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How My Recent Haircut Affected My Mental Health

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So I woke up one day in an unusually good mood and thought, I’m going to change my hair color.

It was a spur of the moment decision, very unlike me and I’ll admit, a move screaming impulsivity. But I didn’t care — I just wanted it done.

Part of me wished to show up to a random beauty salon and be like, “Surprise me,” but then my friend suggested dying my hair electric blue, so I decided to rule out any extravagant color such as pink, green or orange. I wasn’t feeling that bold.

I discovered quickly that getting highlights in Vancouver wasn’t cheap, and I couldn’t really afford to spend a few hundred dollars on something as frivolous as my hair color.

But my mom, as caring and loving as she is, told me to go for it and not worry about the cost. “What matters to me is that you feel good in your own skin, so if this is important to you, go ahead and do it.”

Thank you, mom!

So I phoned a couple places and that’s when I realized how clueless I was on the topic of hair-related matters. I inquired about prices and got asked things like, “Are you thinking full highlights? Low highlights? Ombre? Will your hair need to be bleached? What color do you want?”

Needless to say, I felt overwhelmed and confused. I thought highlights were just that: highlights. I didn’t know about all the different styles and options. Curious as I am, I spent a few hours researching different hairstyles. But then I started to worry that those around me would think I was shallow and superficial. After all, there were so many more important things in life: I felt as if I shouldn’t be wasting my time deciding whether I wanted caramel vs. cinnamon highlights.

I’ll admit my insecurities stemmed from a long-held belief that people who cared about makeup and jewelry, hair colors and pedicures were superficial and had no depth. The snobby part of me felt disdain when I bumped into girls who seemed to care more about their appearance than their intellect.

Today, I understand that caring about one’s appearance has more to do with self-care than vanity. Here I was agonizing over my hair color, but you know what? It felt good to focus on something other than how bad I felt, and how terrible life was.

I remember in high school feeling jealous and envious of the other girls, whom I believed had as much knowledge about nail polish brands as I did about SSRI antidepressants. I remember thinking, Here I am trying to keep myself alive, while they’re busy comparing shades of pink. If only I had the luxury of being so carefree.

I think the main reason my mom was so delighted (and maybe a bit shocked) at the idea of me getting a haircut is because my whole life, I’ve worn the same hairstyle. From the time I was in the third grade up until now, my hair was long, black and straight. No bangs, no layers and certainly no colors. Every day I wore it in a high ponytail to the point that on the rare days I took out my flattening iron, my different hairstyle would be met with compliments from my peers at school.

Maybe a haircut is just that: a haircut. Maybe there is no actual meaning behind it. But I think it can also have a huge impact on one’s mental health and emotional well-being.

I was really scared to change my hairstyle — the same way I have always been afraid of change in real life. I knew it was a risk, but I also knew I needed to take it, or else I’d regret it. After all, I asked myself, What’s the worst that could happen? If I didn’t like it, in a few months I’d go right back to my old hairstyle, and I would never have to change it again.

Sitting in that chair, I felt small, scared and vulnerable. But when I got up, I felt confident and comfortable in my own skin for the first time in months. For me, getting a haircut was about so much more than just chopping off my hair. It represented my attempts at moving on from the past year, past three psychiatric hospitalizations and past a mountain of difficulties. It also represented my attempt at cutting out the toxic people in my life and all of the negativity. Now, I am looking forward to starting the academic year with a fresh, new look.

As for everything else in life, there is a fine balance. Worrying about how you look or what you wear isn’t the most important thing in the world, but I think it’s wonderful to engage in acts of self-care, or any behavior that will make you feel good in your own skin. Getting a massage, your nails done or a facial isn’t self-indulgent. In fact, I’d argue it’s necessary, as there is nothing more important and unselfish than taking care of your own needs.

There are so many more important things in life, yes, but like my friend Anne said, “This is something nice you’re doing for yourself, so it has importance, too.”

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Photo via contributor.

Originally published: August 25, 2017
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