It was Coco Chanel who famously said that “a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life". We often forget the prominent role that hair can play in our appearance and even our general sense of self. It can be a shield to hide behind, a canvas to express yourself and a message to everyone around you. A haircut can be more than just that; it can be a chance to regain control, discover your identity and move on.
The post-breakup haircut is a well-known phenomenon. We see it in celebrities, in TV shows and films, and even in those surrounding us. Have you never known someone to radically change their hair following the end of a relationship? It’s a phenomenon that is often mocked, the subject of jokes and cliches. But the post-breakup haircut is a therapeutic act of its own right, and it represents so much more than the inches cut off.
Leaving a toxic relationship can leave you with a feeling of powerlessness, especially if you weren’t the one to end it, and retrospect highlights how poorly you were treated. You can’t change the past. You can’t go back to your younger self and shake them silly. So you need to focus on now, on what you can do. You are the only thing you can control, your behaviour and your appearance. Cutting your hair feels like the easiest action in your control; it is a significant change that only you can decide to do. It is a declaration that you are taking back your life and yourself. Your body is no longer shared, nor should it ever be.
“It’s an attempt to take charge, to be the one calling the shots for a change.” - Vanessa Osbourne, NaturallyCurly.
Even if your relationship was good, maybe not at the very end, you might still feel a sense of powerlessness when it ends. We’re left with the sunk cost fallacy, the idea that we’ve given so much time and effort into it when it didn’t work out in the end. It feels like a waste, but it wasn’t, all of those moments have contributed to more in you, and you take the lessons as you go.
So when you’re lost for control, find it in your hairdo. It may seem like a small step, but it’s the first step. It’s you making a choice for yourself, making a choice to move forward and not staying in the limbo of the relationship.
This matter of control also works through the rejection of traditionally feminine values. We overemphasise the femininity in long hair to the extent that we believe people might not suit short hair whilst everyone suits long hair. This certainly isn’t the case, as both can suit certain people, and you don’t know until you try! Your womanhood is not found in your hair length, style or colour. You can be a feminine woman with a pixie cut, a shaved head, or hair until your waist. It’s hair, it’s what you make of it.
“Cutting hair—and thus resisting traditional ideals of feminine beauty—is a classic way to gain distance from subordination.” - Erin Blakemore, JSTOR Daily.
I genuinely believe that everyone should try shorter hair once in their life, namely through the iconic Lob. If only to remind yourself that hair length is not femininity. Your sexuality is not your hairstyle; it is you, it is who you are and the energy you bring to relationships. Cutting off your hair or making it a different colour is choosing how you want to present yourself now and no longer restricting yourself to what a partner found attractive.
I’ve had shorter hair for years, so cutting it to that length post-breakup wasn’t significant for me. But a month after my break-up, in the throes of my heartache, I chose to dye my hair brown. My partner had always loved my blonde hair and complimented it, so this felt like a message. I no longer care what you think of my hair; I no longer need you to like my hair. I am not here to be attractive to you. Unfortunately, it turned out that he thought I looked great as a brunette as well!
We find identity in many facets, and we hold numerous identities at once. We may be someone’s child, someone’s sibling or someone’s parent. I guess I’m an online marketer, as that’s my day job, but I also consider myself to be a writer first and foremost. I’m a friend and a shoulder to cry on. I’m a pet owner, and I’m a runner.
During a relationship, we also take on the role of a partner. This should never be our primary role or marker of identity, but unfortunately, it often happens too easily. We put our partner in front of our friendships, ambitions and self. Even if we keep our boundaries, the identity of a partner is one that we carry daily.
After a relationship ends, it can be challenging to understand this loss of identity. There is a gap to be filled, and in the short term, we have no idea what to do with it. Who are we without them? That’s a scary realisation, but also a slightly thrilling one. Because you can be anyone. There’s no one there to correct you or input who you are. You have the chance to grow and evolve, and a step in that is through changing your appearance. Changing your hair is far cheaper and easier than a completely new wardrobe, and less permanent than a tattoo.
Cutting your hair shorter, getting highlights or dyeing it a different colour are all explorations of a new identity, the identity of you without them. I mentioned a breakup that led me to go brunette, and I didn’t just do it to ‘spite’ him. I was grieving the loss of a loved one when the breakup happened, going into therapy and being diagnosed, and I didn’t feel like the same blonde that I was. I felt like I needed a different look to show the change I was undergoing, the person I needed to be. Somehow, being brunette rather than my natural blonde felt more fitting and helped me to match my inside.
