A Cut Above The Norm

Why does a haircut have to stand for something drastic? Can’t a cut just be a cut?


Oh, sure. We’re pretty fond of each other, but the truth is you all are our favorite contributors to The Man Repeller. Really! We’ve formalized that fact with “Let’s Talk About It.” This weekly column is a forum for conversation, communication, and complete distraction from the jobs you’re supposed to be doing right now. So get involved. We promise we won’t tell your bosses.

Earlier this week, America’s sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence got a haircut. In its aftermath, the Internet stopped just short of spontaneous combustion.

Last Wednesday, she took to Facebook to debut newly shorn locks. In a characteristically candid photo, the Hunger Games actress revealed what Us Weekly has dissected as a “kind of punk pixie cut that has a few longer pieces on one side but is shorter everywhere else” and I would prefer to summarize as “Michelle Williams, circa yesterday.” But no matter its inspiration or origin or etymology, this much is certain: she looks gorgeous.


Days after the socially mediated reveal, Lawrence expounded on the surprising crop in an interview with Yahoo. “I don’t know, I cut it earlier,” she said. “And it grew to that awkward gross length . . . so I just cut it off.” Apparently, the fact that her previous cut “couldn’t get any uglier” further strengthened her resolve.

Less compelling than the 23-year-old star’s account of her formerly fried strands, however, is the fact that she immediately followed it with a lengthy rant about body image in Hollywood. Commenting on the industry’s badly distorted ideal, she said:

[S]hows like the Fashion Police . . . put values in all the things that are wrong and [say] that it’s okay to point at people and call them ugly and call them fat and they call it “fun” and “welcome to the real world.” And it’s like, that shouldn’t be the real world. That’s going to keep being the real world if you keep it that way. It’s not until we stop treating each other like that and just stop calling each other fat . . . with these unrealistic expectations for women. It’s disappointing that the media keeps it alive and fuels that fire.

Given the forcefulness of her frustration, it’s easy to read Lawrence’s dramatic hairdo as a kind of rebellion against conventional standards of beauty. At least, I certainly did. After all, Emma Watson and Miley Cyrus and too many fictional females to name have all consciously wielded scissors as instruments of passionate, personal protest.

And yet an article published in the Atlantic this summer makes a compelling case against such logic. Citing The Newsroom, Girls, and Mad Men among other examples, writer Casey Quinlan claims that linking trauma to radical transformation “seems to confirm that a woman’s value lies in how she looks, and that only psychological instability would cause her to make a drastic change in her physical appearance.” Aside from a few notable exceptions, says Quinlan, primetime gives us “the impression that happy women don’t get pixie cuts,” and if my assumption of Lawrence’s motives is any indication, I’m guilty of the same bias.

I have always believed that the clothing we choose says something real about the people we are or perhaps the ones we want to be. Considering that our hair is the only outfit we wear every day, it seems only right to give it the same attention. But is it fair to assume that Lawrence is trying to make some grand statement with hers? While we’re on the subject, have you ever attempted to express one with your own? Finally, why is that we so often insist that major haircuts “stand for” something at all?

I blame Samson, but I’d rather hear what you have to say.

Let’s talk about it.

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  • ashton

    I think that many women have short, “drastic,” hair cuts because they think that shape suits their face and accentuates their facial features better than a more socially described feminine cut would. I don’t agree at all with what Quinlin says that drastic cuts (or change in physical appearance) ultimately stem from a woman being unhappy, or in her words, psychologically unstable. That seems intrinsically false on many levels. Don’t we have more depth than this? I’d like to think that my decisions, drastic or not, go beyond considering my physical appearance. Am I right?
    This is not to say that I do not consider the way I look and feel as they can go hand in hand. However, I cannot go far as to say that “happy women don’t get pixie cuts.”

    • Samuel

      Your points are very valid, but I feel like Quinlan isn’t endorsing that view. Rather, he’s pointing out the incorrect assumptions perpetuated by the media, which are then both adopted by women, expected by men and the source of society’s furiously energised speculation when a celebrity cuts their hair.

      • ashton

        Ah. Agreed.

  • Norwegian

    Maybe she just wanted something different? Maybe her hair was super damaged and it was just the healthy thing to do? Maybe she is making a Sinead O’Connor like statement with her hair? Who knows besides her. Although I do agree with her that it should be the norm for everyone to be so judgmental and mean to each other, especially women. Women, considering everything we already have to deal with when it comes to society’s expectation of us and our beauty, should be building each other up and not tearing each other down. It just makes it all that much harder.

