Close your eyes, and think back to 2008. Remember that pivotal moment when Carrie Bradshaw flips her chair around to reveal she’s traded her signature golden locks for a deep brunette, in the wake of her heartbreak?
Yeah, us too. After we caught our breath, that is.
That epic moment symbolized what many of us may do, or at least have the urge to do, right after a breakup or other big, life-changing event—either cut or color our hair. Sometimes it’s a great idea. Other times, not so much.
New Jersey-based mental health therapist Jody Smith explains that it’s quite common to want to change up your appearance after a breakup and that it’s, “linked with the need to feel a sense of control during the grieving process.”
She says that changing the way we look also gives a sense of validation and positive reactions from people around us, but that, “when we seek this validation, we then teach our minds to outwardly rely on validation, then making it more difficult to self validate down the line.”
Okay, so maybe it’s not always the best idea to switch up your hairstyle in the wake of heartbreak.
It may be reassuring, or even affirming, to know that Smith says, “breakups are considered traumatic from a therapeutic standpoint,” because your brain had gotten quite used to the support system and routines of having your ex-partner as a partner. So, it’s only natural to feel that loss both physically and emotionally.
She explains, “Similar to grief, you go through the stages of denial, bargaining, relapse, anger, acceptance, and then redirected hope with a breakup. The best way to understand a breakup is to reflect in it as a loss because mentally and physically it is a loss to your life.”
The urge to make a significant and immediate change, like a drastic haircut or color, is an attempt to rapidly regain control. But, she warns, making a change right after a breakup is unstable and temporary. It’s a distraction from, “actually coping with the feelings associated with the breakup causing a deflection.” And, when we deflect, we don’t heal.
But what about other, more positive life changes like a move, new job, new baby, or achievement? Well, then it might actually be a great idea!
Smith says, “Changing your look around positive events in your life is positive and healthy because you are not doing it to seek outward validation but instead, you're doing it because you are feeling positive and want to build on an already healthy foundation in your life.”
Unlike with breakups, when you change your hair during a positive life event it adds more positivity to what’s already occurring. It provides that a little “oomph” that helps kick things into an even higher gear and provides a freshness or spark that only adds to the positivity.
So, what if you’re stuck somewhere in the middle—not reeling from a heartbreak but also not exactly embarking on a new adventure. What about those times that you’re in a little bit of a rut? Maybe a bit of a change could do you some good, too.
Smith advises, “A small change can help when in a rut, to help a person feel refreshed. The caution is with extreme changes to change who you are.”
Spicing things up a bit and trying out a new trend or style you’ve been eyeing might be all you need to re-energize yourself both inside and out.
She says getting a trim or some highlights are safe and healthy choices while warning that, “The key is balancing extremes and looking at why you are making the change you are making.”
Our hair, appearance, self-care rituals, and mental health are often so intricately intertwined. It’s important to consider before you make any changes, why you’re making them and your hopes for the end results. As long as it isn’t a rash decision or in the immediate wake of a major and negative life change, then you’ve got the green light!