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August 7, 2017 | by  | in Features |
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Apparently there is power in changing your hair, I was told by a friend it was like a magic trick.

I stand looking in the mirror considering cutting my hair off as a way of coping with a current sad and stressful situation. It would be nice to feel powerful. It would be nice to feel like a new person. It seems destructive enough to feel unruly and it doesn’t hurt anyone so why not?

One person I spoke to about cutting their hair when going through change said that “having people receive me differently to the way they did before made a huge difference to my confidence.” People notice when you make a drastic change to your hair, they see you when you walk into a room. If you are sad, this can help you feel a sense of strength. Ovid, a classical poet, said in Ars Amortoria to never let “your lover find cosmetic bottles on your dressing table: art delights in the hidden face.” In other words, don’t let your efforts at beauty be visible or obvious. Cutting off a large chunk of your hair is a big fuck you to this idea and it feels like you are allowing yourself to be seen.

Being visible in new ways and showing different versions of you can be affirming and positive. My friend who shaved her head talked about how it made her “feel ‘seen’ as queer in a way that [she’d] never experienced before, which was really validating since [she’d] spent quite a lot of time feeling quite invisible.” Feeling valid and having control over how you present yourself is powerful.

In the back of my mind a horrible little voice considers that maybe I will be less pretty with short hair. I feel disappointed in myself that beauty ideals still bog me down.

Royce Mahawatte writes in Hair that the “history of women’s hairstyles can be read as a history of the perception of femininity.” Beauty standards and ideals are something that I cannot ignore when it comes changing my hair. No matter what my decision is or motivations are, it still feels like I am either rebelling or conforming to some sort of archetype.

In the 1920s the bob became popular, and this marked a change for women’s hairstyles, as short hair on women was not considered feminine. There was resistance to the bob, and women were discouraged against it. Emma Tarlo talks of “doctors, hygienists, and priests” arguing that this haircut “was a symbol of paganism” and suggesting that “it stimulated baldness and the excess growth of facial hair.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” tells of a woman who is tricked into cutting her hair and is subsequently snubbed by all the boys. The bob blurred the line dividing femininity and masculinity. It was also a physical step, of women moving into places designed for men, as many women went to barber shops to have their hair cut in this style. Despite the active manipulation and resistance against it, the style won over convention, and it gave women room to experiment more freely with their hair and identity.

Holding the scissors and looking at myself in the mirror. I tentatively trimmed a little bit off my fringe and some pieces of my hair fell into the sink.

I consider gathering up the hair I just cut off and keeping it. I know my hair will be around longer than the rest of my body, except for maybe my fingernails. Which makes me feel sentimental towards it as I separate it from my body. My hair also sheds all the time and I am always picking strands off my jersey and throwing them away, so I am not sure why I am being so sentimental.

There is a 90-year old woman in London who saves every strand of her hair that she is able to. She has been doing this since early childhood. Emma Tarlo talks of her in her book Entanglement. She is careful to collect strands of her hair as they fall from her head. The idea of holding on to your physical history by holding onto your hair is not specific to this one woman. Tarlo also writes about a minority group in China who cut their hair in the prime of their youth; they keep their hair and bring it out when they are dying. They believe this connects them to the start of their life before they pass away, creating a full circle. Hair can hold considerable emotional weight, as a part of you from a different time. It carries such power that people used to burn their hair after cutting it for fear that it could be used against them to create curses or spells.

I found a strand of my ex boyfriend’s hair in my bed a week after we broke up. Red hair on a blue pillow. A physical part of a person who is no longer there, it felt strange to just throw it in the bin.

Historically people have kept locks of hair from loved ones as mementos. It is a representation of their connection to that person. Often this hair was made into  jewellery. In the Encyclopedia of Hair, Victoria Sherrow explains how Queen Victoria fueled the popularity of this type of jewellery, by wearing it for 40 years after her husband passed away. The weight of meaning behind being in possession of somebody else’s hair can be observed it literature, including Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, where a lock of hair was kept as a confirmation of a marriage proposal, and The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope which shows the scandal and shame that can result if a lock of hair is taken without permission. Sherrow also explains that this was common practice during the American civil war; hair was exchanged between soldiers and their sweethearts when they parted, to keep as a reminder of their affection.

Cutting your hair can be a tangible way to separate your timeline. Cutting your hair can be a way to let go of a past self, or can be a way to grieve for the loss of somebody else.

Hair is rife with meaning and the decision to change your hair can be incredibly intimate and personal.

My childhood hairdresser said that when someone comes in to change their hair after a loss or break up she has to ask a lot of questions to make sure it is what they want, rather than just a rebellion that they will regret later.

I consider cutting all my hair off to try and make myself feel better. I have done this in the past and it has felt destructive as well as freeing. But I am so sentimental lately and I don’t feel ready to let go of everything at once.

What I do is trim my fringe some more, enough to feel new. I will trim my fringe every couple of weeks and let go of little pieces of hair until my fringe is new and there is no old hair left.

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