Making The Cut

Approximately 6 months ago I took on a lot of responsibilities and minimized my social outreach. For several months prior I would slick my hair back into a ponytail everyday because spending 30 minutes to make the “natural” curls behave was too much trouble. I quickly decided it was time for a change, and cut off my shoulder-length hair. During this project I decided to look at how media portrays other woman with short hair. In my research I discovered that women with short hair in action films are masculine, victims, or sexual deviants. The three films that I watched were V for VendettaCatwoman (2004), and Mad Max: Road.

The first film I watched was V for Vendetta. I chose this film for my research because when it came out in there was a lot of news about film star Natalie Portman and her on camera head shave for the role. I have included a link to the scene in the film for anyone who is unfamiliar with it. The clip shows the haircut scene of her and the other female character that has their head shaved during the film.

It is very clear that Natalie Portman’s character, Evey, is portrayed as a victim during the time of her haircut. During the scene she is in prison scrubs, she is in a very muted environment with a faceless individual shaving her head. During the entire time Natalie Portman’s head is being shaved she is crying and looks terrified. The second woman getting her head shaved, actress Natasha Wightman, is having her head shaved for the same reason; removing the identity of the individual, and psychological torture. The difference is that Natasha Wightman’s character, who only has a brief voice over, is a person who has grown up facing severe diversity. She is a lesbian who was disowned by her parents, and was disowned by her first love. She was different in a society that demanded normalcy. Although her head shave is to victimize her, her character is calm, and collected because it is a non-issue comparatively to the events she has previously experienced in her life.

I was frustrated with the attachment that Natalie Portman’s character had with her hair. After being water boarded, and starved, and beaten. The first comment she makes after having her head shaved was “You cut my hair”. For cinematic reasons I want to give the film the benefit of the doubt because she lists the terrible things that were done to her in the order they happened, but if someone tortured me I could not care any less about how much hair was on my head. Below is a clip from an interview that Natalie Portland had after her role in V for Vendetta, specifically about the head shave experience, with IGN. She doesn’t talk about the societal opinions about women with shaved heads, but about how “cool” rain feels on a shaved head and how that experience was of note to her.

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The second film I watched for this project was Catwoman (2004), starring Halle Berry. As a teenager when this film came out, I was SOOOO excited for it. Look at this film with a badass chick in it! How cool is it to have a superhero/antihero film starring someone who wasn’t white and blonde. The adaptation rocked my world, and I felt like I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Fast forward through High School and my early 20s and just generally a lot of personal growth. When I re-watched the film for this course, I was extremely uncomfortable. It was honestly hard for me to get through.

With new eyes I saw a film that touched on an adaptation of an antihero that was, in my opinion, distasteful and embarrassing. Halle Berry’s character starts out as a shy meek, presumably uninteresting woman with long limp curly hair. She wears oversized sweaters, and risks her life to save a cat. Later after seeing something she isn’t supposed to see, she is murdered, and the cat she saved returns the favor and brings her back to life. This time though, she is different, she is confident, she is poised, and she is all about being sexual and sassy. During her transformation, the first thing she does is cut off all of her hair. See the clip below for her transformation. Like the first film, this was a real haircut that was caught on film.

Catwoman as a character in this film is very sexualized. I think out of all the adaptations that I’ve seen of Catwoman in a film or a show, this one fell short. The Film Review Article in The New York Times by A. O. Scott tells viewers that they are more likely to be entertained by the Garfield film that came out around the same time, than they are to be dazzled by Pitof’s interpretation of Catwoman (2004). Scott even goes to say, “Watching [Catwoman] is like paging through a fat European fashion magazine at high speed in the lobby of a sleek hotel. Through the haze of moody color, you can occasionally glimpse the flicker of an idea about female sexuality or the manufacture of beauty, but these themes are ornamental flourishes in the pretty, kinetic emptiness”, and I couldn’t agree more. When films have shots like the gif below of female characters with ample cleavage and see-through panels of mesh everywhere, including their butts, it is hard to take the films, or its message seriously. In the end this films felt more like soft porn than a cinematic masterpiece about powerful women.

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The third film I re-watched for this project was Mad Max: Fury Road I picked this film originally because I knew that Charlize Theron had been nominated for, and won several awards for her role in this film, and also because she is my favorite actor. When the film began I remembered the premise and felt justified in using it as one of the three main sources for this blog post. For those of you unfamiliar with this film, Theron plays a character named Furiosa, who is the only female soldier under villain Immortan Joe. She ends up betraying him and stealing his war-rig in order to free his 5 slave-wives. Unlike the first two films, we meet Furiosa with a short buzzed haircut. She wears masculine clothing and wears war paint on her face much like the “war boys” she is in charge of.  Later in the film we get to find out a little bit more of Furiosa’s past, and can make assumptions of what she has been through and why she was willing to give up her leadership under Immortan Joe in order to save other women. Below is the clip of Furiosa reuniting with the people she originally belonged to before being captured by Immortan Joe as a child.

