I once wrote about the post-breakup haircut. It stemmed from a conversation with my hairdresser, who confirmed seeing people come in for this often. At the time, it was just a fun article, combining my love for hair and writing. The next day, my boyfriend of 4 years told me he wanted us to break up.
I’d love to pretend it was a bad omen or something superstitious, but that breakup had been on the horizon for a while, just neither of us felt ready to admit it. Maybe I unconsciously wrote that article in preparation; maybe that’s why I asked my hairdresser about it in the first place.
In the year since that breakup and article, I’ve given the subject a lot more thought. I’ve realised that it extends far past a mere trim or colour, and that it’s more than a confidence boost or dramatic statement. It’s about becoming someone your ex never knew, and many of us need that transition.
Everything inside of us feels so out of our control. We can’t control those weird thoughts that flitter into our mind. We can’t choose what we dream about or escape a nightmare. We can’t stop reliving that one awful memory or cling to the good one fading away. We can’t stop our depression or our anxiety.
Everything inside of us is a mystery, but everything outside of us is directly in our line of control. I can’t choose to wake up happy, but I can plaster on a face of makeup and fake a smile. I can’t change how my mind dysfunctions, but I can get another piercing or tattoo for that brief moment of elation. Many of us are guilty of trying to change the outside to fix the inside.
You can’t control how much you miss your ex. You can’t stop your mind from wandering. But you can change the outside. You can make yourself appear like someone different to who you were in the relationship, and then you just hope the inside will follow.
When you’re in a relationship, whether consciously or unconsciously, your partner plays a role in your decisions. They compliment your hair that length, and so you take this opinion over others, as you value it more. You keep your hair that way and feel reluctant to change it. You wear a top you know they like as it means you’ll get their attention. They make a joke about hoop earrings, so you don’t wear them.
Slowly, so slowly you don’t realise, you mould yourself into the image they request. And it takes the loss of them to wake you up. Suddenly their opinion has lost its weight, and you can no longer recall what your own view was.
This is when you should begin to experiment. Rather than trying to be the person you were in the relationship, or even the person that preceded it, become someone new. Take this chance to meet the person you are after them. Because that person has had experiences, lessons, joys and pain. They are older, wiser and valid just as they are.
I dyed my hair pink, because it felt irresponsible and attention-seeking, even though it’s obviously neither of those things. I had always been someone who tried to blend into a crowd and mimic everyone else, so I did something that no one around me was doing.
I started wearing hoop earrings because I had always thought I couldn’t ‘pull them off’, based on an off-hand comment from my ex. I realised that I love hoop earrings, the bigger the better, and I didn’t care what anyone else thought.
I had to take the time to question what I liked wearing, what I felt good in. Not what would get my ex to want me, not what my size dictated, but the outfits that felt true to who I am.
The physical transition that follows a breakup is a chance to meet yourself again. Instead of trying to ‘show’ them they’re missing out or grab the attention of someone new, it’s an opportunity to be your unfiltered self. Even the healthiest relationship will feed into your opinions and perspective, so take this time to discover who you are when you’re not tainted by another.
After a breakup, no matter how amicable, there’s healing required. Whether you were happy or sad with them, or both, you lose a sense of security, comfort, approval and more. Changing the outside is a way of marking this journey. As you grow into who you are without them, you get to reflect the change in your appearance.
It’s like a snake shedding its skin, except your new skin might have a new tattoo or piercing, it might wear colours you didn’t before, it might feature more or less makeup. You’re becoming someone your ex never knew, and there’s something so satisfying about that. They have no influence over this new version, they have no say, and they will never get the chance to know them.
I love that the tattoos I’ve gotten in the past year have never been touched by my ex; he’s never even seen them. I love that they’re all mine. I get to make these big decisions, and he’ll never even know.
Becoming someone your ex never knew isn’t about spite, and it certainly isn’t about making them want you back. You need to act regardless of them. Instead, it’s about becoming someone free of their influence and opinions. It’s about mirroring the changes within and meeting this new person you’ve become. If you’re doing it in the hopes they’ll notice, you’re not really doing it at all, and perhaps your healing should focus on removing their influence over you. It’s a chance to shed the skin of the relationship and see who you are without it.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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