty for you? Fuck you. You want me to be good for you? Fuck you. You want me to be your dream girl? Fuck you.”
While the initial release of getting rid of her hair was almost a euphoric moment – she writes in the book when she first shaved her head “it felt almost religious. I was living on a level of pure being” – it didn’t last long. Soon after the incident, she was seen in wigs whenever she stepped out in public and in 2008, when she was put in a court-ordered conservatorship, she was forbidden to keep the look. “Under the conservatorship I was made to understand that those days were now over,” she writes. “I had to grow my hair out and get back into shape. I had to go to bed early and take whatever medication they told me to take.”
The sentiments Spears shares about her hair and the oppression that comes with being beautiful to the male gaze is something that numerous female celebrities have expressed over the years. Sinead O’Connor, perhaps one of the most famous female stars to have a shaved head, said in a 2017 interview that during her childhood, her abusive mother would compare her two daughters to each other, calling Sinead her pretty daughter.
“When I had long hair, she would introduce us as her pretty daughter and her ugly daughter,” O’Connor said. “And that’s why I cut my hair off. I didn’t want to be pretty. It’s dangerous to be pretty, too, because I kept getting raped and molested everywhere I went… I did not want to be raped, I did not want to be molested. I did not want to dress like a girl. I did not want to be pretty.”
In her memoir, O’Connor says that when she was working on her first album a male music executive told her she should grow her hair long and start dressing more feminine. In response, the next day she went to the barbershop and had it shaved even shorter.
Doja Cat has also shared similar stories and feelings about the reaction she got when she was experimenting with her hair and shaved it all off. Talking to Dazed last year, she said she couldn’t understand why people were so against it. “They’re like, ‘Oh, this can’t possibly be her simply having fun. She has to be out of her mind. She has to be cuckoo.’”
Although Doja has rejected comparisons between herself and Spears, saying it minimised the struggles and trauma that Spears was going through at the time, like Spears she also hit back at the idea that the only thing a woman can or should be is “hot” for the male gaze. “You all want me to look fuckable for you so that you can go home and jerk your cocks all day long while you live in your mother’s basement. Go fuck yourselves,” Doja wrote in a now-deleted tweet in response to people online criticising her buzzcut.
Beauty is often used as a tool of control and oppression for women. While there were many factors that contributed to each of Spears, O’Connor and Doja’s decisions to shave their heads, what they all have in common is that it was a way to remove themselves from the mainstream narrative of beauty standards and conventional attractiveness and in doing so take control of their own appearance and lives.