Long Story Short

How our very own Kate's drastic haircut made way for an Oprah moment of self discovery

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I’m a big proponent of the “dress for yourself” tenet, so it’s not altogether surprising that two weeks and fifteen inches ago I lopped off my long, brown, predictable locks. Like many, I’d been tempted by reactionary haircuts in the past; I viewed them as a proxy for some life change that had either just happened or needed to. But I never went through with one, realizing the catharsis of an undershave would be temporary at best. This time, however, my motivation was pure: I was up for something new.

On the advice of Amelia, I contacted Wes Sharpton from If You Knew Beauty (a magical hair think tank of sorts). After talking through mood boards with Wes and my soon-to-be colorist Roxie Darling, it became clear that we were all on board for a big change of Mia Farrow proportions. My fate was in their hands.

Two hours later, it was facing me in the mirror.

Very short hair — expertly highlighted, chopped and tousled — sat on top of my new-person’s head. There was no more security blanket growing from my scalp, nothing to hide behind, nothing to twist or tie or braid. But the empowerment I felt, however cliché, was glorious. I left the studio feeling like the ballsy lovechild of 90’s Linda Evangelista and Lancôme-era Isabella Rossellini.

The thing is, I don’t live in New York full-time. And while my counter-Samson delusions of short hair as a power source were settling nicely into a more sustainable love of my cut, I crashed from my hair high the moment I got home to rural New Mexico.

In the City, I was confident and beautiful with short hair. Pushed back I felt like Agyness Deyn in February’s Interview. Raked forward? Stella TennantBritish Vogue, July 2011. Gathering kindling in the woods, however, I fixated on my neighbor’s loving remark that I looked like a mom, which I should have taken as the compliment it was. Instead, it triggered fears about how the cut would be received, and the bizarre notion that in five years I would be too old for a short cut to look fun, as opposed to functional.

Shortly thereafter I decided that the cut just didn’t resonate in the context of my barn coats and shearling clogs. Aside from no one mentioning how reminiscent my look was of a 1983 Paula Yates, I had two issues: 1. what I wanted my look to express and how it was actually received were not in sync (I was clearly downtown hip with uptown polish, right?), and 2. I started to doubt the cut.

I rationalized that within “dressing for yourself” there’s an element of expressing how you want to be seen (That girl’s baggy jeans are so cool!), and that one can’t always succeed (That girl must have grabbed her boyfriend’s jeans by accident, awkward!). I’d accepted this with clothes but was surprisingly uncomfortable with misinterpretations concerning my hair. And yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds.

Ironically, the cut that initially incited a newfound a sense of beauty and confidence was now revealing unforeseen insecurity. As it turns out, I was in fact so concerned about other’s perceptions that I deemed my haircut “too chic” for the entire state of New Mexico. (I know. It’s ridiculous. And offensive. Self-actualization doesn’t always bring out the best in me.) It was a poor excuse to mask the fact that I could revel in short hair if the rest of my look was styled, but in the absence of long locks, without some other element to my look, I felt unattractive.

That realization alone — never mind that my haircut and color are actually stunning  – made the experience worthwhile. To realize how dead wrong I was about the extent to which other people’s opinions affect me is both hugely surprising, and also kind of fun. How often does one get the chance to challenge their sense of self and learn from it?

Or maybe I’m over-thinking it all; it’s probably not that unique to experience doubt after such a severe change. Either way, the panic wore off, the flat iron and prescribed magic hair cremes arrived, and I’m wholly enamored with my cut again.

Edited by Amelia Diamond.  Inspired to cut it all off? Consider donating your locks to Wigs for Kids

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Thoughts?
  • Gene

    If you follow Garance Dore at all she recently went for a big chop and agonized a bit over the need to change her style a bit to accommodate the cut. Super girly and pretty earrings and more make up are the gist of the direction she found herself going in. I did a similar length chop in grade 2 (clearly the mushroom cut wasn’t nearly as flattering as your new one) and will never do it again, but I love it when others do and I get to see pictures. Looks good on you.

  • Jaclynhoek

    You look adorable! I love it. I’ve found when I’ve gone short in the past, that I definitely need to change up my makeup (eyeliner!) and my outfits a bit. I love girly makeup with a tomboyish outfit. So cute!

