When a woman makes a major hair change, there’s often an assumption that something’s wrong. She’s gone through a breakup or a loss or a tragic event and her new hairstyle signifies a deliberate identity change. Two weeks ago, when I chopped my shoulder-length curls into a buzz cut, my mum (who’s had a pixie cut her whole life) texted me, asking if everything was okay. I assured her that I was more than okay. I felt like myself.
I’ve always admired women with buzz cuts and pixies. In 2002 it was Halle Berry’s spiky cut, cemented in history thanks to her Oscars win — a monumental moment for Black women. In 2007, Rihanna’s Good Girl Gone Bad pixie was a bold, feminine shift from her teenage persona. And I can’t forget Emma Watson’s infamous chop a few years later, marking the end of her career-defining Harry Potter role.
In hindsight, my big chop — nearly a decade after I’d first considered it — also signified the start of an exciting chapter in my life: a new job, a new flat, and a well-ironed self-confidence. When I saw my shaved head for the first time, I felt a weight lift, both physically and emotionally. It was the first time I felt independent from the hair that defined me for my whole life as a Black woman. I felt liberated.
After reading countless stories from women who had made the chop (especially during COVID lockdowns), I had geared myself up for that liberation. What I didn’t expect were the subtle ways in which my sense of style began shifting. The morning after the chop, I excitedly threw on a pink and orange floral co-ord (very on-brand for my bright, main-character style) but when I looked in the mirror, something felt…off. I tried on a few other 'fits: a baggy linen dress, a tight midi skirt and crop top, denim dungarees. Everything felt like it was from someone else's wardrobe.
Because my hair was a statement in itself, I realized that I desired clothes that would offset it. I could elevate the simplest basics and make the most feminine outfit look edgy. It was going to take some practice to get all of this right. That morning, I ended up wearing a long-sleeve bodysuit with jeans and trainers — an outfit that I would have deemed too boring for me when I had hair.
According to psychotherapist Hannah Martin, this shift in self is pretty common when it comes to a hair transformation as major as mine. "Our hair is a huge part of our personality, so it makes sense that when we change our hair, we can feel very different," says Martin.
"There is a strong correlation between hair and confidence. When your hair is taken away out of your control, for example, due to health reasons, the impact on confidence can be huge. However, making a bold move and choosing to create a look that you love is different. It’s a decision you are in control of — and this can boost your confidence," she says.
In the month leading up to the cut, I wore my hair slicked back most days as a way to prep myself for the shaved head look. But when my hair was actually gone, I felt more different than I'd expected to. In a good way. Perhaps now I was the woman I knew I'd become over the last year; a woman who had been aching to be seen. This new me was confident and unafraid to speak her mind — and she meant business.
Clara Tan, a London-based artist and engineer, shaved their head for the first time in 2019 and fully embraced it. "As a non-binary person, I don’t want to live in a world with strict gender roles. So for me, it feels like a gender-neutral hairstyle. And it definitely suits my personality," says Tan. "I embrace both masculinity and femininity as necessary expressions of being human."
Tan’s style didn’t shift as much as mine after the cut, but the way they speak about their chop indicates that their sense of self was already proudly on display. "Before [the cut] I had this amazing, Backstreet Boys-looking haircut. So for me, my hair was already getting shorter and shorter," says Tan.
Speaking with Tan made me realize that the big chop was exactly what I needed to achieve a level of inner peace. My hair had become a huge part of the way I saw myself, locked to the femininity that I mistakenly believed wouldn't exist without it.
Packing for a recent trip to Copenhagen, I pulled together a variety of basics, rather than my usual bright and busy separates. I struggled a bit, and at many points thought I might have lost my sense of style completely. But one thought kept running through my mind: I feel so much like myself. That thought alone reassured me that whatever clothes I wear in the future will be an extension of my new, authentic self.