I’ve got a bad habit: whenever I go through breakups, I change my hair. I’ve chopped it from shoulder length into a pixie cut, have dyed it dark brown to blond, added fringe, got rid of fringe, turned it pink, threw in extensions — my list of often-drastic hair shifts is pretty lengthy.
Some of these looks worked. A lot of them didn’t. But all of them were tied to moments of change when something in me was shifting and something out of me wanted to do the same.
Apparently, I’m not alone.
“Your hair is often an embodiment of your persona: that is, who you are,” says Stuart Hastings, senior stylist at Pastels Salon Ritz Carlton. Hastings has just moved over from Manchester and is a magician when it comes to fixing dodgy colour or damaged locks. It’s to him I turned when my hair became an orange-and-brown mess. He whisked it into a delicate tumble of caramels and golds.
“Changing your hair is the quickest and easiest way to create a statement of how you wish to be seen,” he adds. “It’s like pressing a refresh button on your image.”
It’s understandable we turn to hair in moments of change, says Hastings. A new style can be an instant confidence boost. But before you make any massive changes, make sure the hairstylist knows you well. “They’ll be able to sense whether the wish for a new style is a knee-jerk reaction and something you’ll come to regret, or whether you really have a desire for change that you can channel into a style that will enhance how you look and feel.”
I wish I knew this back before the bowl-cut-disaster of 2009.
Image: Gabrielle Bell
Making changes for the right reasons is something Dr Lana Kashlan, an American Board-certified dermatologist and overall beauty guru believes in strongly.
“In consultation, whenever a person brings me in a picture of someone else, like a celebrity, I tell them to take that picture out completely,” says Dr Kashlan. She’s straight-talking and friendly, a doctor from a family of doctors. “We are trying to enhance natural features, in the same way, we change our hair colour. But when someone comes in and says ‘I want to look like this entirely different person,’ that’s when I take a step back,” she notes.
“There’s a psychological component when people come to see us.” It’s not therapy, adds Dr Kashlan. “But I try to understand what their goals are and what brought them in.”
I like speaking with Dr Kashlan. She’s passionate about correcting acne scars and has a lot to say around the many dodgy treatments that gals in Dubai will book on the cheap. She’s also willing to wrestle with some of the big, meaty questions that are on my mind a lot lately: when is change ok; how can we make changes for the right reasons; and how do we focus on changes that help us become the best, brightest, most authentic versions of ourselves?
In search of an answer, I turn to the change guru himself: James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits.
Clear’s book is all about how tiny changes can create huge results, exploring how we break bad habits and build up good ones. It’s packed full of handy advice, like how critical it is to keep going with a habit on a bad day even more than a good day; and how to create a habit, stack it against something we actually want to do — like only watch Netflix (what we want to do) while walking on the treadmill (a habit we’re trying to create). There are scorecards and worksheets and so many useful bits of advice that I can’t believe I hadn’t read it before.
A lot of what Clear says resonates with me. My default response to stressful situations is to reach everything sugary sweet or to swing to the other extreme. Breakups can be very stressful. But Clear has entire sections dedicated to food-related responses, and learning new tools help.
Ultimately, I’m still searching. Change is complex. But this year I’m not chopping off my hair or turning it fuchsia. I’m letting it slowly, slowly edge back towards its natural colour. Because change is happening, and my world is rocking, but I’ve decided that doesn’t have to mean flying away from who I am.
Instead, I’m taking it as a chance to explore who I’ve become and just who, exactly, I want to be.
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