    • Kate Barnett

      thank you! and good call with the eyeliner! as soon as it was done i couldn’t wait to try out both super femme and super androgynous looks. i didn’t anticipate how much fun it would be playing with different styles.

  • http://www.EatStylePlay.com/ Eat.Style.Play

    I really nice having short hair, but the process of getting that involved getting a relaxer, and bi weekly maintance. I still miss it so much! I love the cut on you!

  • http://marciayl.tumblr.com/ Marcia Lee

    I think we all have gone through these moments of insecurity when we step out of the bubble.

    i once ‘grammed a picture wearing my beloved missoni headband and a bunch of fratboys from home commented things like “check out axl rose” “who invited kid rock”… i felt horrified for a second, and then realized “the heck do they know?” you look fabulous, kate. the cut brings out all the beautiful angles in your brow and face. not everyone will get it, but it matters more that you love it!

    • Charlotte

      It does doesn’t it? Strange how we keep forgetting that! Great to hear you realized it so fast :)

  • Gia

    I’m not being funny or anything BUT I think you look much better with the shorter do. It uplifts your whole look, you look more carefree and younger, confident, stylish sexy. Sometimes I think long hair drags us down a bit. I also have been toying with the idea, but having done it a few years ago when I was 21 and then the pain of growing it out is what stops me. However I still want to! I dunno I think it looks amazing on you and you should consider staying that way for a while.

    • Kate Barnett

      thank you gia! my hair before was sort of…long. now it actually has shape and dimension that i feel is much more flattering to my face, which i never would have expected. what’s it like when it grows out??

      • Josephine

        Hi Kate, thank you for the article. Going for the big chop next week! How do you feel now? I am not that afraid about the opinion of others, but I am afraid about me not feel sexy (how strange and awkward that might sound). Do you still feel unattractive? Because I, and the comments above, can tell you you are wrong about that and right about the hair cut ;)

        • Kate Barnett

          how exciting! what made you decided to go short??

          i would say i feel more attractive after the cut. one the surface, it highlights my bone structure and opens my face in a way i love. also, though, long hair was my default, and committing to the cut was surprisingly empowering and actually made me feel more confident and sexy. so, i completely understand that fear and definitely had moments of doubt, but overall i couldn’t be more pleased. Have fun! And post the pic!!

    • pixiedust8

      I agree. I think it is far more stylish.

  • http://mafaldadotzero.blogspot.fr/ Mafalda

    I think a huge trend is starting! I love short hair, but it doesn’t suit everyone. I’ve just chopped mine in a short bob and I’m really happy about the change, and I’ve also sported shorter hair à la Winona, which I love too…

    Mafalda ❤
    http://www.mafaldadotzero.blogspot.fr

  • Kate Barnett

    props to charlotte for making the absolute best short hair slide show i’ve ever seen.

  • Glitter

    The problem that faces a lot of women in chopping their hair is directly bound to notions of femininity and expectations of beauty. A perfect example of this can be found in the hysteria surrounding Karlie Kloss cutting her hair into a bob just before the latest Victoria’s Secret campaign. So disgruntled were VS that they made Kloss put hair extensions back in. Now what can we infer from this? That women with short hair can’t be sexy? Who defines sexy? If VS is primarily aimed at women then surely they play a role in the construction of femininity, with short hair clearly being a deviation from that (alongside a whole set of other variables including weight, height and facial symmetry).

    Fashion appears to divide into two worlds – the conservative and the liberal. The conservative world requires women to conform to strict rules of femininity which are archaic and outdated, while the liberal side welcomes transgender models, mixes up gender stereotypes and avoids definitions. The problem is, most places which are not cosmopolitan cities, take the more conservative approach and, as such, when you march in there with your cropped hairdo – you’re not seen as edgy, powerful and beautiful – you’re seen as deviating from the norm and therefore strange.

    The task that faces us is to challenge these conservative approaches to femininity whilst also accepting (on some level) that there will be always be contexts where our styles are misunderstood and, others, where our style can bring us great kudos.

    • pixiedust8

      VS (if you notice) will hire a model and then the model’s hair gets long and lightened, and they sometimes seem to get an actual boob job. Maybe they just use extensions now, but I noticed a pattern in the past. (I don’t get the catalog anymore.)

