“I was doing it for me,” are the final words Keri Russell says before she impulsively chops off her long curly ringlets in an iconic episode of Felicity. The shocking cut was the result of her character Felicity Porter’s emotional split with her boyfriend in the beginning of the hit show’s second season. Her dramatic tight-curled pixie cut became the symbol of her new beginning, or as she says, a “new me.” The empowering scene was the perfect depiction of the “breakup haircut.”
For decades, women have been cutting their hair following a relationship rift. On Instagram alone, the hashtag #breakuphair brings up hundreds of photos of women who have had extreme hair transformations. But why do women seem to instinctively run to their hair salon when they call it quits with their partners?
“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,” explained Renee Engeln, a psychology professor and author. “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. Women from Frida Kahlo to Katy Perry have opted for a cathartic cut following the end of a relationship. Today, “breakup hair” is so common that “If she changes her hair after a breakup.. she’s gone forever Bruh.. new hair.. new man.. new life” has become a meme that’s been shared thousands of times.
Like, Felicity Porter, most women who find themselves in the salon are looking for a new beginning and way to take control of their lives. As Coco Chanel once said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” A drastic haircut is an obvious and somewhat easy way to tell the world you are ready to start over and when you’re feeling impulsive it’s a much quicker alternative to that “revenge body.”
“Hair is an important piece of real estate because it frames your face, so you can dramatically change your look [with a haircut],” explained Coby Alcantar, a stylist at Little Axe Salon in Brooklyn. “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.”
Even though those like The Weeknd and Justin Timberlake have changed up their signature hairstyle after a split, the cathartic cut is usually made by women. This is likely due to the fact that hair is so closely tied to femininity. As soon as Felicity reveals her new look to her friend, her first response is “Guys are going to hate it.”
When some women come out of a breakup they don’t just want new hair, but a way to express their power and individual freedom —something they may have lacked in their relationship.
“For a woman who makes a big change from long hair to short hair after a breakup, this change can signal a rejection of traditional norms for women’s appearance,” explained Englen. “It can be a small way of challenging traditional gender roles as well—a small act of rebellion.”
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