  • I have a pixie cause it makes me look younger and cause it’s easier to wash and dry your hair after the workout (3 times a week) or in general. Both reasons add to my general happiness 🙂

    (I used to have my hair cut short once or twice because I needed a change so much – not to punish me, I did think it would suit me better)

    JLaw has a really nice face – maybe she simply wants to experiment? After all, she can get a wig whenever she wants …

  • sheeristhenewblack

    When I had a pixie I was the happiest I have ever been, and, actually, that happiness was what made me feel comfortable to cut my hair from shoulder length to pixie, so being happy had nothing to do, and has nothing to do with my hair cut. I disagree with Quinlan base on my own experience, and also I’m a psychology student. Hair is, definitely, not a way to diagnose happiness or unhappiness.

  • shelley

    I think just like all things, it’s different for each person. One person may get a pixie because they are so unbelievable happy, while another might because they are facing inner turmoil, and another might just get it because I don’t know…no particular reason other than thinking its cool/flattering/whatever.

    I know a lot of women get their hair cut in one way or another after a life event…having a baby (it’ll make blow-dry time shorter), getting married (not sure why this happens so often? possibly to add some spice ;)), graduating high school (getting that new identity started before college begins?)

    We should simply ask the person what their deep rooted reasons are for changing their outer appearance!

    I personally feel like a pixie is probably the happiest of all cuts. What is happier than a pixie? You probably have to feel mighty secure in yourself to go for that kind of change!

  • A

    Actually, she said it was because her hair was so damaged from dying, and she didn’t like the length that she cut it. Then she talked about body image, when the dad of a fan asked her about. So I don’t think her cut stands for anything, it suits her, and she just needed a change from “that gross hair cut”

  • Maria Inês Ribeiro

    Even though I think Fashion Police is really funny, sometimes they CAN be a little too cruel. And I mean… she was just saying what she thought about it. Isn’t that what Joan Rivers does on her show? If every single person went around tweeting back things like that, after some of the hurtfull things she might say, I think it would never stop. Now, about Jennifer Lawrence’s new do, it’s a bit too drastic for my taste but I guess it makes her look more mature (?!). Despite all that, she does look gorgeous.

  • I think sometimes they stand for something and sometimes they don’t have to. It could just mean oh I needed a change! But at the end of summer I got my hair which was at my waist very short (above the shoulder) to prove to myself that I don’t need long hair to feel sexy because I feel that most of us depend on our hair for it! but it was to prove that to myself not anyone else and to be honest I’ve never felt sexier and powerful than I have with this short hair cut 🙂

  • elfitzsi

    Keri Russell as Felicity Porter. Need I say more!

  • Her hair was probably friiiiiied after all the styling fro her recent movies! It’s the reason why Ulyana Sergeenko went short, and it’s the reason why I’ve gone short… and I think it shows off my neck well! My hairstylist always said that if I noticed that I was wearing my hair up every day, I probably could go with a shorter crop and be much happier.

    (But I can’t be the only one that really hates her highlights?)

    • Mattie Kahn

      Fun fact: someone I dated once told me he thought the back of a woman’s neck was the sexiest part of her body.

  • Rach

    It’s an attitude. Some people care about hair length, often consider it to be part of their beauty/ femininity, and some people just do not give a shit. After a good 10 years as a short haired girl in pretty much any length you can imagine and about 2 as a long haired, if my hairdresser suggested it, I would happily chop my hair without a moment’s thought. It’s just hair. You can always grow more.

  • Aubrey Green

    Some women are short haired women – they just look better with short hair, I know quite a few of them actually. I do agree that there are a few women who have and probably will cut their hair because they want to make a drastic statement – I know some of those women too :). I don’t know if there is anything wrong with that, but some of the women I know who have cut their hair short show the following. a. a new found confidence b. the need for more feminine clothing (which is funny and ironic, not in a bad way) c. a tad bit of rebelliousness about everyone and everything (this I assume relates to their need of wanting to prove a point in the first place?). “C” does not pertain to all women, or all of the women I personally know who have cut the hair – each person is different and regardless of why, as long as their happy with it, isn’t that what matters?

    I had a boyfriend who thought very seriously about breaking up with me, once I cut my hair fairly short from long….

    • Mattie Kahn

      I hope you consequently thought very seriously about breaking up with him!