From what we know about Furiosa in the clip above, we can formulate that she fits in two of the categories listed in the beginning of my post. She is a victim. She was captured as a child with her mother. Her mother died within 3 days of their capture and she survived, losing part of her arm along the way, and gaining the trust of the leader of the ban of men that captured her as a child. We can assume that her masculine appearance might have to do with this broken upbringing. It might also have been the reason why she outlived her mother. She is clearly a fighter and is in it for the long hall. I included a clip below that includes part of Theron’s experience with shaving her head, and how it affected her. I think it is important to note that the director of the film was speechless when Theron offered to shave her head, further proving how interconnected our values of female hair length is.

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After watching all three films to get a perspective of how women with short hair were portrayed in the media, I took the time to read articles that related to real life women who have short haircuts, in order to relate it to the pop-cultural representations of women with short hair. I was especially touched by this article in Cosmo by Leah Carroll, a woman who went through a few years of her life with short hair, and then started experiencing cat-calling once her hair started growing out again. This article felt relevant to me because like Evey in V for Vendetta part of the reason Carroll cut her hair in the first place was because she was a victim of a crime. Her head was not shaved in part of a systematic dehumanizing process by a vigilantly proving a point. She chose to get it cut after a man had used her long hair to his advantage to mug her, pulling it to keep her from getting away. Carroll discusses the traps she fell into when first deciding to cut her hair, and the guilt she felt when she finally decided to start growing it out again. She discusses the real social anxieties that are created when a woman cuts her hair, and with this I related quite deeply. “I walked back to the office feeling 10 pounds lighter and like I had lost a limb. I stared at myself in every reflective surface” (Carroll 2015). It is a huge change, to cut your hair and stop caring what others think. At first it felt like I was sacrificing my femininity for the convenience of short hair.

Link to Leah Carroll’s Article for those of you interested

I read an article today that I am sneaking into my final blog post about a haircut that Katy Perry recently shared with the world at the IHeart Radio Music Awards on March 5th 2017. The article is titled Katy Perry Reveals a Radical New Breakup Pixie Cut on Instagram. 

The article goes on to say that Perry’s haircut was purely in correlation to a break-up she had earlier that week on multiple occasions, the article is very leading and doesn’t give room for any other reason why Perry chose to get a haircut. “What better way, then, to mark a fresh start than by cutting a past paramour (or, for that matter, fried ends) right out of her hair? Perry’s shorn undercut, which was finished with choppy side-swept bangs and captioned “I wasn’t ready till now,” is a punkish followup to her bombshell bob, offering the hair equivalent of an extra stroke of suddenly-single eyeliner” (Schulte-Hillen, 2017). I decided to include this article in my research because I thought it was important to add in a piece that was extremely relevant and recent. It is another example that a woman is depicted as cutting her hair due to some sort of mental instability; coping with a break-up. I think she looks killer, and it is important to note that not all haircuts are because women are upset with boys.

 

I think that women in action films with short hair meet very specific criteria. This is clear by the films I studied in order to come to this conclusion. One thing that I do not agree with though, is that these action film norms are anywhere close to why the majority of women with short hair decide to make the cut. This is a pop-culture identity that is vastly stereotyped and I think it is damaging to women with short and long hair alike, by placing expectations of what having short hair will be like, and why it is done. Thanks for a wonderful term all.

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Works Cited:

V for Vendetta, Lily Wachowski & Lana Wachowski, James McTeigue, Grant Hill, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EWnPG_yKYk

Catwoman, Pitof, Denise Di Novi, and Edward MCDonnell, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV26YLAHza8

Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller, Doug Mitchell, P.J. Voeten, https://youtu.be/hEJnMQG9ev8

“No sex for women with short hair?; Talking Points.” Sunday Times [London, England], 7 Dec. 2008, p. 12. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=s1185784&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA190172318&asid=3a8688e75e55abc86d5cf919f7cdc508. Accessed 25 Feb. 2017.

“Why Women Choose to Cut Their Hair Short.” UWIRE Text, 17 May 2015, p. 1. Educators Reference Complete, go.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/ps/i.do?p=PROF&sw=w&u=s1185784&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA414228760&asid=30ad0178b6de7a15f6c97a4138541c29. Accessed 25 Feb. 2017.

