In many societies, women are expected to have hair. For many, it's a symbol of their femininity and identity. To lose that hair (or worse), would be considered socially unacceptable, at the very least.
So it's a surprise when a woman without any hair appears. For whatever reason, a bald chick is strange, even shocking. The image contrasts with the acceptable image of a woman and cultural values. The baldness can be the result of a number of things, but it's more notable when it is voluntary or Alien Hair. As chemotherapy makes one's hair fall out, cancer is also a common explanation (unless she's wearing a wig).
Thomas Disch recognized this trope in his The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, a critical look at science fiction. He recognized the bald woman as a "distinctive icon" in SF as a result of "the feminist incursion" into the field. Indeed, most of the time one sees a bald woman who isn't sick or considered abnormal is in science fiction, like Star Trek or fantasy works.
Disch further points out that the bald woman actually represents "empowerment". By playing off well-known Hair Tropes, bald women show that they transcend their femininity and become stronger as a result. Whether this character development occurs or not depends on the character.
Rule 36 applies, of course.
See Bald of Awesome, Bald of Evil.
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In 2005, a Nevada woman needed cash to go to school overseas. To raise that money, she auctioned on eBay to shave her head bald, tattoo the winning ad to the top and back of her head, and stay bald for a year. She got $18,000 from a website known for their wacky advertising stunts.
An Adidas commercial featured a woman shaving her head totally bald, including her eyebrows. It is soon revealed that the woman was preparing to swim. "Long Live Sport", indeed.
Also happens in a Korean Powerade commercial.
In the early 1990's, magazine ads for the Sega Saturn would sometimes feature on a bald woman with rings around her head. In addition, its very weird promotional video begins with similar imagery.
Parodied in Master Of Epic, in which a band of female players try to fight a monster that ends up giving them bad haircuts. Their solution to beat it? Shave their heads totally bald. However, it doesn't quite work out the way they planned...
Yakitate!! Japan manga: Tsukino Azusagawa shaves her head after becoming head of the company. It's not noticed until her wig falls off...
Lata in the manga Buddha starts off as a pretty girl with beautiful black hair, but when she becomes one of Buddha's disciples...
Kriem in Episode 18 of 'Anime/'Tiger & Bunny''. Since she possessed Prehensile Hair, it's likely likely that the hospital staff shaved her head to keep her from wreaking havoc when she woke up.
Mint Blancmanche of Galaxy Angel. In the episode "Slippery Pasta", the use of some Lost Technology results in her losing her hair. Mint spends the rest of the episode hiding this from everyone, while trying to reverse the damage.
In fact, a number of bald women show up in Star Wars, including Aurra Sing (who had a cameo appearance in Episode I and the later comics) and Sly Moore (the bald chick standing next to Palpatine in the Senate chambers.)
A heroic example is Plourr Illo in the X Wing Series comics. She starts growing her hair out during the arc that focuses on her, but keeps it very short even then. It's seen in flashbacks that, as a child, she had very long hair.
The Ratataki race have no hair, so all its women fall under this.
Alkyone from Wonder Woman, a former Amazonian guard of Hippolyta.
Nebula from Marvel, after her escape from Titan and a cybernetic operation.
Another Silver Age tale had Lois under the effect of Red Kryptonite, making her a monster under certain circumstances. One time, she turns into a monster after her sister Lucy brushes her hair and goes asleep. Monster-Lois uses a pair of scissors and hacks off all of Lucy's hair, leaving Lucy with a bald head sans big brain.
Sailor Mercury in Dungeon Keeper Ami. After a run-in with a dark god, her head is shaved. Fortunately, that was the least of her worries at the time. Ami herself is more annoyed than anything else, and is more concerned that her friends and family may take it hard. After a few chapters, Ami reversed the damage with a spell.
Ellen Ripley in Alien³ provides the picture for this trope, after her head is shaved due to problems with head lice at the Fury-161 penal colony.
Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture: One of the best-known examples, Illia is probably better known for her chrome dome than Persis Khambatta's acting.
The Literature//Dune films make Bene Gesserit bald for whatever reason.
Sing: Phone home like E.T., Mui. You don't belong on Earth.
