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Barber at the souk (1897) by Enrique Simonet.

Head shaving is the practice of shaving the hair from a person's head. At different times and places people have shaved all or part of their heads for very diverse reasons including practicality, convenience, low maintenance, fashion, style, religion, culture, and aesthetics.

Early historyEdit

Young Krystyna Lubomirska, a Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth noble lady with partially shaved head "in order to achieve the beauty standard of a wide, high forehead."[1] A detail of an early 17th-century portrait in the National Museum in Warsaw.

The earliest historical records describing head shaving originated in ancient Mediterranean cultures, such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The Egyptian priest class ritualistically removed all body hair by plucking. This included hair on the head, eyebrows, and beard.



The practice of shaving heads has been used in the military. Although sometimes explained as being for hygiene reasons, the image of strict, disciplined conformity may certainly be a factor. During World War II's Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, many soldiers chose to have their heads completely shaved, denying the defending Germans something to grab onto when the battle moved to close quarters. For the new recruit, it can be a rite of passage, and variations become a badge of honour.

The militaries of the United States, Russia, and several other countries have welcomed their recruits by giving them haircuts using hair clippers with no guard attached. As of 2011, shaved heads continued to be standard haircuts in the United States Air Force, United States Marine Corps, United States Army, and the United States Coast Guard during basic/recruit training – upon graduation from training, grooming restrictions are relaxed in accordance with each service's regulations. In Greece, this practice was abolished on June 25, 1982, when the military started allowing recruits to have up to 4 cm of hair. Before then, the regulation haircut in the Greek army for recruits was en hro (an archaic phrase for "shaved to the bone").[citation needed]

A shaved head continues to be commonplace in the United States military. There have been traditions spawned from shaving a service member's head. Most notable is the tradition of shaving one's head when a service member enters the Mediterranean Sea by ship for the first time, known as "Med Head"[citation needed].

Prison and punishmentEdit

Paris 1944: Women accused of collaboration with Nazis are paraded through the streets barefoot, shaved, and with swastika burnmarks on their faces

Prisoners commonly have their heads shaven, to prevent the spread of lice, but may also be used as a demeaning measure.

Having the head shaved can be a punishment prescribed in law.[2]

The Nazis punished persons accused of Rassenschande (racial defilement) by parading them through the streets with shaved heads and placards around their necks detailing their crime.[3]

During and after the end of World War II, thousands of French women had their heads shaved in front of cheering crowds as punishment for collaborating with the Nazis during the war.[4][5][6] Also some Finnish women got their heads shaved for allegedly having relationships with Soviet POWs during World War II.[7]


A Buddhist monk shaving the head of a devotee to prepare him for priesthood.

Many Buddhists, Hajj pilgrims and Vaisnavas, especially members of the Hare Krishna movement, shave their heads.

Some Hindu and most Buddhist monks and nuns shave their heads upon entering their order, and Korean Buddhist monks and nuns have their heads shaved every 15 days.[8]

Muslim men have the choice of shaving their head after performing Umrah and Hajj, following the ancient tradition of committing to Allah.

Hasidic Jewish men will often shave all their head, save for their Payot, or sidelocks. In certain Hasidic sects, most famously Satmar, married women shave their head every month before immersion in the mikveh (ritual bath).

The Hasidic sect Toldot Aharon is currently the only Hasidic group that requires its women to shave their head after marriage, as the custom faded away after World War II for other ultra-orthodox Jewish groups.[9]


Throughout much of the 20th century in many Western countries, head shaving was considered[by whom?] somewhat unusual or lower class. Head shaving was often associated with manual workers such as seamen, dock workers and soldiers, as well as with prisoners and hospital patients.[citation needed]

Mayan nobles shaved.[10][11]


Mo Farah with a shaved head.

Competitive swimmers will often shave their entire body, including the head, to reduce drag while swimming. The same may also be true for sprinters, joggers or runners.


French soccer player Zinedine Zidane popularized a shaved head during the 1990s.[12][13]

People with hair loss often choose to shave their heads in order to look more aesthetic, maintain a personal preference, be more convenient, or to adhere to a certain style or fashion movement. Those with Alopecia areata and men facing male pattern baldness may choose to shave fully. Athletes Michael Jordan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Zinedine Zidane, Mark Messier, Andre Agassi; musicians Billy Joel, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, and Michael Stipe of R.E.M.; and actors Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson are famous examples.

Skinhead and other subculturesEdit

In the 1960s, some British working class youths developed the skinhead subculture, whose members were distinguished by short cropped hair (although at that time they did not shave their heads right down to the scalp). This look was partly influenced by the Jamaican rude boy style.[14][15] It was not until the skinhead revival in the late 1970s — with the appearance of punk rock-influenced Oi! skinheads — that many skinheads started shaving their hair right down to the scalp. Head shaving has also appeared in other youth-oriented subcultures which include punk, hardcore, black metal, metalcore, Nu metal, hip hop, techno music, and neo-nazi scenes.

