Cartoon boy with bad and messy haircut.

Become Your Best Self: Get a Terrible Haircut

Coco Chanel said 'a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.' This is often said to be about getting a good haircut, but getting a bad haircut builds life skills that a good one could never teach.

We’ve all heard the Coco Chanel quote about how “a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” This is often interpreted as getting a good haircut, but getting a bad haircut builds life skills that a good haircut could never teach.

It’s a rite of passage most of us have completed by now: You walk into the hair salon, armed with confidence and a picture of Zooey Deschanel’s flawless bangs. After some shampooing and careful snipping, your hairdresser spins around the chair to reveal your new locks and —

You hate it.

And then you make a half-hearted attempt at telling your well-intentioned hairdresser that “Yes, I love it!” while inwardly, you berate yourself for ever thinking anything besides side-swept bangs would look good for your face shape. There’s not much else to do, except smile and pay at the front desk, sad from both the loss of money and knowing you spent it on something you’ll despise for the next two months while it grows out. The receptionist gives you a knowing smile.

Well, something like that. Maybe it wasn’t bangs; they get a pretty bad reputation anyway. Maybe you asked for bleach-blonde hair or a buzz cut or highlights or a bob or lavender roots. The end result was still the same.

This phenomenon isn’t uncommon; in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s almost universal. We have this collective understanding that somehow a new ‘do will change your world and transform you into the person you want to be. One recent depiction can be found in the critically acclaimed series “Fleabag.” In one scene, Claire gets a terrible haircut, calling her sister (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in a state of panic-induced anguish. When Waller-Bridge’s character (simply known as Fleabag) arrives, she sees that Claire is now sporting an asymmetrical-bob-pixie-cut hairstyle. Claire and Fleabag (and the viewer) agree it’s a terrible haircut, but it’s exactly what Claire asked for; when Claire reveals the reference picture for her hair cut, it’s exactly the same.

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This begs the question: Why do we insist on getting a haircut we’ll hate? Or worse: Why do we insist on paying for things we’ll hate?

The inner world behind hair is a complex one. There’s a reason we change our hair after breakups or before starting college or when we’re bored. Sometimes we just need something to focus negative energy on; after a breakup, rather than pining over lost love, we can get a haircut that will either be exactly what we want or will give us something to hate instead of an undeserving ex. Right before college, we convince ourselves that with any new hairdo, we’ll be that fresh, cool person everyone else on campus will want to be friends with.

When we’re bored, a haircut is a pretty easy way to shake up your norm or have fun or experiment. There are even some people out there that make it a point to change their hair often in an active attempt to practice non-attachment, riding the ups and downs of good and bad hair as a way to distance themselves from the burdens of the physical world. Paying for a new hairstyle is like gambling on our physical appearance; the chance of winning is compelling enough for us to excuse the monetary cost or possible unintended outcome (bad hair).

For many of us, our hair is part of our identity, and committing to a drastic new style can be a step toward the person we want to show the world — the person we want to be. As in “Fleabag,” Claire later comes to like her new hair; it’s a little avant-garde, but that’s the point. Her character is not one to takes risks or be considerably bold. Claire is practical. But this haircut is quite the opposite, which is why it’s so funny to see her get this style. Getting an asymmetrical-bob-pixie-cut allows her to see a new side of herself — or maybe just one that she hid from the rest of the world.

With a good haircut, you get lazy quickly. You start wearing it the same way every day. It starts to grow out and lose its novelty, like when the new car smell wears off. Then you get bored and want to change your hair. But a bad haircut is just a good haircut gone wrong; it’s something you thought you wanted, and it’s something you thought might work for you. Maybe it works out, or maybe it doesn’t.

But with a bad haircut, it takes time and patience to work with it. You have to get creative and figure out new ways to wear it. You have to adapt to it. You have to accept the fact that you asked someone for this haircut, so it’s no one else’s fault but your own. You have to take responsibility for that. And maybe you love the style in the reference photo and hate it when you get it at first. You might surprise yourself though; you might eventually have your Claire moment where you come to appreciate and even like your new hairdo. Maybe it’ll show a side of you that you didn’t think you’d show the rest of the world. A haircut won’t completely alter your life, but it might point you in a fresh direction.

No one intentionally gets a bad haircut. It’s unintentional and messy and uncomfortable, especially when you have that moment in the salon chair where you realize you hate the hairstyle the unknowing beautician gave you. But it shows you tried something, and your best self is one who doesn’t live in fear, who owns up to their mistakes, who makes the best of a bad situation, who tries the things they want to try, and who is okay with imperfection. Maybe I’m wrong, but your best self isn’t one who lives in complacency and boredom.

So, go get those bangs. You might just learn something about yourself.

Kate Carter, Middle Tennessee State University

Writer Profile

Kate Carter

Middle Tennessee State University
Interdisciplinary Media

Kate Carter is a senior studying Interdisciplinary Media and is interested in culture, the environment, plants, photography, wellness and tea. She’s currently working on a fiction podcast, and in her free time, she’s a barista.

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