  • shadeofredblog.com

    I had long, waist-length hair for my entire life, until last month I walked into a hairdresser’s and made them chop it all off. Never looked back. If anything, I feel relieved.

  • Chloe

    It is a stereotype to blame a haircut choice on bucking stereotypes.

  • Mandy

    I cut my hair when me and my boyfriend broke up, though not because I wanted to be some different woman. I did it because I have naturally curly hair that I would wake up everyday to straighten, my hair was to my ass and quite frankly I no longer gave a f@&%. You can translate that into, “I no longer care to get up and spend hours on my appearance, I just want to hop out of bed and comb my bangs” or to “No boyfriend, no flatiron, no problem!”

  • Maui Mendoza

    Kate Gosselin hair

  • Perry

    It’s Wednesday! I was expecting this portion of the blog on Thursday. You’re ruining my routine.


    • Mattie Kahn

      (Hopefully) it’s like Christmas came early . . . ?

  • Anna

    Isn’t it also possible that she is steeling herself against the inevitable critiques of the “fashion police,” et al, and their (not-even-thinly-veiled) misogyny? Maybe the motivation for her cut was her own taste but she knows that the same culture that has deemed her beautiful will likely just as readily cut her down for one “wrong” move. We all have internalized standards of beauty and to make a change that flouts them takes guts. Maybe her critique of the status quo should be viewed as an underscoring of that reality (and willingness to own her choice) instead of proof that the cut itself was a political move.

  • Izzy

    Shortly after starting college I cut my hair off on a whim. I loved it. I kept it short for three years and I only grew it out again because I moved and couldn’t find any good places to get it cut at. Now my hair is past my shoulders and I like it well enough but… sometimes I really miss my short hair! Part of me wants to just shave it, because I have a good face for very short hair, but the thing that keeps me from doing it is that people have such bizarre reactions to that; people really do assume that something is wrong with you if you get a “drastic cut.”

  • Lisa Thomson

    It’s only time for a change for these actresses and stars. We, as regular women have been wearing pixie cuts and short hair for a long time. But in the profession where hair is everything, it says oh, so much more when they chop it off.

  • AEKK

    No one would like to wear one hair day by day. Even though short hair cannot suit every woman, but she has the right to deal with it. Short or long, does it matter? Just make myself happy, no matter how long my hair is. Maybe I looks ugly with my short hair, but I feel comfortable and pleased. That’s Ok. So, it is not a little thing about change or not, only by feel.

  • Josephine

    Going for the big chop tomorrow. These type of articles make me feel slightly anxious. Though the comments below confirm my opinion: short hair is not for everybody. It is for the girl or woman who wants it simply because she thinks it looks nice, sexy and, hey let’s just say it, feminine.

    The only thing that scares me? Not that it doesn’t look nice – At least I took the plunge! – the constant assumptions of others. The only thing more drastic than the actual haircut are the people trying to give it a ‘legitimate’ reason.

    • Mattie Kahn

      Oh, I say go for it! Don’t let Joan Rivers dissuade you! And (of course) send us a picture when it’s freshly cropped. Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  • Sarah Fentem

    A few weeks ago, my boyfriend asked me on a date to get our hair cut together. Made even weirder by the fact his MOM is the hairdresser that did it and I technically met her while she was washing my hair over the sink. So i guess that’s sort of a drastic haircut that signifies a life development.

    Barring similar situations, hair is hair. It can be something transformative and symbolic (like if you get a job and need to cut off your dreadlocks or something) (which is bullshit that you’d have to do that but I digress), or it can also be just bc you’re like, “ew my head feels heavy.”

  • I would hope that most of us wouldn’t put so much thought into other people’s hair, but I guess we do.

    I know one person who didn’t get a whole lot of flack for lopping off all her hair was Garance Dore. That woman chopped off a LOT of hair, and looked amazing doing it. I don’t remember anyone giving her shit for it (then again, I’m not on social media THAT much, so maybe people did). Maybe being French, you can get away with it?

    Having hair that short takes a bit of a tough skin. You know people are instantly going to make negative assumptions about you based on it, and you must be prepared for it. I think Jennifer Lawrence did a good thing pointing out that making fun of each other for silly things like the length of our hair doesn’t help anyone.

    ps – Pamela Anderson looks AMAZING with shorter hair. She went from a woman who looked like she was trying too hard to recapture her Playboy bombshell days to a much more sophisticated, classic look far more befitting her age. It also seems to have allowed her to dress in a more classic, beautiful way – another reason I can’t argue with change. 🙂

    • Mattie Kahn

      Yes! I remembered Pamela Anderson’s cut just after wrapping up this piece, and I literally cannot stop thinking about it.