There are many milestones in life. We often mistake them to be dressed in graduation caps or white dresses, to come with the key of a new home or a moving company carrying your boxes. These are major changes, but they shouldn’t deter from the smaller milestones you may experience in life. The start of a relationship is one, and so is the end of a relationship. It may feel like an event that can only be shrouded in pain and loss; loss of them, loss of identity, and loss of the possible future with them. But despite this pain, a break-up is also a milestone in your development and a chance to reset.
“Changing one’s hair to mark an important life event is, in part, a signal of how much we look to women’s appearance to determine who they are or what’s going on their lives. Making a radical change to your appearance can be a way of sending the message that you’re also making a radical change to your life—or that you’d like to.” - Renee Englen, Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women.
Whether it’s a sign to the universe or merely to your inner circle, the haircut can signify the rest, a point of change. Englen is correct in that we place a lot of weight on a woman’s appearance, also using it to determine what point of her life she is at.
To a previous article about the significance of the Lob haircut, someone responded that they associated a short hairdo with a woman giving up and losing her femininity through womanhood or getting older. But why does a woman have to lose her femininity for such events, and why does shorter hair play a role in that? Shorter hair can be sexy, perhaps even more so because you’re not conforming to the expectations and doing your own thing.
Either way, the post-breakup haircut is also a chance to feel better or to feel something different, at least. Heartache can be overwhelming, and little can distract from it. A new haircut might not fix your loss and betrayal, but it can give you a few days of change. It can allow you to feel good on the outside to work to feel better on the inside. It’s a moment of rebirth.
“The jolt it gave me was enough to make me feel like I had overcome something. It separated my current self from the girl who was in that toxic relationship. It was a physical change to remind myself that I could be someone different—someone who deserved more.” - Sukriti Wahi, Elle.
Humans are very big on closure, more than we may realise. We like things to be tied off neatly with a bow, which is why ghosting can be one of the most painful experiences, worse than an awkward conversation or actual break-up. But even with a breakup that involves hours of talking, tears that may be shed and a pint of Ben & Jerry (the only good men in your life!), there is still a lack of finality. Whether you’re the dumped or dumpee, there is this uncertainty.
And hey, I’ll say it: post-breakup sex is GOOD. It is messy, complicated, usually a bad idea, but it is good. Even if you’ve never experienced it for yourself, you’ve probably heard how good it can be.
We struggle to understand how we can close a door after a relationship ends, as we can’t open the next door until this one is firmly shut. And sometimes, it feels like the easiest way to do that is through a salon appointment. Or a crying session with some scissors in front of your bathroom mirror two bottles of wine deep - I do not recommend this!
By cutting off our hair, we are acknowledging that we’re taking that step. It’s like a silent message to our ex-partner, this door is closed; I am moving forward. I am no longer where you left me. By changing our hairstyle, we’re opening ourselves forward for the next chapter of our life, as this is genuinely what lovers and partners are, chapters in our larger stories. Sometimes they feel like the final chapter, the happy ending, and so it can be such a shock to realise they’re not even a main character in the grander scheme of things.
“Some people come in after a breakup and they just want their hair off, they don’t want the memories, like there is DNA in the hair that holds those memories.” Coby Alcantar, Little Axe Salon stylist
Yourself with longer hair, blonder hair, fringeless hair, is who you were with them, and you’re ready to be someone new. You don’t know who that person is yet, and that’s okay. Maybe it’s about looking different than the person in the photos with your partner, the one snuggled up to them and smiling at them like it’s going to be forever, the one with that hairstyle.
It can be difficult to find a way to signify your new beginning, short of making rash decisions like moving to Australia or selling everything you own and buying a van. Cutting off our hair is the easiest new beginning, even though it can feel difficult in the moment. And maybe the reason it feels emotional or catches your breathe is because you recognise what it really signifies. Ultimately, the new beginning comes within, not from whatever tops your head. So you’ve already made that decision, and changing your hairstyle is just your way of notifying everyone else.
You’ve realised you’re going to be okay, more than that; you’ve decided you’re going to be okay. So do what you need to do to make it through these steps. The post-breakup haircut is not a cliche, not a ploy for attention, not a ‘sad ex-girlfriend’ move. It is a symbol to everyone that you are moving forward, not backwards. It is a therapeutic release of emotions. It is the regaining of control in your life. So embrace it and allow yourself to go to new places with your appearance; that is what being single is all about. This is the time to explore the latest version of yourself, as she differs from who you were with them, and who you were before, and that is a wonderful thing!
When in doubt, I like to remember the wise words Cristina said to Meredith:
“He’s very dreamy, but he is not the sun. You are.”
You are the sun, don’t you ever forget 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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