For Sanaa Lathan, the decision was a mix of both. The actress, who shaved her hair for her role in Nappily Ever After, a Netflix original film hitting screens in 2019, revealed her new look on Instagram this week, saying, "I feel so light, I could fly away."
Of course, the likes poured in at a breakneck pace... as did the questions. So we went straight to the source: her longtime hairstylist Larry Sims, to clear things up.
"I'm actually surprised that she even revealed it, to be honest with you," he told Refinery29. "We talked about when she was going to do it, and she released [the video] unbeknownst to me. But we knew it was going to be a big deal. It leaves a lot of people with questions."
And sadly, a lot of those questions can't be answered right now. "To walk you through the evolution of the looks is to reveal the movie," Sims teases. "They don't want me to reveal it just yet. It'll give it away!"
If you're not familiar, Nappily Ever After is based on the early 2000s book series by Trisha R. Thomas. Lathan is set to play Violet Jones, a career woman who had the picture-perfect job, boyfriend, and chemically-straightened hair. Everything ended up falling apart, though, and that's when she reached for the shears.
Over the past few weeks, Lathan has given her 3.5 million Instagram followers a sneak peek at her character's many hair looks, including a blonde dye job. But nothing's more important than her shaved head, according to Sims. "It's a pivotal moment in the script. That's all I can say about it. It's the biggest moment in the evolution of Violet," Sims says.
So pivotal, in fact, that Lathan opted to cut her own curls — something that she actually didn't have to do. "We gave her the option to use a bald cap and shave that," Sims notes. "With today's technology in film, it can look like you're actually shaving your hair. She was committed to shaving her actual head and hair for this role. You'll see her real reaction on film. That shows you, nervous or not, she was committed to telling the story which is going to be so important to women around the world once they see the actual film."
Sims says that before the big chop, Lathan's hair almost reached her waist. "Sanaa really takes care of her hair," he says. "It's natural, not processed. No relaxer, no color, virgin hair. No heat. When she had hair, we did a lot of things. We incorporated a lot of hair pieces and wigs, which is why it's as long as it is. Or was, rather."
But just because she's free of her long locks now doesn't mean she's off the hook when it comes to haircare. "When you shave your scalp, you see dryness," Sims says. "You need to moisturize and invigorate the scalp." To do that, he uses Smooth 'N Shine Olive & Tea Tree Treatment Oil to prevent flakes. He shampoos and conditions her hair with Schwarzkopf Gliss Hair Repair Shampoo and Conditioner as well. (Sims is a spokesperson for both brands.) "Our scalp produces so many natural oils, so it's good to keep it clean," he says. "With Sanaa's buzzcut, the great thing about that is that you can wash your whole hair and body on a daily basis. It's so freeing."
Nappily Ever After hits Netflix in 2018, but Sims has a feeling that Lathan will be rocking this look for a while. "She's certainly having fun with it and embracing it," he says. "She loves that her head is a great shape [laughs]. Obviously, it was hard to tell with all of her hair. She feels amazing. She looks gorgeous. She's not in a space where she's like, 'Oh my God, I hate that I did this. I need my hair back.' No, she's really happy that she did it and looks even more beautiful, in my opinion now, than she did before."
For those considering or facing a buzzcut, Sims always tells his clients to embrace the emotional response, too. "Some people do it to get rid of energy, or for a fresh start. Sometimes it's because of a breakup or a new relationship. Sometimes it's cancer or sickness. No matter why you do it, it's chopping off the old and beginning anew," he says. "The biggest message is that we are beautiful beyond just our hair. To be able to shave off something so adored, to tap into your inner beauty and let it shine from within, is glorious and inspiring. It's beyond hair. It's spiritual cleansing. It's a refreshing thing to see and experience."