When I was younger, getting a haircut was a fate worse than the dentist. The black nylon cape was like a straightjacket; I was too terrified to move my hands to scratch an itch or brush dangling strings of wet hair out of my eye. So I just sat there completely still, a prisoner like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, until the hairdresser had finished popping her gum, making small talk, and oh yeah, cutting my hair.
Now that I’m an adult no longer self-conscious about my itches, I’ve embraced the hairdresser’s chair as a throne of self-reinvention. Haircuts are about change, and fashion is about change, so getting a haircut is really about taking the necessary precautions to update my look so I don’t accidentally wake up one morning realizing I’ve had a (hypothetical) Jheri curl perm for the last 20 years when my future kids decide to send my picture into a TLC makeover show.
By no means am I Madonna, but my hair has taken many different shapes over the last 10 years: bangs, bobs, pixie cuts, flatiron, curls, red, black — you name it. My most recent foray into adventurous hair was four months ago, when I dyed my hair an ombre shade of blonde, which I loved at the time, but feels too predictable now. The dye turned the ends of my hair crispy and no amount of fancy Moroccan Oil could salvage it — I needed a HAIRCUT. My hair was also the longest it had ever been since said pixie cut, past my shoulders, and it just felt weird. Long hair is suitable for wicked witches and sex goddesses, but not me. I need shorter hair in order to feel young. Rapunzel just isn’t my style.
When I told my boyfriend I was going to cut my hair, he said to be prepared for a “dick Sahara,” which harkens back to the 2008 Daily Mail headline “Does a short haircut mean women have gone off sex?” Sexual attraction is a complicated thing. Long hair is traditionally a potent symbol of fertility and desire, signifying good health in a potential mate. Our conception of long hair is tied to femininity, and women who cut their hair are often seen as having a boyish or androgynous look. My new short bob definitely makes me look less sexy, but it makes me feel more confident and isn’t confidence supposed to be sexy according to just about every makeover article published since the new millennium? It’s all just one confusing ouroboros of desire. I suppose I just feel the most comfortable to express myself when I am not constantly objectified.
What the Daily Mail does get right is that haircuts reflect our internal lives, and a change in hairstyle may be the visible reflection of life changes. Surely we all remember that fateful day in 2007 when Britney Spears shaved her head? Britney had been sexy and famous all her life, but was going through a tough time. She was in the process of divorcing the father of her children, Kevin Federline, and had entered a rehab facility days earlier but checked out less than 24 hours later. The media concensus was that Britney had gone crazy. Any pretty girl who removes her Samson-like hair must be crazy! Perhaps she had just grown tired of being sexy and famous and wanted a break. Britney-biographer Steve Dennis wrote: “The head-shaving moment was the culmination of an escalating rebellion, heightened by heartbreak over her divorce and custody battle, that can be traced back to 2004 when Britney decided she no longer wished to conform, be controlled or take instruction.”
Haircuts are symbolic of shedding the past — out with the old, in with the new. For unknown reasons, I’ve been extremely unhappy for the past year and needed nothing more than to get rid of the dead ends that hung as a reminder of times when I felt dead inside. My life is changing in every possible way: I moved to a new city (hi, Toronto!) and began a new diet (goodbye, vegetarian!) so what difference does a simple haircut make? Hair may not change everything, but it is a game-changer, a fresh start. When I left the hair salon, I felt like a butterfly leaving its warm, familiar chrysalis, nervous, but ready to face the world.
Isabel Slone is a Toronto-based fashion blogger and writer. Follow her on Twitter at @hipstermusings.