When You Tell Me I’m Pretty I Shave My Head

When You Tell Me I’m Pretty I Shave My Head

Donna-Michelle and Clare sit beside each other holding hands, smiling. Above their heads, friends with razors are at work shaving their hair.
Donna-Michelle St. Bernard and Clare Preuss get their heads shaved by Matthew Progress and Katherine Rawlinson. Photo by Kate Ashby.

Last month, artists gathered at Kabin Studio in Toronto’s east end to engage in a live-art ritual. Donna-Michelle St. Bernard and I had our heads shaved by Matthew Progress and Katherine Rawlinson while Merna Bishouty and Gray Rowan improvised on the piano and organ respectively. Ashley Botting and Reid Janisse provided live commentary on the event. Others came to witness, record and respond. It was our creative reply to recent and unexpected media attention.

In 2004, Mean Girls was released and soon became a cult favourite. I played Mathlete, Caroline Krafft, in the movie. Last month, an article was posted in Hello Giggles stating that I’m “actually crazy beautiful in real life”. A few similar articles sprung up online in subsequent days: Cosmopolitan, Self, Mashable, Daily Mail and others. The mainstream entertainment industry is fuelled by evaluating the appearance of actors, so I’m used to the unsolicited commentary that the Hello Giggles offered. But, the article referred to more than just my personal appearance: in judging me to be beautiful, the article infers that the character of Caroline was therefore ugly.

I played Caroline Krafft as a fiercely intelligent, confident, accomplished teenager who had the boys on her team eating out of the palm of her hand. She was on fire! That being said, I remember how I felt on the Mean Girls set dressed-up as Caroline. My experience was an example of what many of us have felt: the way we look affects how we are treated in the world. Mean Girls writer, Tina Fey, approached me during a break and told me that Caroline looked a lot like Tina did in high school. We talked about weight, female facial hair and more. We talked about the narrow view of beauty held up by the mainstream entertainment industry and the need for change. I was excited to play a character who inadvertently helps Cady Haron (played by Lindsay Lohan) understand that a woman’s value needn’t be based on her looks.

Clare staring right into camera with a freshly shaved head. Barber adds finishing touches with razor.
Photo by Sabio Emerencia-Collins.

So when the Hello Giggles article came out, I was angry that the basic premise of Mean Girls was being ignored. A few days later, I was at Kabin Studio with fellow resident artists Reid Janisse, Matthew Progress, and Kabin founder, Katherine Rawlinson. I brought up the articles and the growing desire to shave my head. The four of us hatched a plan to create a head shaving event. Around that time, I met with friend and collaborator, Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. We discussed the situation and she shared some of her recent media experiences with me: how her image was manipulated for promotional purposes. We decided to shave our heads together.

On Friday, October 14, participants and witnesses gathered in ritual at Kabin Studio. I can still hear the gasps that were released as Katherine cut the first big chunk of my long blonde hair. People continued to gasp, comment, laugh, and cry as Donna-Michelle and I were shorn by Katherine and Matthew while Gray and Merna played music amidst the dramatic lighting – the vibe was pseudo spiritual and super heightened. Up in the sound-proof booth, with a view of the studio, comedians Ashely and Reid offered their commentary e-talk style. As such, a meditative ritualistic event occurred in the studio while Ashley and Reid provided a more pop culture, main stream media response as they watched from their sound proof perch. As the shaving came to an end, Donna-Michelle and I popped open a bottle of bubbly each, drank from thebottle and shared with the crowd. We all gathered, drank and discussed. There was a feeling of communal freedom in the air – a sense of levity and rebellious glee.

Donna-Michelle and Clare hold camera themselves and take two joint self portraits, presented side by side. In one, they have long hair. In the other, they are smiling with freshly shaved heads.
Before and after selfies by Clare Preuss.

Since then, I’ve noticed how people react to my new look. The word “brave” has come up. It seems curious to me that something as superficial as cutting my hair can be deemed a brave act. Yet, I agree. It is brave for a woman to bare her head in our culture. I have noticed people’s gaze shift since I shaved my head. Maybe I have also shifted. People seem to perceive me as more “bad ass”, as a few friends have put it. Perhaps I am feeling emboldened by this new look. In the past, I’ve used my longer locks to help soften my image and the impact of my arty socialist politics and queer life choices.

As actors, we are often asked to conform to certain stereotypes. Yet, it is imperative to tell stories about humans from many walks of life who have a varied sense of politic and style. As such, we need performers who represent variety in all it’s manifestations. I’m grateful to the Hello Giggles article for the nudge to shave my head. This simple act of cutting my hair is an outing of otherness. It’s an ongoing experiment in the relationship between appearance and behaviour. It’s an experience in my multi-faceted womanhood. It’s a subtle live-art experiment.

And, hey, I just booked a commercial acting gig with freshly shorn head. The cut made the cut.