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Kanye West's girlfriend, model Amber Rose, is one of several high-profile females with shaved heads.

Peter Kramer

It speaks volumes about the power of a woman's hair that a shaved head can come off like a one-way ticket to crazy town.

Remember Britney? When she sheared her locks in 2007, it was seen as clear proof that the then-troubled singer had finally gone over the edge. We didn't just see a haircut - we saw a meltdown.

This is representative of a distinctly female phenomenon. No one ever accused Samuel L. Jackson or Bruce Willis of being unhinged for going bald.

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Of course, no one is questioning the sanity of the female celebrities who have recently shaved their heads - Beyoncé's sister, singer Solange Knowles, Canadian model Tasha Tilberg, Rihanna, the singer Cassie, model Alice Dellal and Kanye West's girlfriend, model Amber Rose, among them - but it's still an arresting image these women are using to gain some hard-core cred: more Grace Jones-type warrior than long-haired girlie girl.

"When women shave their head, it's a big shock," says Kristy Rogerson, co-founder of Operation Style, a Vancouver-based image consulting company. "It's like, 'Whoa, she's really got something to say,'" Rogerson adds. "To me, it's like a power thing."

It also seems to be a power thing for many of the women who have gone for the buzz-cut look lately.

"I just want to be free from the bondage that black women sometimes put on themselves with hair," Knowles wrote on her Twitter page this year after bloggers began wondering why she would lop off her locks.

The singer's decision to shave her head triggered such a strong reaction that someone even went so far as to create a Twitter account written in the voice of her disgruntled hair. The account has more than 400 followers.

Considering how freighted with meaning a woman's hair is, it's no wonder those who have recently shaved their noggins talk about it in terms of emancipation and empowerment.

"What they're saying to us is that they're strong enough and have the personal strength enough to defy societal conventions," says Becki Ross, chair of the women's and gender studies program at the University of British Columbia. "Long, lustrous hair has been normalized and fetishized. And as a result, a bald head can be read as a sort of radical questioning of the convention itself."

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In the pop-culture history of women with shaved heads, whether it's Sigourney Weaver going bald to do battle in Aliens 3, Demi Moore buzzing off her hair to prove she's a soldier like any other in G.I. Jane or Sinead O'Connor taking pre-emptive scissor measures against being judged as just another pretty singer, there's always been a strong badass element to the buzz cut. As a look, it's pure punk rock.

"With fashion and music right now, it's kind of taking a turn toward futuristic and really rock starish," Rogerson says. "It's edgier."

A shaved head is a look that not only says, "Here is a woman so independent and confident she couldn't care less about conventions of beauty," it also pretty much screams, "You don't want to mess with this chick."

Yes, it's attention-getting, which helps if you're a celebrity with a new record set for release or a need to stand out from thousands of other models. But it's also transformative and empowering.

As singer and Diddy protégé Cassie explained on Twitter, "Sometimes in life, you need a change. Something deeper than what you thought you were capable of. Something that displays the 'I don't give a f-ck attitude that was always present, but never showcased. Something that makes you look at this whole wide world a differently … & something that will shock your mother, but make her call you a ROCK STAR."

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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