Most people of both sexes in the in-story real world of The Matrix are either bald or very close-shaven. Sort of justified because it would appear that the machines' People Jars prevent hair growth for those inside, but most of the characters would presumably have been out for long enough to grow some more hair, so that's probably not why everyone's hair is like that.
This can be explained away as function over fashion. They're in a situation where everyone who can hold a gun and shoot semi-competently is a soldier fighting for survival. Long hair tends to be a hindrance in such an environment. It's also quite likely that Zion has to ration water quite carefuly, and shorter hair is much less of a hassle to keep clean.
Deb (Debra) in Empire Records. Hostile, anti-social, and shaves her head in the store bathroom near the beginning of the film. Her hairstyle (and personality) provide a counterpoint to the more stereotypically feminine behavior and appearance of the other female characters.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Talia is this in her flashback. It is mainly to trick the audience into thinking the child was Bane.
Vera in La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) is seen with no hair in the early stage of her transformation, probably due to hormonal treatment.
In Murphy's Gambit by Syne Mitchell, Thiadora Murphy is one of the Floaters, a society of humans who live in zero gravity and are treated as second-class citizens. Like all Floaters, Thiadora's head is totally bald. In fact, the cover art for the book features this.
Starship Troopers: pilots in the Federation Navy (most of which are women) shave their heads for practical reasons (having long hair is impractical in free fall). On a date, Rico is somewhat shocked that his longtime crush, Carmen, was bald. He later thinks it looks good on her.
Inverted with the Seanchean in The Wheel of Time, for whom baldness is a social indicator. Members of the nobility partially shave their heads, the high nobility mostly shave their heads, and the royal family is entirely bald.
Kin Arad, the heroine of Terry Pratchett's Strata, and, by extension, all female long-lifers, since "hair didn't last past the first century or so". She wears a wig, though.
At least one of the hominid species living on the Ringworld, the City Builders, have hairless crania on both genders. It's not a fashion thing, just specialization, although what conditions led to a species with more or less our ecological niche losing their head hair isn't explained.
Valerie Russell in Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black.
Santuna in the Cordwainer Smith short story "Under Old Earth". In her case, it may be a reference to the grooming practices of ancient Egyptian nobility, since the man she's in love with is compared to the pharaoh Akhenaten at one point in the text.
In The Witches, all witches are bald and have to disguise it with wigs. The narrator is disgusted when his grandmother tells him this, because there's "something indecent" about a bald woman.
In Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, women are expected to be bald in Urras society.
In Classical poetry, the anthropomorphic personification of a limited opportunity, especially of concepts such as Fortune and Time, is as a bald woman with only a single lock of hair on her forehead. The moral being that if you do not seize her as she approaches, there is nothing to grab her by once she's passed.
Cersei also has her head completely shaven for her walk of shame in A Dance with Dragons.
The implications are inverted in the Sword of Truth series. In that series, in the Midlands, the length of a woman's hair corresponds to station. The longer the hair, the higher the woman's social standing; a commoner's wife might have what we would term a pixie cut, while a queen would have hair halfway down her back. In one story told by a character, she relates a time when she disobeyed her strict grandmother, who shaved her bald as a response.
OMNI magazine featured this trope on its cover art several times.
Bonnie, one of Phoebe's friends who dates Ross on Friends, was described as being bald. However, by the time Ross meets her, Bonnie had a full head of hair. Until Rachel persuaded her to shave it off again.
Babylon 5 featured this trope, notably with Centauri women, who apparently shave their heads, and the Minbari, who are naturally bald. Delenn actually started off bald, but eventually went under an important change that resulted in her getting hair.
Two first-season episodes of Small Wonder, the pilot and "RoboBrat", featured a briefly bald Vicki.
In one early episode of Frasier, we see that artist Martha Paxton is bald; she also never bathes and often wears a poncho.
On the Donny & Marie variety show, Donny Osmond once pulled the hair off of Marie's bald head and then ran away to avoid a Megaton Punch.
One episode of CSI: Miami featured pop starlet Elvina going bald because she had cocaine traces in her hair.
In Season 7 of The Amazing Race, Joyce had to shave her head to win a Fast Forward.
In The Pretender, several episodes have included bald women among the randomly surreal background characters in scenes at the Centre.