  • If You Knew

    Kate, it was a pleasure having you in the If You Knew Studio. We are thrilled with your transformation, think you look amazing, and hope you continue to feel as good as you look. If you know anyone else in need of a change, contact us at info@ifyouknew.com.

    Kindly,

    The Team at Hairstory Studio

    • Kate Barnett

      IYK! thank you so much; i am in love with the look you both created and brought out in me. it’s like i’m experiencing the feeling of ‘beautiful’ differently, in a way that’s a bit more earnest. I think in part because the style reveals my face, and subsequently me. Could not have hoped for such a wonderful experience.

      • If You Knew

        We’re so happy to hear that. If you know any other good candidates looking for a transformation, point them our way!

  • Sophie

    Seriously stunning cut – you look incredible

  • SarEve

    Having had short hair for 5 years, over which I gained 30 and lost 45 pounds, I understand your fears of how people will perceive you. Once I lost the weight, I had grown my hair only a tiny bit more but people who I barely knew would come up to me and say “wow, you look SO much better with your hair longer, don’t cut it again!” And I was like “no, dumb@ss, you like me 40 pounds lighter and for that, I deem you useless in my life.” Lesson is, don’t listen to dumb@sses and when you aren’t feeling good about your hair, product is your best friend. So is red lipstick which I think you would look SO ISABELLA in!!!

  • monkeyshines
  • Hereshoping Themayanswereright

    I was just thinking about the subject of pixie cuts after seeing what it did for Pam Anderson, who actually looks kinda chic for the 1st time in her life. The women that have them seem to get an automatic edge and cool factor from the cut. I would dearly love to get a pixie myself, but my hair is obnoxiously curly and will not be tamed – wouldn’t be the same uber cool Edie Sedgewick/Mia Farrow effect that you’re getting. You truly look AMAZING – absolutely ADORE the hair!!! SO JEALOUS.

    • Leandra Medine

      Oh my gosh – she looks terrific. Who knew!@#$%^&*

  • http://www.anorexicescapades.com/ BougieHippie

    The pixie cut is only for those with small head, or pronounce bone structured. Not for meager look girls or round shaped faces. Sometimes you need a head of hair to hide under because your haircut like an ill fitting dress will make you look fat.

    http://www.anorexicescapades.com

  • Sonya

    Hey Kate,
    It’s a wonder how New York can make you feel so much braver about such a change, when there are so many intimidating people around with looks-to-kill. I did the same thing, cut all of my hair off in a flourishing New York moment, and then returned to my hometown (also in New Mexico, who knew?). The reception was certainly different, but not all bad. It’s nice to get a little attention in the Burque (Albuquerque, that is) for looking different than everyone else. I felt maybe even more empowered there than I did here, like I had jumped a huge hurdle in my quest to mix a New York style with a New Mexican one.
    Congratulations on your cut, you look awesome :) New Mexicans can rock it just like the rest

  • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

    Long hair being such an easy choice (and often just a blanket) I am mostly curious about short hair in women – it’s such a fascinating phenomenon!

    (Like an invitation to read a brand new, rather complex story)

    Your face gets much more attention when sorrounded by short hair and in your case, this is a magnificent idea! :-)

  • http://dressupwithlola.com/ Lola

    I think the short hair is a great look for you, really suits you! A few years ago after much umming and aaahing, i finally took the plunge to get a pixie crop. I actually took the exact picture of twiggy that you have shown above, as soon as it was cut, i hated it and it felt very weird on me. First day back at uni and i just didn’t want to show may new cut to anybody and ended up wearing a hat, weirdly even with a hat on people could still tell i had a haircut. I ended up taking the hat off and in some weird way the hat actually managed to style my hair in such a way that i ended up loving it. It was painful growing it out though and when you have it short, you really become aware of just how fast your hair grows! XX