“My Short Hair Made Me Feel Invisible” Cosmopolitan, 10 September 2015, Leah Carroll, http://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/a46100/short-hair-pixie-cut-invisible/

“Katy Perry Reveals a Radical Breakup Pixie Cut on Instagram” Vogue, March 3rd 2017. Sophie Schulte-Hillen. http://www.vogue.com/article/katy-perry-haircut-blonde-pixie-chris-mcmillan-instagram-orlando-bloom-breakup

 

 

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About lexilarsonpdx

Lexi was born December 1990 in Southern California. She currently resides in Portland, Oregon, and is attending PSU for Graphic Design. She has a love for morbid and whimsical art. This page will focus on the personal work, and occasional design work as well. Most contracts Lexi is currently under, require her to work without sharing progress until products are sold.

15 thoughts on “Making The Cut

  1. I really enjoyed your piece! You’re totally right, a lot portrayals of women with short hair have a direct correlation to their relationships with the men around them. I liked your choice in movies! Even though the representations tend to be a little more sexualized, they’re still strong women in their own right. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you’re enjoying your new cut!

    -Imaya

  2. Lexilarsonpdx,

    First off, I’d like to say that I’ve had short hair since I was 8 years old. And I’ve always been assumed as being very masculine, which I honestly am, but the assumptions people usually made were sometimes a bit harsh or even jumped the gun completely. For instance I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been assumed as being gay just because I have short hair and I’m a tomboy.
    I found your post very interesting. I like how you discussed the different perception someone might have on females cutting their hair for a role in a film; between the filmmakers, the actor, and the audiences. And how they all have different views. I really like how you selected certain films and centered on them. The only other film(s), I wish you talked about were G.I. Jane and Mulan. I say that because both films have very significant scenes that focus greatly on females cutting their hair and how others might see the situation.
    Any ways, thank you for sharing. I liked your post.

    • Thank you for your response. Daneen also suggested G.I. Jane as another film to use as reference, but I got caught up with other classes, and a slightly unexpected move. I also had never seen the film before so by the time I had enough time to reference the film, I felt we were too deep into our project to try and add another movie for comparison.

      As for Mulan, I didn’t really think about adding an animated film into the mix. I didn’t really think about animated films as options, and maybe I should have, Tangled, Mulan, Megamind, Velma from Scooby Doo. It could have given me a perspective of how this stereotype starts with how women with short hair are portrayed to children. I don’t know if Mulan would have helped prove my point though. Although her haircut was emotional and impactful, she did so to purposefully disguise herself as a man, none of the other movies I references quite matched that trait, although it is hinted at in Mad Max: Fury Road.

  3. I found this piece so interesting! I’ve never really looked much into the portrayals of women with short hair in movies, and its crazy how its very true that even a girls hair has a lot to do with her relationships with the men around her, like Imaya in the comment before me said. It opend my eyes on how everything a women does is, in a way, always connected to a man, which i believe says a lot about our culture.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. This is a very interesting article to read and I found it so interesting. I have never really looked in to what it meant for girls with short hair but now I know that there are a lot of idealism’s that exist with it in popular culture. It is truly crazy how much a woman’s hair has to do with the men around her and the overall relationships that she has. Thanks for sharing!

  5. As a hairstylist, I really enjoyed this piece! I have to agree the media tends to portray women with short hair as “victims” or having some sort of story behind them. It’s pretty disappointing that article on Katy Perry attributed her haircut exclusively to a breakup with a man. Sometimes women do things for themselves! While the media portrayal might be that women are attached to their hair and cutting it is some sort of statement, I’ve found as a hairstylist most women cut their hair for practical reasons and are doing it FOR THEMSELVES. Sometimes women are hesitant to cut their hair if we’re doing a pixie or even short bob, but most of the time they end up loving it and wish they would have done it sooner. Rather than it being something negative, I’ve found cutting off hair is very empowering and leads to a better self image. Thanks for the piece on something not a lot of people realize!

  6. As a person who only has cut her hair off super short once in all her life I have to admit that your piece has been amazing and it has opened my eyes to see things more careful and how others might be portraying it (stereotypes) in this popular culture world that we now live in. It is very interesting how a women who has short hair has to do a lot with how others see them, I have never actually thought of what this could mean for us females. Also, I never thought of it as been something negative because my sisters have had it short most of their lives and they truly love it. In the other hand, I couldn’t have it short because I love doing many different hairstyles to my hair and does how I had it up until now. I found your piece very powerful and interesting to read, now I really want to look more into this topic.
    Thank you for sharing!