Cycle 6 of Americas Next Top Model featured a photoshoot using baldcaps, but one of the models looked so striking without hair that her head was shaved when she received her makeover.
Jonathan Creek had a one-episode love interest who turned out to be completely bald underneath a wig, a fact that Maddy was exceedingly catty about. Of course, this revelation turned out to be one of the less surreal moments of their brief relationship.
Brazil had two famous cases, one for drama, other for (sensationalist) laughs.
Serena Deeb became bald when joining the Straight Edge Society, but oddly enough, not in a Hair Match. She willingly allowed her head to be shaved by CM Punk.
Ice Cold, at WOW Unleashed, February 4, 2001. Alpha Bitch Lana Star and her Dragon Patti Pizzazz (formerly FaceCheerleader Patti Pep until she turned on her Team Spirit partner Randi Rah-Rah) d. Ice Cold and Poison in a hair vs. hair match. The angle was that Poison had sabotaged Lana's shampoo, turning her hair green. Poison abandoned Ice Cold, leading to her losing the match.
In one of the sourcebooks for Mage The Awakening, there is a young 20-something who keeps her head bald because her nimbus manifests as sparks running along her scalp serving as a sample character (for the Pygmalian Society in Legacies: The Sublime). This electricity is not strictly real, but the feeling of lightning through her hair is unsettling enough that she prefers to just keep her head shaved bald (if asked about it, the book states that she'll claim to be making a statement on 'gender or something'). Interestingly enough, she actually has the Striking Looks merit, indicating that she's actually exceptionally attractive in her own unique way (not Angelina Jolie level, as that's the higher-level version of the merit, but still attractive enough to draw eyes) and it's mentioned that she's been featured on covers of magazines a few times. Judging from the page art, she deserves the merit.
The Tau, of Warhammer 40000, are universally bald, save for a single lock at the back of their head which they typically grow just past shoulder length. In the RPG books, human women sometimes are partly or fully bald, such as the Sisters Repentia.
Karan Sjet in the Homeworld series. The box art for Homeworld 2 features Karen's portrait and her bald head.
Jack (aka Subject Zero) from Mass Effect 2. Apparently, she kept the look after a stint in a cult. In Mass Effect 3 (provided, she survives), she adopts a less antisocial attitude and a longer haircut to go with it, though half of her scalp is still clean-haven.
Talitha, a minor character in the first game, was also shaved bald.
Can happen to Janne and Ryoka from World Heroes if they lose in certain Deathmatch stages from the first 2 games, Janne's in 1 and 2, Captain Kidd's in 2.
Safiya in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer. She is a member of Red Wizards of Thay, who all shave their heads in order to mark their scalps with sigils of arcane power. She doesn't have nearly as many tattoos as Red Wizards are supposed to have, though.
Inshula sar Mashawe in Storm of Zehir also shaved her head bald, but we don't know why.
Healers of Agrela in Majesty (the first game, anyway).
Christine from the Fallout New Vegas DLC "Dead Money". You'd think it the fault of the Auto-Doc you find her trapped in (which tore out her vocal cords) or the horrific experiments that left her scarred all over, but, in fact, she shaved her head voluntarily and becomes mildly irritated when you assume otherwise.
Waking Cloud and other women of the Sorrows tribe in Honest Hearts.
Kalin from Fable III, who is not only bald but sports blue tattoos on her scalp.
In The Order of the Stick, Roy Greenhilt learned a lesson during an emergency use of the Belt of Gender-Changing; "If the magic item doesn't specifically say it grows hair, it probably doesn't." He ended up using a mop-head for a wig.
Calliope from Homestuck is bald due to being part of a race of aliens that doesn't grow hair at all. She's still very cute, though.
Heather, during the second season of the Total Drama series.
Then Staci and Dakota, in Season 4
Luann in King of the Hill lost her hair in the Megalo-Mart explosion in the end of season 2. Traumatized by both her hair loss and the death of her boyfriend Buckley in the same explosion, she, as Kahn put it, "puts on strange Sinéad O'Connor act" and rants about "starving Irish children".
An episode of Rugrats once featured a female news anchor with a very memorable hairstyle, to the point where she's recognized as 'the one with the hair'. At the end of the episode, it's revealed to be a wig, she is completely bald underneath.
