Why so Many People are Making Big Hair Changes During Quarantine

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Hair maintenance falls pretty low on the list of “Things To Worry About During A Pandemic,” sitting somewhere under “mortality” and “the meaning of life,” after “health care” and “human rights.” But in the face of the novel coronavirus and the restless quarantine it requires — hours, days, weeks of isolation stretching ahead toward a trick horizon — doesn’t it feel better to focus on your hair?

There's more to these makeovers than meets the eye — sometimes

“An external change can be a simple and easy way to signify a transition that is internally more complex and harder to articulate otherwise,” explains therapist Nikki Nachum, in an email to ishonest. “A new haircut becomes almost like an announcement to both yourself and the outer world that something is changing in your life.” It’s human nature to crave a physical change that matches the magnitude of an emotional one, to correct that cognitive dissonance with a fresh cut or color.

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Of course, not all quarantine hair is symbolic. “Many of those folks working from home would still very much like their roots not to be on display in the Zoom gallery,” says Andi Scarbrough, a Los Angeles-based hairstylist and the founder of CrownWorks. Extra time at home also leaves extra time to experiment. “I think so many are drawn to DIY-ing at this time because they finally have the [opportunity] they probably didn’t have before,” adds David Cotteblanche, a hairstylist and educator with Fekkai. “I think they also want to maintain their appearance by feeling a sense of normalcy right now.”

It’s important to make sure you’re not processing your hair at the expense of processing your feelings.

It’s understandable, but it begs the question: Is this a normalcy worth preserving? Maybe isolation is an opportunity to question the “normalcy” of beauty standards that have us panic-dialing our stylists after a few weeks of root growth, and then subvert those standards. Maybe it’s a chance to separate our own ideals from society’s ideals.

“So many people tell me to keep my hair long,” Merritt Knize, a holistic aesthetician who chopped off six inches of her hair with a pair of craft scissors while in quarantine, tells ishonest. “It’s almost like I am sneaking around and saying, ‘Ha, I am going to do what I want now!’” Insecurities crept in when she was interacting with people every day, but alone time has inspired Knize to connect to her “true essence,” she says. "This is the person I want to exist when we emerge again."

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“It’s kind of funny, because the lack of open salons is almost giving people the freedom or permission to play with their looks,” agrees Chelsea Kester, hairstylist, colorist, and founder of the plant-based hair care line Wildflower Gypsy. “I am so here for this!”

It’s a surprising stance, coming from a stylist — even though many salons are experiencing COVID-19-related closures, telling clients to take matters into their own hands sans consultation or color kit could be counterintuitive in the long run — but many of the professionals ishonest spoke with for this story feel the same way about the influx of at-home hair transformations: “There is something profoundly empowering and cathartic about cutting your own hair,” Scarbrough says. “The very same way a distressed animal sheds or molts, we, as human animals, are also subject to these primal impulses.”

A new trend? Not so fast.

This kind of emotional, energetic, almost spiritual connection to hair is nothing new. In some Eastern traditions, hair is associated with the crown chakra. In the Bible, Samson’s hair was the source of his strength. In Native American culture, hair represents one’s “connection to Creation.” Religious leaders of various faiths, including Judaism and Buddhism, have practiced tonsure, the act of cutting or shaving one’s hair to symbolize devotion, for centuries. “The truth is, cultures around the world have haircutting rituals and ceremonies to initiate big life changes,” Scarbrough says.

In the spirit of feeling a little lighter, hairstylist Shaun Surething, of New York City’s Seagull Hair, encourages risk-takers to do “whatever you want, haircut-wise.” (He’s also available for virtual consultations.) He adds, “Like all things in life, the less you are attached to a particular outcome, the more fantastic you’ll end up feeling with your results.”

The aesthetic and emotional risks of at-home makeovers

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On a practical level, however, stylists are less enthusiastic about DIY dye and color-correction. “It’s basically going to be impossible to fix at home when something goes wrong, which I can say with a degree of certainty that it will,” Surething tells ishonest. “The reason many of us professionals are against coloring is because of the product itself, not necessarily the client,” Kester adds. Boxed dyes and bleach formulas may contain harsh chemicals that are best left in the hands of trained professionals. A safer option for at-home experimentation is “herbal hair color,” she says; like a chamomile rinse for blonde highlights or a coffee bean recipe for brunettes. (The Wildflower Gypsy founder is now providing custom, plant-based blends via Flower Hair Color + Care consultations.)

Hyperfocusing on the physical can be an attempt to escape the emotional.

Still, as nice as it may feel to distract yourself with a bang trim and botanical dye, it’s important to make sure you’re not processing your hair at the expense of processing your feelings.

Hyperfocusing on the physical can be an attempt to escape the emotional; and in the midst of a global pandemic, everyone is experiencing new, sometimes scary emotions (fear, sadness, existential dread) in new, sometimes scary ways (home, alone, with no diversions). “Aside from taking care of your specific beauty routines, this is a unique opportunity to focus our attention on different parts of our identity,” Nachum offers. “Who are you aside from your external beauty? Who are you internally when you can't focus on your external identity? Now can be the time to embrace the unfamiliar and uncomfortable places that we are usually afraid to go.”

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If you’re feeling called to cut, color, or otherwise change your hair, consider that the call might actually be from somewhere deeper for something deeper, a sign of unprocessed emotions that can’t be swept away like dead ends on the bathroom floor. “We are, consciously or unconsciously, offering up our cut hair in surrender and acknowledgment of the fragile mortality and impermanence of the whole of human experience,” Scarbrough muses. “Even on a good day, it’s never just about the hair.”

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