I've never been an impulsive person, so when I started fantasizing about chopping off my hair with the kitchen scissors, I knew something was amiss.
At first, I just wanted to trim the ends. The crispy bits of dull, dyed blonde that fell just past my chest felt like straw. But three months into New York City's mandatory lockdown — and about seven months since my last cut and color — meant that "the ends" were actually a good five inches of hair. To help curb my self-destructive temptation, I turned to TikTok and YouTube and discovered watching other people cut their hair was nearly just as satisfying as doing it myself. (You truly don't know stress until you watch a few clueless men attempt to cut their girlfriends' hair while sheltering in place.)
Making an appointment with Robert Bradley, my go-to hairstylist in New York City, a few weeks into my fixation for July 20 also helped. Whenever I got the urge to grab the scissors, I mentally counted down the days until D-Day.
Before my appointment, I didn't have a specific style in mind beyond my usual request: make it blonde and cut off the dead stuff. Since middle school, I've been dyeing my hair various shades of blonde on and off. And aside from one horrible soccer mom cut during my sophomore year of high school and an impromptu lob experiment seven years ago, I've kept my wavy hair long and prefer to put in minimal effort.
When it was past my shoulders, my hair felt like a security blanket that was never quite as soft as I wanted it to be but always there for me when I needed it. When I didn't feel good about my body, I always felt good about my hair. It was an emotional and physical shield I deployed for instant confidence or to hide my tears from the prying eyes of strangers on the subway platform. Not to mention, I'm a hair-twirler. (It's a bad habit of mine.) So when I decided I wanted to chop off 10 inches of my hair, no one was more surprised than me.
Was the haircut a fresh start? Maybe. A midlife crisis? Possibly. A way for me to break out of my comfort zone, which had already been decimated by a global health pandemic and a layoff? I mean, probably. My new bob could have been — and most likely was — a result of all of those things. Honestly, this is all mostly my favorite K-pop star Hyunjin's doing. (For those unfamiliar, he's the main dancer for Stray Kids.)
Idols typically change up their hair for new releases. Mullets, spray-painted buzz cuts, cotton-candy dye jobs: Everything is fair game. Nothing is as thrilling as when someone goes fully blonde, though. It's a radical change for anyone. After having dark hair for nearly a year, Hyunjin not only went blonde for the group's latest album, GO LIVE, but his hair was also longer than ever. It was a striking, swoopy bob-length I can only compare to '90s-era Leonardo DiCaprio meets Taylor Hanson.
In June, photos of "the boy with long blonde hair" — as Hyunjin became known on stan Twitter — started accumulating on my camera roll. Half of his hair was often tied up for performances in a little ponytail with face-framing tendrils and colorful braids. (Think Legolas from Lord of the Rings with a bob.) Sometimes, it was tousled and paired with a thick headband; other times, it was sleek and middle-parted. Every style was more mesmerizing than the last. Fans even started editing barrettes and butterfly clips onto his photos.
I'd send pictures of Hyunjin's hair to friends and even saved a few to show Robert because he always humors me by talking about K-pop hair. "K-pop artists don't limit themselves to a specific color or cut," he says. "They're always trying something new, something shocking. I love how much of a spectacle it is."
The more I gawked and saved, the more I realized my fascination with Hyunjin's hair had less to do with him and everything to do with me. I didn't want to put butterfly clips in his hair; I wanted them for my own. I desired delicate braids in my hair. I was envious of his flowy, carefree mop and the way he could run his fingers through it and it always fell perfectly into place, like it had been like that all along. That's when it all became clear: Hyunjin looks incredible as a swoopy-haired '90s heartthrob — and so could I.
Once I got to Ara Beaux Salon, I showed Robert a few photos of Hyunjin (he agreed the look was a serve) and another of actress Olivia Holt because I liked her highlights. (Although I wanted Hyunjin's dye job, I don't have his access to his team of stylists and daily hair treatments).
We eventually settled on a look that was an effortless blend of Hyunjin's length and my naturally wavy texture. "I love seeing the modernization of '90s styles in 2020," Robert says. "Shags and mullets are so popular right now, and people are starting to embrace their natural texture through these haircuts." Fully reveling in the aesthetic of my youth, I sat in the chair and giddily told Robert about the butterfly clips I had ordered on Amazon the night before.
The truth is I wasn't that nervous to cut my hair. I know 10 inches is a lot of hair. It's a transformation. The only emotion I felt watching my dead ends fall to the ground was relief, though. Letting go of that much hair was like finally exhaling at the end of a long day or, in this case, four months of uncertainty and near-constant dread. In April, I was laid off from my job, and I had spent every night since clenching my jaw and twirling my dead ends between my fingers. Maybe I fantasized about cutting my own hair because I was desperate to not feel so anxious all the time, but can you really eliminate your worries by eliminating your hair?
Nearing the end of my four-hour — and safely socially distanced — trip to the salon, Robert said something I had never put too much thought into before: Cutting our hair is a sign of control, and doing something that would typically scare me helped me take my future into my own hands.
"These past six months, we've had to watch things happen, knowing that we couldn't control the outcome," Robert added. "The people I'm seeing who want these drastic haircuts are like, 'I can't take the uncertainty anymore. I need some aspect of my life that I can control.' Hair can be a safety net for people, and the thought of losing it can be uncomfortable." But, he adds, "If we're not uncomfortable, we're not growing."
And if there's one thing that months of isolation have made me extremely good at, it's learning to embrace discomfort. I still very much feel at the whim of an emotionally and mentally turbulent year. I don't know if I'm going to walk outside my apartment and contract a dangerous virus. I don't know where my career's headed. I don't know if I'll ever fall in love the way they do in the movies. I do know, however, I can move forward 10 inches of hair and several shades lighter. It's a change I can see. It's something I did for myself.
"Now is the time to cut your hair super short," Robert reminds me. "Now is the time to make that change and try a hairstyle you've always wanted but haven’t had the guts to get because of your day-to-day life or the fear of not liking it. We're all still inside for the most part. Most people aren't going back to their offices until next year. So now is the time to really have some fun with your hair."
I still worry about the future a lot. After all, I am a Virgo. But every time I look in the mirror or run my fingers through my hair from root to tip — my new bad habit — I'm reminded of that feeling of catharsis. And of a certain floppy-haired boy who lives 7,000 miles away.
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