    -Brenda C

  7. This is one of those things that you don’t notice until it’s pointed out to you, and then you can’t help but see it everywhere. I guess I take for granted as a man that I can do whatever I want with my hair and people won’t be as likely to make assumptions about me. I could even grow my hair out past my shoulders and people wouldn’t blink an eye (at least in Portland). The idea that hairstyles are associated with certain masculine traits is a little ridiculous. I hope one day when can get to the point where women on screen are defined by their actions and not by their looks. Great post!

  8. Hi @lexilarsonpdx
    I really enjoyed reading your final blog post. Especially being someone that just took that drastic change from having long curly hair, as most can see in my profile picture, to super short, I can feel the rain on my head, type of hair cut and I’ve got to say that I personally love it. Like all the woman that did it in those movies really, it is an awesome experience, but it’s true that people look at you differently. For example and this is weird to say but true, I was on way more dates when I had long hair that now that my hair is super short and it is funny how that happens because you personally like it, right, but if you don’t “sexy” it up then it is just meh for most people. I just find that interesting because with long hair you don’t really have to put on makeup and your still considered cute but short haired girls “have” to wear makeup constantly to be considered cute or sexy. I really liked your article thank you for writing it.

  9. Incredibly interesting choice of identity, one that I wouldn’t have thought to explore. I’ve heard it said by some (misogynistic) individuals that having short hair is a sign that a woman is damaged, the logic being that short hair on women is unnatural and that any reason for cutting it that way is rooted in a divorce from femininity, which in their opinion was the worst thing that could happen to a woman. It’s astounding how this inflammatory reasoning bleeds through into media in ways that I never realized before reading your post. I see this in the theme of masculinity, victimization, and sexual deviance that you mention. All of these would fall into this idea of a divorce from femininity that I mentioned earlier. I think that as the idea of femininity and masculinity changes that this will change in turn due to it really being rooted in gender.

  10. Hello,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I found the movies your chose very interesting. You picked great sources to use for your blog. I think it is crazy how many people make stereotypes based on a women with short hair. I also found it surprising how Natalie Portman was so worried about them shaving her head when she had just gotten tortured. I don’t think these women should be portrayed as masculine just because they have shorter hair.

    Thank you for sharing such an interesting topic!
    Berlynn

  11. Hey Lexi,

    it was a pleasure to work with you in our mentor group and to have to opportunity to watch you develop and expand this project. It turned out amazing! First off, I was really impressed by your use of media and clips in your blog post. Embedding a variety I think it makes for a really appealing and captivating post. I love your title as well, as the word “cut” kind of serves multiple functions of reference.

    It is so interesting how often these kind of portrayals in the media go unnoticed, but when you actually stop to take a closer look, you can see that the same messages are repeated and promoted time and time again, sometimes very explicitly, while others are more passive and implicit. It is insane the amount of value and impact woman’s hair can have not just on how she is perceived to the public, but how she perceives herself as well.

    But while the media continues to focus on the stereotypical ideals of femininity, I hope women continue to not give a f*** and use the act of cutting their hair as a symbolic expression of individuality, new beginnings, and eventful futures.

  12. Hi, Great Work!

    I really enjoyed reading your post. Through out this post you have clearly stated the stereotypes regarding different portrayals of women with short hair. I believe you made a connection to their relationships with the opposite gender. I like the examples you have provided.

    Thank you for sharing,

    Ahmed Ali

  13. As someone who has shaved my head twice as a teenage girl, I have dealt with the stigma that a short haircut can bring. I even got called “little boy” when I got a pixie cut in elementary school, and when I shaved it in high school everyone automatically assumed I went crazy and had a psychotic break, and that was the reason for my drastic change. For me it is refreshing, as I regularly dye my hair, and so at the time it needed a fresh start, and that meant shaving it all off. It upsets me that people can view this as a loss of femininity because I am the ultimate girly girl, and still am that way regardless of what hairstyle I have. Your examples in films is great because it shows media influences the ideas we have as a society about hair and how its changing to be more open in this generation finally.

  14. I really loved your piece! I have always noticed this stereotype with women but haven’t really put much thought into it until your piece! I really enjoyed the examples you provided. The clips you chose really made your argument strong and captivating. It is sad that short hair is always put together with masculinity, or mental instability. How did that even start? Why is longer hair considered more beautiful or more feminine? I especially loved your point made about how Natalie Portman was more concerned with the fact that her characters hair was cut, rather than the fact that her character was tortured. As if the two are even close! Really great and insightful post, thank you!

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