In Avatar The Last Airbender, female Airbenders are not completely bald, but the front half of their hair is always shaved to show their arrow.
Subverted by Player Aang of the The Ember Island Players. While she portrays a bald guy, it's clear that the actress is wearing a bald cap.
On an episode of American Dad, Stan shaves Hayley's head in her sleep after she dyed her hair green for a rally. She wore a wig for most of the episode, but was seen bald a few times.
"That's the one place you want them to have hair!"
Kitty Katswell from Tuff Puppy has lost her hair and fur several times due to Gag Haircut situations or comedic abuse.
An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes revealed that Heloise wore a wig, though this was likely a one-off thing Lucius caused.
One Simpsons episode had a completely random, bald, female background character who was never expanded upon.
Many female characters in Gandahar - most notably, Queen Ambisextra and her Councilwomen.
The Emperor's New School: In "Malina's Big Break" Malina has an extreme case of stress and in one gag she accidentally pulls off her apparent wig, revealing she's lost all her hair.
On Tiny Toon Adventures, Elmyra is occasionally shown to be bald when her wig flies off. Makes sense, as she's based on Elmer Fudd.
On Young Justice,M'gann reveals that her real form looks exactly like her usual appearance, except without hair. However, while she is bald in her true form, the "looking the same otherwise" part is totally false.
Persis Khambatta, for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Her haircut was documented, and for a while Persis was worried what sort of damage it would do to her hair. The memoir "Star Trek Movie Memories" mentions the event.
Maggie McOmie, for THX 1138. Like Persis, her haircut was filmed and used in a featurette called Bald: The Making of THX 1138. Several other actresses also went hairless as extras.
Demi Moore, for GI Jane. Though having stubble in the film, Moore did shave her head smooth off-screen.
Robin Tunney went bald on camera for Empire Records. She had to wear a wig for her next role.
Natalie Darryl in the 1953 B-movie The Girl in the Kremlin. Decades before Demi Moore, Darryl was shaved totally bald in the beginning of the movie.
Delphine Chanéac in Splice - her off-screen haircut was also documented. In the extras, they had to apply makeup to her denuded scalp so it would match her skin tone.
Virginia Hey in Farscape, having to stay bald for over two seasons.
Musician Sinead O'Connor was noted for her striking baldness, but since sexy wasn't her goal, she switched to a very short crop.
As was Renee Hicks, who exploited it in her stand-up comedy.
In Tongue First: Adventures in Physical Culture, author Emily Jenkins explores a number of taboos (female baldness among them) to figure out why they are socially unacceptable. One of those experiences is during Jenkins' time being bald.
Sudanese model Alek Wek either is bald or has very little hair.
An effect of chemotherapy for various forms of cancer is often the loss of hair, so many women with this look in Real Life qualify as Badass for beating back the disease. It's also fairly common for her friends and family members to shave their heads for her in solidarity.
Scottish TV presenter Gail Porter lost her hair when she developed alopecia.
Buddhist Nuns are notable for their shaven scalps.
Singer Skin of Skunk Anansie.
Model Eve Salvail.
For some time (caused by chemotherapy), Kylie Minogue, Melissa Etheridge, and others.
Certain totemist African tribes believe themselves to descend from lions, so their men traditionally wear long hair, reminiscent of a lion's mane, and the women are shaven bald. One such tribe is the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania.
Certain Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women are traditionally required to shave their heads when they get married, and then wear a wig (or a headscarf- the idea is to never show the hair and keep the head covered, but it's easier to move about in society without the attention a bald head creates, and a headscarf may create the mistaken impression of undergoing chemotherapy) over their bald heads for the rest of their lives, even if they divorce.
St. Clair had her head shaved by St. Francis of Assisi when she asked to join up with his religious order *
well, she ended up starting her own religious order, but originally, she just asked to join his group
Ancient Egypt had a problem with lice. The Egyptians' typical solution was to shave their heads (or cut the hair very short) and wear wigs. This also had the advantage of being easier to maintain and style than natural hair would be, and easily removed to cool off on hot days. This was by no means universal, though- there's a statue of Princess Meritamen with her hair visible from under her wig.