Are bald girls in Russia okay?
September 18, 2011 6:37 AM   Subscribe

My friend is planning on shaving her head before travelling for a year through Russia/China/Eastern Europe. Will she run into cultural difficulties because of this?

I'm mildly worried she'll be given the wrong kind of greeting or people will assume she's of low moral fiber but I know so little about Russian culture that I could be being silly about it.
posted by Silentgoldfish to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
Being an American woman in Eastern Europe is difficult to begin with. Even if you have an excellent grasp of the language there are cultural norms that will be hard to navigate. Making yourself stand out will make these even harder. I would advise against head shaving pre-trip.
posted by FatRabbit at 7:06 AM on September 18, 2011

Some older people will assume she's a radical lesbian anarchist feminist atheist biker drug-addicted AIDS-spreading troublemaker.

But most won't.
posted by pracowity at 7:21 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Based on my time in the Former Soviet Union, it might be easier to not shave her head. She's much more likely to be treated well with a full head of hair.
posted by k8t at 7:42 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

It would be difficult to be a woman with a shaved head in North America, never mind while in countries where the locals will layer on whatever 'american' prejudices they have on top of the "radical anarchist feminist atheist biker troublemaker" prejudices they have.

Your friend surely knows that shaving her head will be a provocative thing to do in those countries, and she's probably doing it to prove some kind of point - about herself, or about the world, or something. So it being a 'bad idea' probably won't dissuade her, since that's probably why she's doing it. So let her make her point and learn her lesson - don't try to dissuade her from shaving her head, and don't be surprised to see lots of photos of her in hats and head scarves at the beginning and with a short haircut that's grown in by the end.
posted by Kololo at 8:09 AM on September 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

In Russia, the ideals of feminine beauty and the pressure behind them (from both sexes) are a whole lot tougher and less tolerant than they are in America. I'd advise against it.
posted by griphus at 8:18 AM on September 18, 2011

I shaved my head before travelling to Japan fifteen years ago (female/looked about twenty). I know it is a different part of the world etc, etc but I had NO problems/comments whatsoever. I think clothing tends to be a marker as well for identity and as I dressed very femininely in somewhat expensive and classy skirts etc but also kept my head up and looked people in the eye I was accepted for who I was rather than pigeonholed as an radical anarchist feminist.

Not having to worry about my hair while travelling was soooo worth it.
posted by saucysault at 8:27 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't know about where she is going, but here most would assume she had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy, but did not want to hide her hair loss under a wig or scarf. It does not sound like a good idea for reasons already stated by others.
posted by mermayd at 8:32 AM on September 18, 2011

My little brother was in Europe in the early 90s with a shaved/buzzed haircut. Most people assumed it was to combat a wicked case of head lice.
posted by whitewall at 11:32 AM on September 18, 2011

Re: lice. Nearly all post-Soviet rural kids get their heads shaved in the summer to prevent lice. (I took great joy at seeing a bald little girl at my kid's American preschool and later confirming that she is Russian.)
posted by k8t at 12:40 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a lady and I shaved my head for a while a few years ago. I had a lot more trouble going through security in airports.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:19 PM on September 18, 2011

I had a shaved head for ten years (woman in North America), and although I never traveled to China or Russia, I'd say that your friend would be better off getting a super-short pixie cut than shaving her head.

Hair grows on average 1/2" a month, so if she got a 1" cut, it would only be about two months' growth. She has nothing to gain and possible losses if she shaves her head.
posted by Specklet at 2:52 PM on September 18, 2011

I don't know about cultural norms, but it sounds like she'll be cold. I once shaved my head, not really thinking about the practical side of having hair. It was March, in New York, so not arctic by any means. And hoo-boy was I cold! And then of course I had to start wearing a wool hat to counteract the frigidity, which made me look like a cancer patient. I felt uncomfortable, ugly, and freakish for most of the time that my head was shaven. And this was in a context (NYC, college, queer community) where cultural aspects were minimized compared to more conservative parts of the world. It was also in a place where I felt at home and like a cultural insider, surrounded by friends and peers.

Also, she will eventually need a haircut. If she's going for more than 10 days or 2 weeks this is going to become an issue, especially if there's a language barrier.

That said, I spent months backpacking around India with a pixie cut was none the worse for it. Indians are known around the world as culturally conservative and extremely inquisitive, and yet I don't recall it ever even coming up.
posted by Sara C. at 3:56 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

In China, people will probably assume she's a nun if her head is totally shaved; anything about an inch or so in length will just not occasion comment.
posted by bokane at 5:19 PM on September 18, 2011

That said, I spent months backpacking around India with a pixie cut was none the worse for it. Indians are known around the world as culturally conservative and extremely inquisitive, and yet I don't recall it ever even coming up.

True but there are pretty valid reasons why Indians might get their heads shaved other than anarcho-feminist ones -- the afore-mentioned lice, or religious reason, or as a form of penance -- if anything I'd say it looks a bit old-fashioned to Indians. The same is unlikely to apply in Russia.
posted by peacheater at 6:25 AM on September 19, 2011

To clarify, I had short hair in India. Not a shaved head. Not even a style that looked reminiscent of shaving. Less Tank Girl, more Rosemary's Baby. Nobody cared and it was the perfect traveling haircut.
posted by Sara C. at 2:08 PM on September 19, 2011

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