Mako Mori, Pacific Rim
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Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Why the bowl cut, blunt bob, and helmet hair is the power style for women in genre

Contributed by
May 11, 2019

Medieval monks and Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber share a penchant for the hard-to-pull-off bowl haircut. It's a style with do-it-yourself connotations and a low-maintenance, low-cost look. For a character like Lloyd Christmas, it plays up his naivety and ineptitude. But for women in genre, this mushroom ‘do has a number of ascribed meanings that are less about humor and more associated with power. It is the style of smart, hyper-competent, and sometimes aloof women — women who are often there to support or lead the protagonist toward whatever task they have been sent to complete. Not only that, but it is a cut that can be studious or kick-ass depending on the severity and the coloring. It is a haircut that has historical roots (no pun intended), going back to the 12th century, but the evolution from bowl to blunt means the sharp shape is perfect for the future. This particular cut is a signifier of a smart, powerful woman; she is straight-forward and doesn't always have time for romance.

While the bowl suggests some element of DIY, the blunt bob (the slicker cousin of the mushroom) is a no-nonsense sleek chop that gives the impression of someone who DGAF about their hair because they have other things to do. Long hair is alluring, which is why superheroes tend to have it fluttering in the wind. This isn't particularly practical, but hair is just as important to visual storytelling as costume design is, which means there are just as many tells, stereotypes, and clichés wrapped up in a character’s hair as there are in a closet.

Below are the best in bowl, blunt bobs and helmet hair across movies and television, revealing why this particular style continues to endure. 

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Hope van Pyme

Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Ant-Man

How do you know a woman is serious about work and isn’t going to take any crap? Give her a severe bob. But when romance finds her, so will a ponytail, as best demonstrated by Hope van Dyne’s hairstyle change between Ant-Man movies. The hardened edge is no longer needed to show off her smarts — now she is also has a guy and a superhero suit in her life.

Aeon Flux and Atomic Blonde

Lorraine Broughton and Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron), Atomic Blonde and Aeon Flux

One black, one blonde — Charlize Theron can definitively say who has more fun. She also shows that you can be a badass with a sharp, edgy version in Aeon Flux or a cut that is far more touselled in Atomic Blonde. Demonstrating the appeal of this hairstyle for women in genre, these films display the cut as undeniably sexy or innocent, from the past or in a dystopian future, fit for a scientist or for someone tasked with killing someone. There are a lot of layers (hair puns are just too easy, sorry).

Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element

Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), The Fifth Element

Leeloo’s orange bob is just as iconic as the bandage ensemble and orange suspenders Milla Jovovich wears in the film. The color is part of the whole futuristic vibe, but the hairstyle has strong roots in the late ‘90s when Posh Spice made this slick cut her signature style. There are echoes of another Luc Besson character — Natalie Portman' Mathilda in The Professional also had this style, albeit in a regular brunette shade. There is often a youthful innocence to this cut, which can make people underestimate the person sporting it.

Arya Stark

Arya Stark (Maise Williams), Game of Thrones

Sometimes a change is less of a choice and more a necessity, as Arya found out after her father was executed in Game of Thrones. In the first season finale, Arya gets an emergency chop from Night’s Watch recruiter Yoren (Francis Magee) who really could’ve done with a bowl to place over her head. A pair of scissors would've been handy too. Instead, he has a sword, which he hacks at her hair with. Arya, as we know, is small but mighty, and while this boyish cut has since grown out, she still possesses many of the attributes women in genre with shorter hair often have.

Bryce Dallas Howard

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), Jurassic World

It isn’t just the heels or the white suits that tell you Claire is all about the business side of things in Jurassic World, nope — her severe take on the blunt bob does that for you too. It is no coincidence that when she returns for the sequel, sensible boots are now being worn and her straightened hair has been replaced by a wavy ponytail and a shaggy fringe.   

Mako Mori, Pacific Rim

Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Pacific Rim and Pacific Rim: Uprising

“I wanted a female lead who has the equal force as the male leads. She’s not going to be a sex kitten, she’s not going to come out in cutoff shorts and a tank top, and it’s going to be a real earnestly drawn character,” said Pacific Rim director, Guillermo del Toro when discussing Rinko Kikuchi’s character, hence this haircut. Mako Mori is smart, she is a good fighter, but she also has personal demons related to her childhood experience. This style of hair is a form of protection and power.

Speed Racer

Trixie (Christina Ricci), Speed Racer

Gone is the ‘60s look of the anime Trixie. Christina Ricci chopped all her hair off into an extreme blunt bob that is both super feminine and perfect for putting a helmet on, making this actual helmet hair. Trixie fights, drives and is the love interest. You don’t need Penelope Pitstop-esque flowing locks on this race course. 

Tron: Legacy

Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Tron: Legacy

Sticking to the driving theme, Quorra is introduced while flying around the circuit, and her skills and competency are evident when she saves Sam (Garrett Hedlund). She is referred to as “The Miracle” and she has the edgy haircut to go with this auspicious title. She is an adept fighter and driver, and wants to know more about the real world. Books by Jules Verne are her favorite; the marriage of an interest in reading and fighting skills are often something a character with this haircut possesses.

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Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), The X-Files

Helmet hair is bowl cut adjacent with Darth Vader appearing high on a list of characters with this look. That is, of course, not his actual hair — little Anakin (Jake Lloyd) has a bowl cut in Phantom Menace — but for the real deal look no further than early X-Files. As a scientist, an FBI agent and a woman, Scully needed a cut to convey her intellect and her position of authority. She also needed a straight-forward style, which is why her bangs were short-lived. The blunt cut is not as easy to maintain as movies and TV suggests, particularly when your hair has a curl like Scully’s.

Velma Scooby Doo

Velma, Scooby-Doo

Velma is the smart one in the Scooby gang and her hair is an extension of this. Between her specs and that fringe, her face is pretty obscured. The oversized sweater and orange clothing palette also play down her feminity; if this were a teen movie she would be getting a makeover, wardrobe upgrade and of course the removal of her glasses set to the obligatory Sixpence None the Richer music entrance.  

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