HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

Hair Cut

Women’s hair. A woman’s crowning glory. An object of attention. How many hours and dollars have American women spent on their hair in the past fifty years? From the bouffant and beehives of the 1960’s to the long, soft, feminine styles and the Afro of the 1970’s, styles were constantly changing. Do you remember the long, straight hair popularized by the hippie movement of the 1970’s? How about the hair styles influenced by Madonna and Cindy Lauper in the 1980’s? Spiral perms were the newest thing in the 1990’s. Since then women have colored their hair, highlighted their hair, permed their hair, straightened their hair, and more. Each year brings a new fashion twist.

Within this whole litany of women’s hair styles, have I ever mentioned bald? Like no hair? Like a skinhead? Absolutely not. When we see a woman who has no hair, we automatically assume she has cancer. We think that the treatments she is undergoing have caused her hair to fall out. Somehow, we expect women to have hair. We don’t expect women to shave their heads.

A different standard exists for men. First used by the military in World War II, variations of the buzz cut have become popular. These include the crew cut, the flat top, the burr cut, and the brush cut. All of these are short haircuts. For example, the burr cut is the haircut new recruits receive when they join the military. The buzz cut gets its name from the sound the clippers make while the hair is being cut.

For the last ten or fifteen years, shaved heads have become increasingly popular with men. Albert Mannes, PhD. at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a study called “How Shaved Heads Are Perceived/Shaving A Man’s Head and its Effect on Social Perception.” That is, how does a man’s decision to shave his head affect how he is socially perceived by others? There were several parts to the study.

In Study 1, photographs of twenty-five men in identical dark suits and ties were taken. Ten of the men (five white and five black) had shaved heads. Fifty-nine students viewed the photographs of all twenty-five men and rated them on perceived dominance and agreeableness. Sixty other students rated all twenty-five men on attractiveness and estimated their age. The results were that the men with shaved heads were rated as more dominant. The twenty-five men did not differ significantly in agreeableness, attractiveness, or perceived age.

Study 2 tried to test the Study 1 results. Could the results of Study 1 be explained by saying that more dominant men chose to shave their heads (not that shaving one’s head caused the man to be perceived as more dominant)? Pictures of four men were digitally “shaved” so there were “shaved” and “unshaved” pictures of each man. The shaved men were rated as more dominant, confident, masculine, older, taller, and stronger. The unshaved men were rated as more attractive.

So, if you’re a man, the choice is up to you.

—By Karen Centowski