  • http://dressupwithlola.com/ Lola

    p.s. this article has made me want to get my haircut again! X

  • Jay

    OHMYGOD! Your new look is STUNNING! Similarly, I was inspired to chop off my hair this summer. For years I had tried to get a buzz cut but all the stylists I had asked refused to do so. They said I would regret it and that I didn’t know what I wanted. I’ve always received compliments for my “thick,” “gorgeous” hair. And I do love my hair. But I wanted a change. I wanted something radical. And not for the look but rather for the emotional experience. Leandra wrote a while back that she had never received so many compliments as she did once she chopped her hair because her new cut encouraged a sense of confidence. Until our hair is gone, we don’t realize how much we hide behind it. Hair is security. It’s beauty. It defines who we are. But I recommend, like Leandra and Kate, that everybody try something radical with their hair at least once. You’ll begin to look at all the other things that make you beautiful – your full lips or thick eyebrows or long lashes. And after many attempts, I finally found a stylist who I trusted enough to cut it all off and somebody who trusted me enough as his customer to give me what I wanted. And as he said: “I’ll be here when you’re ready to grow it back.” Take a chance. Chop away.

  • Devin

    I truly appreciate this post, because have long (about 2 1/2
    ft.) natural blonde hair and for the past year I have been threatening and
    pondering on chopping it off. All. The If You Knew Beauty website and videos
    made me think harder about this step. Right now I’m looking for a change, and
    my hair keeps coming to mind. I have felt, as ridiculous as it sounds, people
    fawn over me simply because of my hair. I hid behind it, as you stated twisting
    it, braiding, styling, etc. I am still too afraid. I do not know when I will
    make this change but I feel it will be soon. Thanks again for this post.

    • Kate Barnett

      whoa, so much hair!! i think once you’re ready it will feel totally liberating, but it can be a terrifying prospect.

    • If You Knew

      Hi Devin,
      If you do decide you’d like a change we’d love to have you. If you’re feeling courageous, please contact us at info@ifyouknewbeauty.com!

      • Devin

        Okay, thank you! Will do.

  • Uxibal

    I love it!, you look fantastic!

  • Amelie J
  • http://www.reveriesanctuary.com/ shanaz@ReverieSanctuary

    You look stunning with your new hairdo. I really liked it. I remember being advised by someone about getting a short bob that to make it really work is to have some color going on through makeup. Since your face now becomes the center of attention as opposed to long locks of hair, a pop of red on your lips or some kind of eyeliner magic, would really add in a wow factor. So go crazy, have fun styling up your mane while having all the time to indulge in makeup. Long hair can be a real drab, by the time I finish drying and styling it up, I’m too lazy with makeup. Is it just me? haha

  • Jen Cartier

    You look adorable!

  • Rachael King

    a little late to the party but i feel i really need to leave a comment – when I first cut my hair short it was really long like yours as I had been overseas for a year so had just avoided the hairdresser. I found what I wore changed quite a lot, I wore more feminine pieces as I felt the short cut “balanced” them out whereas previously i felt like I looked a little to “girly”. What amazed me was I got alot of negative attention from men who did not appreciate my new look (seriously who says “hey lady I think your hair is ugly” when you walk past?). The thing is I love having short hair, I think it definitely conveys the message I want to and actually now find the opposite to you, I can do nothing special with my outfit but if my hair is styled short I’m still saying “I have my own ideas about style and I dress how I want”. My hair is currently in a messy bob as I find myself living in Italy/Germany where I don’t speak the language and I’m a little scared to go to the hairdresser. This post is motivating me to print a whole lot of pictures and just go though because man it is making me miss my pixie cut. You look fantastic with the new do and do not let anyone make you feel otherwise (especially not the jerks who scream dyke out the window as they drive past-yes this also happened to me when I first cut my hair).

    • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

      I go to the hairdresser with a picture, too, even though I speak quite a bit German :-) They tend to appreciate not having to guess what you actually meant :-) (love my short hair and would never change it again)

  • http://www.laurasstyle.net/ Laura Lynn Michaud

    I think that short hair is amazing! I love it and have had it. But now my hair is just grazing my shoulders again and I love that too. It’s fun to grow it out nice and long and then hack it off again. I love to hear people say “You cut your hair!” Like I didn’t know that.

  • Moira

    Love the short hair….never loved the constant trips to the stylist for trims.

  • Rutchelle Kristine-Marie

    I just shortened my hair a few months ago. 3mm!!! And I really had long hair a la pocahontas. But now that I have them really short, I only get compliments. It’s true – long hair suits every woman. It’s the women with short hair who are more interesting :-) I love you, you are such an inspiration! And your hair looks amazing!