I’m looking at myself in the mirror while my hairdresser, Amy, is holding my hair in a long plait. “Are you sure about this?” she asks, scissors poised to hack it all off. I know it’s a big decision and it could all go wrong, but I feel a calm sense of certainty as I tell her: “Yep. Let’s cut it all off.”
I don’t normally have such extreme haircuts. I’ve pretty much had long hair my whole life. It suits me long – especially when I have it lightened with balayage or highlights – and this summer I grew it out to my belly button; the longest it’s ever been. It made me feel beautiful to have this swishy long hair with ends that faded to blonde. If I was hot, I’d pile it all up in a messy bun at the top of my head, and when I was dancing, I’d tie it up in an Ariana Grande-esque ponytail. It felt feminine, sexy, and it didn’t hurt that the guy I was dating really loved it.
But, when he broke my heart, I knew immediately that the hair had to go. It wasn’t so much that it reminded me of him, or that I wanted to get rid of the thing he liked most about me – it was more that my long, light hair suddenly felt heavy. Every time I looked at it, I felt weighed down by all the memories it held, all the expectations it had hoped for. The long mane belonged to the girl who’d been kissed in waterfalls, not the one who’d been heartbroken by that very man.
It’s why I’m sitting in my favourite salon Four London (because when you’re getting all your hair cut off, you really need to go somewhere you trust) ready for my heartbreak haircut. I want to feel like me again. The long hair belonged to a certain stage in my life that’s over now, and I want something new to help me feel ready for the next stage. I want short, light hair that doesn’t need any maintenance, but more than that, I want to feel fresh and free.
The second that stylist Amy Heath cuts off the plait, all of those things come true. Even before she styles my hair and gives it some shape, I can’t stop swishing it around. My head actually feels lighter, and I look like a completely different person. By the time colourist Luci Green paints on the ash-blonde highlights that somehow fade into my dark brown hair, I feel nothing like the long-haired girl with a broken heart who walked into that salon. The pain hasn’t magically disappeared, but now there are new feelings: excitement, joy, and empowerment.
As cliche as it might be for women to book themselves in for a dramatic haircut after a romantic disaster, it really works. “We get a lot of women coming in for a new look after a big change in their lives,” says Luci. “A lot of them want more colour in their hair, or to go blonder.” I can relate. I want my hair to be shorter, wavier, and lighter – which means telling Luci to add in more blonde balayage than most Indian women would ever go for. “I’m so excited,” she says, and so am I.
There’s something hugely powerful about deciding to take ownership of your looks and appearance, and making sure that whatever you do is for you. Before I went for my dramatic cut, everyone I’d told advised me not to go so short. “It’ll make your face look rounder,” said my mum, while my guy mates told me point-blank: “You look prettier with longer hair.”
But I don’t care. Even if the stereotype of men preferring women with long, feminine hair is true, I can opt out of that male gaze and look at myself through the female one instead. In other words: I can have my short hair and still feel beautiful.
I don’t have to adhere to the boring Barbie-doll beauty standards that society still advocates, because I can choose what I think is beautiful. As women, our worth might still be defined by our physical appearances, but we don’t have to listen to that. We can have short, spiky hair with head-to-toe tattoos and still feel as gorgeous as if we had long blonde hair and blue eyes. It’s up to us to choose what works for us, and most of the time, the more beautiful you feel, the more others feel the same.
For me, it happens the second Amy cuts off almost 50cm of my hair. I feel more self-love than I have in months, and I love that my long hair – which really was there for me during some of my best moments – is going to have a new lease of life being made into a wig by The Little Princess Trust, the charity that uses real donated hair to make wigs for children with cancer.
But most of all, I love the fact that I’ve just done something completely for me. I’ve ignored the male societal expectations that say women look more beautiful and feminine with long hair; instead I’ve chosen to follow my own beauty standard. I don’t care if I’m going to be less attractive to men now (some men who follow me on Instagram have already kindly told me they thought I was hotter with long hair) because it’s not about that.
It’s about me doing something symbolic for me, because ultimately, it’s my life, it’s my hair, and I can do whatever the hell I want with it.