A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life,” said French fashion designer Coco Chanel famously. Riding the low end of a pandemic emotional rollercoaster, women have been going in for dramatic hair transformations. For some, it was a way of dealing with breaking up with their significant other; for some others, it was losing a job. There were those who lost family members to Covid, and there are the ones who lost themselves to anxiety and depression. It was about wanting a new ‘I’. Women across the world found freedom in shedding their locks so much so that it is becoming a mini-movement. It tells us a lot about the psychology of hair and what it means for women.
The ingrained hirsute psychology is that Indian women must have long, black and silky hair. Short hair is selling culture short. “There has been a rise in 1920s style choppy bobs, pixie cuts, faux-hawk and shaved side,” says Gurgaon-based hairdresser Feroz Alam, who has never received as many requests for short hair as he did through the pandemic; even now. “As I chatted with these women I realised there was a subtle rebellion brewing. It was also about self-acceptance,” says Alam.
Hair is identity. In the old days, the heads of widows were shorn as a way to make them unattractive to other men. A bad hair day is a mood spoiler, so is a bad haircut. Sheila Mitra, a Calcutta-based psychologist, has met many women who have expressed deep concerns, frustration, and sometimes even shame through their spontaneous decision to cut their hair. Because hair is a visible aspect of appearance, it has become a part of one’s personality.
“It tells a story about yourself—through hair you can express anything, from power to intellectual prowess, to physical attractiveness, to sexual maturity. Every part of it—the length, the texture, the cut or colour—defines you. It is how people look at women and understand them. But hair also ties women down, literally and metaphorically. When an emotional storm occurs, often the first thing women try to do is get rid of expectations, dependence and conformity. Hair becomes that one thing they have immediate control over and do whatever they want with it,” says Mitra.
The big chop could be prompted by change. Hair stands for conformity, regularity and consistency. An upheaval makes it a burden of expectations. “Then women often wish to shed it,” says Puducherry-based behavioural and body language expert Jackson Seth. It could be changing careers, moving into a new house, starting a new business, relocating to a different city. Cutting hair short is a statement to let go of the safety net, stepping out of your comfort zone, doing what feels right at the moment, banishing fear and judgement, and embracing the unknown. “Sometimes starting over helps,” says Mansi Chopra, a third-year BCom student who lost her father and then her young brother to Covid-19. It was an unbelievably horrific time for her. She felt lost and hopeless. Chopra even contemplated suicide. After days of crying and feeling lost, she decided to move on. “The first thing I did was chop off my shoulder-length hair and the second was to move to a different city with my mother to start afresh,” she says.
Such liberation doesn’t always come easy. “As you let go of the past and step into the future, there is anticipation but also nervousness. It surely is a powerful step that brings confidence, freedom and self-assuredness with it, but it could be emotionally risky. Think hard before chopping it away. But if you aren’t in a position to think and regret it later, take heart in the fact that it is just hair. It will grow back,” says Seth. Hair today, there tomorrow.
For some, it was a way of dealing with breaking up with their significant other; for some others, it was losing a job. There were those who lost family members to Covid, and there are the ones who lost themselves to anxiety and depression.
“As I chatted with some of these women wanting to go really short, I realised there was a subtle rebellion brewing inside of them. For some, it was about self-acceptance.”
Feroz Alam, hairdresser, Gurgaon