Sexuality, gender and LGBTEdit

A sexual fetish involving erotic head shaving is called trichophilia. While a shaved head on a man relates to virility, a shaved head on a woman typically connotes androgyny, especially when combined with traditionally feminine signifiers. It may, but does not always, express membership in the bisexual, lesbian and genderqueer communities. Similarly, gay men sometimes incorporate a shaven head into their overall look, particularly amongst the bear subculture. Specifically, the stereotypical "Castro clone" look commonly shave their heads in order to project a homoerotic ultra-masculine image. Drag queens have sometimes adopted shaven heads, again, to express a genderqueer image. In the BDSM community, shaving a submissive or slave's head is often used to demonstrate powerlessness, or submission to the will of a dominant.

Fundraising and supportEdit

Women shaving their head in the 46 mommas event which is a fund-raising and awareness program of cancer

In solidarity with cancer sufferers, some people chose to shave their heads – particularly as part of fund-raising efforts. (Baldness is a well-known side-effect of the chemotherapy often used to treat cancer, and some people shave their heads before undergoing such treatment.)


In modern settings, shaved heads are often associated with characters who display a stern and disciplined or hardcore attitude. Examples include those played by Yul Brynner and Vin Diesel; Telly Savalas as Kojak; Samuel L. Jackson in roles such as Mace Windu and Nick Fury; and Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien 3 (1992).

Shaved heads are also associated with villains, such as Superman's archenemy Lex Luthor, Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, or Donald Pleasence as Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.

Goatee beards are often worn to complement the look or add sophistication. A look that was popularised in the mid-1990's by wrestler, Steve Austin. For most of Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston wore a Van Dyke beard along with a clean shaven head, contributing to the iconic image of Heisenberg.[16]

In futuristic settings, shaved heads are often associated with bland uniformity, especially in sterile futuristic settings such as V for Vendetta and THX 1138 (1971).[17] In Fritz Lang's early science fiction film Metropolis (1927), hundreds of extras had their heads shaved to represent the oppressed masses of a future dystopia.

It is less common for female characters to have shaved heads, however, some female characters are bald. Some actresses have shaved their heads for film roles,[18] while others have used bald caps.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ DeMello, Margo (2012). Faces Around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia of the Human Face. ABC-CLIO. p. 135. ISBN 1-59884-617-5. For instance, beginning in the Middle Ages, European women of means shaved, pumiced, or plucked their eyebrows, and often shaved some of their hairline as well, in order to achieve the beauty standard of a wide, high forehead.
  2. ^ "Article 87 ... shall be sentenced to flogging, having his head shaven, and one year of exile ...", The Islamic Penal Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran
  3. ^ Richard J. Evans (2006). The Third Reich in Power. Penguin Books. p. 540. ISBN 978-0-14-100976-6.
  4. ^ "Shaved Heads and Marked Bodies: Representations From Cultures of Trauma" Kristine Stiles, Duke University (1993)
  5. ^ "''"An Ugly Carnival"'', The Guardian". 2018-05-30. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  6. ^ "Shorn Women: Gender and Punishment in Liberation France", ISBN 978-1-85973-584-8
  7. ^ "Ryssän heilat ja pikku-Iivanat" (in Finnish)
  8. ^ Geraldine A. Larkin, First You Shave Your Head, Celestial Arts (2001), ISBN 1-58761-009-4
  9. ^ Zalcberg, Sima (2007-10-17). "'Grace is Deceitful and Beauty is Vain': How Hassidic Women Cope with the Requirement of Shaving One's Head and Wearing a Black Kerchief". Gend. Issues (24): 13–34.
  10. ^ Ulrike Blume-Peytavi; David A. Whiting; Ralph M. Trüeb, eds. (2008). Hair Growth and Disorders (illustrated ed.). Springer Science & Business Media. p. 535. ISBN 3-540-46911-7. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  11. ^ Ulrike Blume-Peytavi; David A. Whiting; Ralph M. Trüeb, eds. (2008). Hair Growth and Disorders (illustrated ed.). Springer Science & Business Media. p. 535. ISBN 3-540-46911-7. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  12. ^ Benedictus, Leo (February 2, 2013). "The 10 rules for bald men". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  13. ^ Rockwell, Taylor (October 16, 2015). "The 20 Greatest Bald Heads in the History of Soccer". Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  14. ^ Old Skool Jim. Trojan Skinhead Reggae Box Set liner notes. London: Trojan Records. TJETD169.
  15. ^ Marshall, George (1991). Spirit of '69 – A Skinhead Bible. S.T. Publishing.
  16. ^ Stahl, Jeremy (2013-09-27). "Gateway Episodes: Breaking Bad". Slate.
  17. ^ "THX 1138". The New York Times.
  18. ^ Matt Bagwell, A Bald Move ... From Britney Spears To Karen Gillan: 20 Female Celebs Who Have Shaved Off Their Hair, The Huffington Post, 22 July 2013
  19. ^ For example, Christine Taylor in a Friends episode, according to The New York Times article on her