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In her comprehensive examination, “Bangs vs. Therapy” for The Atlantic, Kaitlyn Tiffany writes, “This truth universally known but slightly less frequently acknowledged: Cutting off the front of your hair is the ultimate expression of self-delusion, a desperate attempt to right something deeply wrong—with a pair of scissors.” This piece was written pre-pandemic, before the time period when we had to give ourselves haircuts, if we wanted a haircut at all, but it speaks to that age old trope that bangs are a sign of desperation. The writer Allie Wach once went viral with the tweet, “personally i believe wanting bangs is almost never about wanting bangs and if u want bangs u should go to therapy first.”
Maybe bangs are a cry for help, but I think they can also be a sign of belief in yourself and hope for the future. The last time I had bangs, I was eight years old and keeping my Tamagotchi alive was my biggest concern. Last month, at age 33, I decided to get bangs again. Like many people, I’ve been working at home since the beginning of the pandemic. My days have revolved around doing laundry, keeping a toddler occupied, and squeezing in work any time he happened to play for more than 10 minutes. I’ve never been so grateful for Daniel Tiger in my life. I know this burnout refrain rings familiar for lots of people. Several of my friends, stuck in a rut and sick of staring at themselves on Zoom, cut their own bangs this past year. Something different, literally anything, feels important. In my worst work-from-home moments, I thought about how much THE SIMS I had played as a teen and the irony of that boxed-in existence becoming my life.
Sometimes we see those images of wives and mothers back in the 1950s, with perfectly coiffed hair and delicate ruffled aprons, smiling and holding a broom. After a year of being primarily home and the primary caretaker, this image seems more mythical than unicorns. When your social circle becomes children under age 10, personal care falls by the wayside. Makeup? I don’t know her. Ditto, the hair dryer. I had optimistically ordered some new outfits in April 2020 that have remained on hangers for a full year. Why wear something cute when you’re either going to encounter glitter, play-dough, or spaghetti sauce during your day? Trust me, we ate a lot of pandemic spaghetti this past year, which is just regular spaghetti but with a little extra ennui.
My debut novel The Butterfly Effect was published in 2020 as well. I’d been working on this book for more than five years, and dreaming about the moment becoming a published author for my entire life. In the scope of things, it felt ridiculous to feel disappointed that I couldn’t sign books at a bookstore with my friends. I did get a chance to have some awesome online events for my book. Still, watching myself on my readings, I thought, “Who am I and why is it so hard to smile?”
And then, 10 days after my book’s release, my dad died. Because of shipping delays, he never got to hold the book that was dedicated to him in his hands. He had been sick for many years, but the suddenness of his death hit me like a physical blow. I said goodbye to my dad for the final time in a grocery store line, behind a mask and in front of an understandably concerned checkout clerk. I didn’t know that video chat would be the most important of my whole year. Everything else receded. I didn’t care about my book, or my job, and especially didn’t concern myself with something as trivial as my appearance, for more than a month.
I hit my lowest point in mid-January. I managed to wrangle a few hours of childcare and had a moment to contemplate myself and my needs for the first time. I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked older and sad, and I felt those things, too. I felt like I needed a big change, and it was now or never. And after this past year, I couldn’t go on with things like they were. My long, untended hair hung around my face and I thought about what it would be like to pretend that a few snips of the scissors could rewind the hands of time, maybe all the way back to second grade and my few responsibilities. Instead, I pulled my messy hair back in a ponytail and texted my friend, “I’m going to call a therapist this morning. Please check in with me in the afternoon to make sure I have.” She did, and by that time, I had made my first therapy appointment.
So yes, I started therapy, finally. But after some progress, I still found myself wanting a change. Once community spread was low in my area, I donned a double mask and made a hair appointment. I’d brought in several inspirational pictures, hope in my heart. By early March, my seasonal affective disorder, which had no doubt added to the stress and grief, had lifted and I was ready to look cute. Even in pop culture, we idolize that big hair cut as a sign of personal change. As Lauren Entwistle pointed out in her piece on the therapeutic benefits of haircuts for Greatist, everyone from Princess Mia Thermopolis to Mulan has had a makeover as a way of gaining strength or a new beginning.
I was ready for that big change and brought inspiration pictures featuring dramatic curtain bangs, cut just above the eyebrow. When I went into the salon with my long, unlayered hair, my stylist asked me two questions. First, had I recently had a breakup (no). Second, had I recently been laid off (no). She told me she asks these questions as an ethical gut-check as much for the person getting the bangs as for herself. I didn’t tell her I’d had the hardest year of my life, because many of us had. And as I watched the hair fall from my face, I have to admit, it felt good. I liked the woman I saw looking back at me in the mirror, and I wanted her to take care of herself.
So, no, my bangs are not a cry for help—they are a shout for joy. After last year, I am ready to not just be a parent and someone who lost a parent, but also be a person in my own right again. Between therapy and a good haircut, I’m feeling more and more like myself again.
As we head into what might actually feel like a normal summer, I’m willing to bet you need a good haircut. And what I’m arguing for in the summer of 2021, is fully planned, thought-through, well-maintained bangs for all.
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