When a celebrity takes on an unconventional new hairstyle it always makes headlines, and nothing draws curiosity or comment more than a shaved head, especially when the head in question belongs to a woman.
But the words "shaved" and "bald" have a tendency to get tossed around far too often these days, for haircuts that bear little resemblance to bald, haircuts that would never be called shaved if they were on a man. If we want to be finicky, a shave demands a razor and baldness normally means a smooth head. Is it because we are so hung up on the notification that women need long, luxurious tresses that anything typically short of that is bald? Is it only creative exaggeration by the press? You make up your own mind.
To illustrate, here's an assortment of famous women who allegedly went bald at some point in their careers. Let's spot who was really shaved and who was not?
Persis Khambatta (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) – Unmistakably shaved completely and utterly bald. I would go as far as to declare Persis the benchmark for celebrity female baldness. She had a smooth, bald, totally bare dome. They do not come much smoother than model and former beauty queen was around 1978-79. Years after her death, it's still the image most closely associated with her.
Britney Spears – She buzzed it to the skin, but Britney stopped short of shaving her noggin. Why, of all the dumb things Britney did around that time, is cutting her hair deemed the ultimate proof of insanity? It's doubly one of the most benign.
Natalie Portman (V for Vendetta) – A really nice combination. Somebody who already has a following of horny fanboys, and is typically considered hot, gets shorn for a part in a movie and rocks the stubbled look both on and off screen. There are definite parallels to Persis, and Portman may well have done for the female buzzcut what Persis did for bald women, but let's be perfectly honest. Natalie Portman was not bald.
Amber Rose – The bleach-blonde hair does create an illusion of baldness to the casual observer, and she has buzzed it pretty close to the scalp at times, but she is not bald. As a model and celebrity girl, she does seem to take some criticism for her extreme coiffure. I think she looks fantastic, albeit not the sort of girl I'm take home to meet Mom.
Cassie, Rihanna and the rest of the buzzed-side gals – The single clippered side is an interesting look, it attractions attention, but come on. That is not even remotely close to a bald head.
Sigourney Weaver (Alien 3) – Buzzed very close, but not smooth. I did admire her reaction to being asked to take her hair off for the movie. She wanted more money. Good for her. I can never make up my mind however Sigourney looks good in a buzz or not, but then, I can never make up my mind whether I find Sigourney attractive or not. Her appeal seems to change from movie to movie, and I can never quite figure out why.
Maggie McOmie (THX 1138) – Maggie might be up for debt. She did get a proper shave before shooting began, but we mostly see her sporting varying amounts of peach fuzz on screen. I suppose she counts as shaved, because she did really have her head shaved smooth.
Demi Moore (GI Jane) – This is another gray area. She was not bald for the movie. She cut it with clippers on-screen, and spent the rest of the movie just a bit of stubble, making her technically not bald. However, after Demi finished shooting the movie, she then shaved her head smooth on her own time, and appeared in public with her shaved dome. Pretty cool.
Bai Ling (Anna and the King) – Shaved, for sure. Bai Ling is another one with some real guts, since her raven hair was past her butt when she shaved her head, and it was only for a little bit of actual on-screen baldness.
Joan Chen (You Seng: Temptation of a Monk) – Joan not only shaved her head, but we see a bit of lather-free straight razor shaving in this Asian flick. Chen's character, a sort of bounty hunter, poses as an initiate in order to infiltrate a temple where a fugitive general is posing as a monk. Chen shaved her head for just a brief part of the movie. Again, a truly bald dome, and not a bad movie either.
Samantha Morton (Minority Report) – Although she was described in the media at the time as bald or shaved, Samantha Morton was buzzed to stubble for the role of Agatha, one of three psychics enslaved by the police of the future to predict criminal acts before they occur. Definitely not bald.
Annie Burgstede (Smallville) – A bald pate does seem like a reasonable move for a character homicidally obsessed with Lex Luthor, but to actually do it, and do it for real, is more than I expected from Smallville. I have to salute any woman who would shave her head completely bald for the final act of an hour-long TV episode. That goes double in Burgstede's case, when it's a teen drama full of beautiful people, and she's the bald nut sharing a scene with a perfectly-coiffed Erica Durance. Pretty brave.
Virginia Hey (Farscape) – In Mad Max 2, she was the hottie with the crossbow and the big, golden 80s hair. And in the 90s, she adopted a hairless pate to play an alien hottie (shades of Persis there) in the series Farscape. She was already in love with the role when the subject of shaving her head came up, and she was ready to do it. What is really impressive here is the commitment. It's one thing to shave your head for a part in a movie or a single episode, but it's quite another to do it for a series that might require you to stay bald for the better part of the next four or five years.
Linh Dan Pham and Simona Maicanescu (Dante 01) – Both women, and the entire cast were shaved smooth on top for this French sci-fi film. Not exactly sure why this was, other than to give things a sterile, dystopian look, and it was reminiscent of both THX 1138 and Alien 3.
Delphine Chaneac (Splice) – With all the digital tricks the filmmakers used to make this charming French actress into a genetically modified human-animal chimera, you've almost expected them to fake the bald head too, but it's the real deal. Chaneac apparently had no qualms about shaving her head, and enjoyed being bald. And in spite of the somewhat unnatural nature of her character, she manages to be very pretty, in a creepy sort of way.
Robin Tunney (Empire Records) – Not shaved, but a close on-screen buzz cut with clippers for the role of a troubled teenager. A memorable scene in an otherwise forgettable movie.
Judith Light (Wit) – Judith Light, from the 80s sitcom Who's the Boss, had her head shaved bald for the role of Prof. Vivian Bearing in this drama, as many other actresses have done to star in many productions of the play over the years. A professional stage play is another potentially long-term commitment to staying bald, and this was a drastic change from the poofy blonde 80s hair we all remember.
Emma Thompson (Wit) – Thompson was shaved for the role of Bearing in the HBO TV movie of Wit.
Sofia Vassilieva (My Sister's Keeper) – The teenage actress had her hair and eyebrows shaved off for the part of a cancer patient. Vassilieva said at the time that it was the least she could do for such a wonderful character, and it made her a better idea of what her character was going through. Compare that to her costar, Cameron Diaz, who opted for a latex cap thatave her a bloated, saggy alien head. And yet Diaz, looking anything but realistic managed to capture headlines for her "bald" look. Go figure.
There are, of course many more women in show business who have shaved or buzzed their hair, either in public, on stage or screen, or in the media, but the ones listed here make the point well enough. If you know of others, make up your own mind if they really shaved.
Just remember, there is shaved and there is buzzed, but bald caps never count … ever.