Why Are Badass Heroines Almost Always Bald?

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
In her recent essay, "On Being A Badass," Ann Friedman ruminates over the relationship between femininity and the tough-girl persona. "It’s almost scary to realize how deeply many women — especially those who are pushing the boundaries of what’s traditionally been considered feminine — have internalized the message that toughness and feelings don’t go together."

This is certainly true in movies, where time and again, women must remove what is feminine to in order to convey badassery. Mad Max: Fury Road  — starring a head-shaved Charlize Theron — gives us a shining example of exactly what Friedman's talking about. Why, on film, must women lose their hair in order to convince audiences of their fearlessness and strength? Why must women be bald to be tough? 

"I think that a shaved head, especially for a woman, is a visual shorthand for the fact that she has no time for (or interest in) superficial grooming," Friedman told Refinery29. "She's got bigger problems and interests. In reality, we all know that a ponytail can be just as low-maintenance, but it's also less visually striking. I think filmmakers use a shaved head to convey a certain level of masculine swagger, too. Even though we all know women can be tough and have swagger and a more traditionally feminine haircut."

Here's a look at six key examples of this enduring trope.
Advertisement
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
No matter what the trailer might have suggested, this is a feminist film. It is 100% about women inheriting the Earth and kicking ass and taking names along the way. (Go see it.) Theron actually made the choice to have her character, a ferocious figure named Furiosa, be bald. According to Entertainment Weekly, she and director George Miller "struggled with how to style such a fierce warrior woman," having tried both a platinum look and a ponytail. "My hair was really fried. And I had a night where I thought, 'You know what? What if we just shave it?" Theron told EW.  The actress claims Miller reluctantly agreed, but when she sent him a selfie post-clippers, he responded, "Awesome, Furiosa."
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta (2005)
When Evey (Portman) is captured, tortured, and imprisoned by the anarchist V (Hugo Weaving) to test her loyalty to him, we hear a male voice: “Process her.” Apparently, the crucial first step of processing is relieving her of her hair: In a disturbing scene, we watch a man shave Evey's head as she breaks down, weeping. She'll soon endure physical and mental abuse — but what she counts as the greatest injustice is the loss of her locks. When she finally meets V, Evey’s ticked off: “You did this to me? You cut my hair? You tortured me.” Note how she lists hair loss before torture. Though grueling, her imprisonment is where she gains strength and faces her own death. “I can’t feel anything anymore,” she tells V. No hair, no emotions, no femininity — just like Friedman said. 

Ellen Page, Mouth to Mouth (2005)
Sherry (Page) is living on the streets in Europe and takes up with a group of troubled teens called S*P*A*R*K* — Street People Armed with Radical Knowledge. In keeping with the group’s rules, Sherry agrees to get her head shaved. Once she does, she not only becomes more immersed in the group, but summons the courage to fight against it. When she realizes that Harry (Eric Thal), the group’s leader, is becoming abusive, she flees, but not to a permanent home. She and her bald head end up hitchhiking to destination TBD — because she's too radical to be contained, man. 

Photo: Courtesy of Caravan Pictures.
Advertisement
Demi Moore, G.I. Jane (1997)
Jordan O’Neill (Moore) is going to be the first female Navy Seal. But, when she arrives at training, she realizes she’s being treated differently. She’s given passes when she fails. She receives special treatment. So, she takes matters into her own hands, shaves her head, and demands to be treated like a male Seal. It took the removal of her luscious tresses to be taken seriously.

Cate Blanchett, Heaven (2002)
After her husband dies of a drug overdose, Philippa (Blanchett) places a homemade bomb in the home of a known dealer, but unintentionally kills four innocent people. A sympathetic rookie cop (Giovanni Ribisi) falls in love with her and helps her escape. They both shave their heads and wear the same utilitarian outfit of a white T-shirt and blue jeans. Philippa's suedehead is a major turning point for her character. Sure, committing to blowing up a drug lord is pretty baller. But, it’s only after she's picked up the clippers that she decides to not just run away for good, but also to find her husband's murderer and kill him for real. Ruthless, this one. Ruthless.

Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Sigourney Weaver, Alien 3 (1992)

One of the most badass screen heroines of all time hardly needed a new hairdo to prove her bona fides. In the third chapter in the Alien saga, Ripley (Weaver) is the only survivor of a crash landing on a planet inhabited entirely by men — and lice. The doctor suggests a radical cut to prevent an infestation. Ripley ignores him. But, as she weeps over the bodies of her fallen comrades, she starts to scratch her scalp. So she bids her hair and the bugs goodbye. Eventually, she discovers she's carrying an alien inside of her. So, she kills herself to end this alien business for good. 

Here's where the bald business gets interesting. Weaver has said the decision to change Ripley's look was director David Fincher's. "The first thing out of his mouth was, 'Shave Ripley's head," she told reporters at the time. We can't be sure why the mercurial Fincher made this call, but if it was to maximize Ripley's ferocity, Weaver seems to think her buzz cut had the opposite effect. "I think she felt more frail, perhaps because she had no hair," she said. "We all sort of looked like these skeletons in a way, and I felt it brought out everyone’s vulnerability. But I don’t think it made her tougher." 

Again, how could it? Still, once Ripley lops off her hair, she doesn't shed another tear.
Advertisement