Diversity in Pakistani fashion: exploring the shaved head look

The world of fashion is nothing short of a storm; a whirlwind of constant change and innovation. It is a race in which adaptation and evolution are key. However, the most evolved ideas that tend to become fierce symbols have a rich history, as is the case with females in Pakistani fashion sporting a shaved head look.

What was once a lice-prevention method adapted by wealthy women in ancient Egypt is now a stereotype-defying symbol of agency, empowerment, and reclamation for the modern woman. It’s not often that we see women sporting shaved heads. In fact, shaved heads are still commonly associated with illnesses. However, this global trend’s wave has found a meandering course from international waters all the way to Pakistan.

Globally, the ’70s witnessed model Grace Jones opting for this freeing look, claiming it made her “look hard, in a soft world.” Sinéad O’Connor shaved her head in the ’80s as a metaphorical middle finger to the executives who wanted her to look more feminine. 

The ’90s saw a greater level of acceptance for this look, with more and more mainstream actresses like Demi Moore and Cate Blanchett sporting the same look for pivotal roles. By the early 2000s, the look had already gained major footing and was around to stay, with renowned faces like Amber Rose, Ellen Page and Natalie Portman opting for the same. 

Today, when you think of a shaved head on a global scale, you can name multiple mainstream actresses and models who propel this look to another level, including the young starlet Millie Bobby Brown who cemented her footing in the industry as Eleven in Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things.’

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However, it is only recently that we have seen this pattern of shaved heads emerging in Pakistan, as far as a mainstream narrative is concerned.

Recently, model Eman Suleman was seen shedding her tresses for a sleeker, bolder look, slipping out of her oft-observed, traditional avatar into something that seems to resonate with her personality on social media – unapologetic, rebellious (not without a cause, of course), and fierce. 

Before Eman shaved her head, though, another model was seen sporting this look for a renowned brand in one of their campaigns.

This model was Saleha Amin, who made an impactful entry into the world of fashion with Generation’s 2019 Eid-ul-Azha campaign.  

While conversing with Saleha about the same, she mentions that shaving her head was a spur of the moment decision during a trip two years ago, where she – also a hairstylist – was cutting her friend’s hair. Sporting a bob at that point in time, she decided that she’d follow through with her “fleeting desire” to go bald. 

Talking about whether the shoot itself required the model to look a particular way, Saleha mentions that the team at Generation reached out due to the way she looked. At that time, she had stopped wearing makeup and informed the brand about the same. 

Generation – known to be a hub of inclusivity and diversity in the world of fashion – was more than accepting. Harris Masood, the Junior Brand Strategist and resident Stylist at Generation shared his thoughts regarding the same.

“Ever since 2017,” he states, “when we did a campaign called ‘Greater Than Fear,’ we developed a knack for working with models that don’t exactly fit the bill for what a conventional model is supposed to look like. 2019 for Generation has been about taking ownership of the desi identity with ‘No-Nonsense Nighat,’ a 21st-century interpretation of the desi woman, unperturbed by western standards of beauty and style.”

“Saleha popped up at a time when we weren’t even looking. She, herself, served as the inspiration for her role in the campaign. Saleha made us realize that for one to be desi or beautiful, long hair really shouldn’t be a prerequisite. She can sport a bald head and be just as Pakistani as any other girl, and that was something we had to put out there.” 

Talking about how the campaign was received, Harris reveals that their audience welcomed the campaign with open arms and minds. 

“The outpouring of love we received has been overwhelming,” Harris states. “Women with alopecia and women recovering from cancer sent us heartwarming messages. They felt empowered to see a Pakistani woman shed her hair as a conscious choice. Many girls wrote to us about how badly they wanted to get the chop, and seeing Saleha was the final bout of motivation they needed to do so.”

Saleha, too, explains that while the decision is a gigantic leap for many when she actually shaved off her hair, she realized that it was just that – hair. 

While the subcontinent still treats hair like a woman’s crowning glory, perhaps it’s time to utilize a more penetrative gaze into the mainstream representative value of such campaigns. 

However, there is, of course, the same general concern regarding this trend – will it be just that – a trend – and nothing more?

Harris mentions that the shaved head look isn’t new per se, for actress Ayesha Toor, and model Gia Ali, have successfully pulled off the look in the past. Yet, he feels that reducing inclusivity and diversity to a mere trend is a dangerous path to traverse upon.

“It is a sad truth that the term diversity is on everyone’s lips these days because it has been ‘trending’,” says Harris. “However, will we be reverting to the problematic representation of beauty once this ‘trend’ dies down? Not in a million years. All our customers need to feel represented, seen and beautiful, this is an important part of our brand ethos.”

Undoubtedly, Generation’s active decision to be innovative in ways that propagate inclusivity seems like the way forward. This opens up avenues for further discussions around empowerment through representation and depicting women reclaiming their sense of agency. 

As greater diverse choices gain footing, perhaps more Salehas will be discovered by more companies with a similar brand ethos, thereby potentially deconstructing all that we have known to be true in the world of fashion till date, paving the way for all kinds of beauty to finally be represented and accepted. 

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Sajeer Shaikh

Just trying to become a meme.

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