When life throws something unexpected in the path of our writer Edaein O'Connell, she has a stock response - chopping or colouring her hair. However, the results aren't always what she envisions.
When life throws me a curve ball, my first instinct is to cut my hair.
Like an animal shedding for the summer, I like to shed myself of whatever silly, disastrous or volatile occurrence that has occurred in my life. This time it was a break-up and my choice of rebound was a full fringe. I sat in the hairdresser’s chair, looked at myself and asked how I had come to this point in my life. And then I decided bangs would solve all of my problems.
So, how did the change work out for me?
Well, the fringe is not cooperating and likes to split at the right-hand side of my forehead. I now usually have it swept back and I deeply regret this lapse in hair judgment.
My learning is that a fringe is effort and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
ABBA and bobs
This isn’t the first time I have cut my hair in the hope that it would magically solve my problems. In the past, my default was cutting my hair into a bob, which aged me well beyond my early 20s. These bobs didn’t look like the chic, fashion-forward cuts you would see in the magazines in the hairdressers.
No, these bobs looked like the human version of a mushroom. The bobs made me feel like a woman named Sharon who always wanted to speak with the manager wherever she went. To take away from the harshness of the cut, I took to wearing a lot of luminous yellow to deter the gaze of onlookers.
White platforms and red lipstick completed the look and alas, it became my ‘ABBA tribute act phase’.
While I watched my hairdresser tentatively cut the fringe into my hair, I wondered why in times of personal change women often like to drastically change their appearance.
The post-break-up haircut
The post-break-up cut, for instance, has become a phenomenon of sorts.
It is like a form of redemption and release from the previous life you once lived. Your hair is like a forest of secrets and memories and just like you cut the person from your life, you cut your hair to purge yourself of the sense of them.
It’s a ritual that has been depicted in many a chick flick and real-life scenario. Most recently, singer Una Healy dyed her signature auburn locks to blond after she separated from husband Ben Foden. Katy Perry cut her long locks into a peroxide pixie cut after her break-up with Orlando Bloom. And even Kim Kardashian has done it, going blond after her three-year relationship with Reggie Yates went kaput.
It’s telling someone “f you” without voicing the expletive. It’s taking control of your life when it feels like you can’t quite get a grip on it. Break-ups, career changes and loss can leave you reeling, but cutting your hair or changing its colour can help you feel like you are in charge again.
These changes are a form of much-needed self-care.
Cutting away the past
After a break-up, your life irrevocably changed. All you want is the past to be the past. In many ways, changing your hair shows you’re ready for the next step; a fresh start.
And there is scientific jargon from those in the know to back it up my theory. Clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany told the Times of India: “Many women feel like their hair or appearance is still that one thing they have absolute control over”.
“So, when they decide to chop off their tresses, it is mostly to adopt a new, fresher identity. The girl feels an intense need to move on and hence, the need to look different and new.”
It feels like a dead weight and break-ups are hard enough without the added feelings of unease about your life choices. However, it’s not just the end of relationships that prompt the need to do a Gok Wan makeover on your hair. Before big moments in my life – interviews, jobs, new cities – I have cut, coloured and sometimes ruined my hair, just for a taste of freedom. The thrill of the new and the unknown.
A new haircut equals a new me. She’s sassy, sexy, self-assured, and confident. She is better and more together, not sad and heartbroken although inside that may be exactly how she feels.
Be careful, however, about making the drastic decision to cut, colour, shave or perm your hair. Alexa Chung once said of break-up haircuts: “Go and kiss loads of other people, but don’t f*cking touch your hair. You’ll still feel sad – and you’ll have weird hair.”
Sadly, she’s right. I may have cut my hair in the hopes that my feelings towards a broken relationship would suddenly disappear, but they didn’t. I still feel sad and sometimes my heart aches. I look at the fringe with its cows lick and wayward right-hand side parting and remember the reason it’s there and my breath catches.
But then I think of everything else that I’ve gained along with the fringe: hope, optimism, excitement and a renewed vigour for life. Heartbreak, I hope, may come and go but I pray everything else that came with it stays. This fringe that I talk of like it’s a person, has made me feel more empowered than I have in a very long time.
So, contrary to what I said earlier, I don’t actually think I regret getting the fringe. I may not like it very much, and it may stick to my head when I sweat, but it showed me that I am in control of my choices.
And those choices were made for a reason.
That reason was taking care of me.
This article was originally published in 2019.