      I feel like there’s this terrible misconception that when mature women cut their hair, it somehow means that they’ve “given in” or “given up.” I feel like she just so completely refutes that stereotype. Honestly, I’m pretty sure this is the best, most vibrant, most youthful she’s ever looked.

      • I agree! I do know a lot of people who have haircuts like that, and it ages them a bit – but it seemed to do the opposite for her. She’s still very sexy, just in a different way!

  • I went over and over cutting my long (mid-back) hair in my mind before I decided to do it. After the cut I felt SO great. I just cut it even shorter. I think I was trying to keep up with all the long, silky, perfectly curled hair I kept seeing on women everywhere. I was trying to blend in by having long hair. Now, I’m so much more me and I love it!

  • Sarah Braden

    In the past year I personally have gone from a betty paige like hairdoo (long brown hair with dramatic bangs) to a pixie cut… now months later it’s bob length but since the pixie cut, I have undergone various maintenance cuts to avoid looking ‘mullety’. In addition to this already ‘drastic’ change I’ve colored (with bleach) it several times. Its fun to experiment with your inner chameleon. More importantly it doesn’t mean I am unstable, change is good, it shows evolution of the human spirit and guts.

  • 25highClothing

    I have always had long hair, and sometimes i wonder what it would be like to have short hair. many people say I would look good with a cut because of my small face/head. so I do not believe that just unhappy women get pixie cuts, some just get them because they want to try it out.

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  • LaLa

    i initially decided to make the chop for two major reasons. 1st off i’m a swimmer and its a bit of a hassle taking care of long hair when i’m in the pool every single day especially as an African American girl, i cant just get out of the pool comb my hair and wear it like that. cutting it short made it easier to manage. but the main reason i decided to cut my hair is because as an African American girl its rare to see other African American girls who aren’t rocking long weaves, i’m not bashing weaves because they are awesome! But its come to a point where African American girls are bashing girls with short hair, and for some reason if a black girl doesn’t have long hair she isn’t pretty. i didn’t want to make some grand statement i just didn’t want my beauty to be defined by the length of my hair and a small part of me wanted to show other girls its okay to have have hair that falls past your shoulders, as India Arie said “I am not my hair” and i’m not and some days i may feel ugly without my curtains of hair but other days my shorter hair makes me feel all the more sexier and unique.

  • Alyssaspeaks

    I do get where Quinlan is coming from though. Even though I’ve not done it myself, I know of friends who’ve drastically shorn their long hair right after a major event in their lives (breakups or marriage). While it could be due to emotions aka “nothing’s going right in my life but I can control my hair so I shall cut it”, it could also be simply a “transition into a new stage in life” kinda thing.

  • Elsi Ferris

    pixie cuts are like stripes, they go in and out of fashion so much that they’re always in style yet some people still think they are the pattern that does no figure any justice. j-law is just one of those people who happens to recognize that regardless if the stripe t-shirt makes you look ten sizes larger, you still have the same body underneath, so you might as well wear the fucking stripes. did this make sense?

  • marita_hunt

    This is a really interesting topic for me, because i’ve had short hair since I was twelve – which I just realised is more than half my life! And I was one of only three girls out of 1,400 students at my all-girls high school that had short hair, so it has always been something that defined me and that other people talked about. Even now, years on from school, being short-haired is a big part of my identity. Sometimes it gets down to a bob, and once I grew it to my shoulders, but I always return to a medium length pixie. I feel so much stronger, more interesting, and more myself with short hair.

    I like the challenge it presents to people, and I like that it’s different from most other women my age. But it definitely feels like a statement, and a lot of people assume things about you that they don’t when you have a more conventional lady-do! Like a few other people have already said, you are not your hair – but in my experience, if you have an unusual haircut, to a lot of other people, you ARE your hair, so, the way you react to their reactions mean that your different haircut is shaping who you are.

    … in conclusion, the use of ‘cutting one’s hair off’ as a motif for an angry or rebellious woman feels like a semi-sexist cliche, but one that does has some basis in truth. Defiance might be something that a lot of us short-haired women feel. I think you have to be comfortable with your femininity and sexuality to do it (and for me, cutting my hair off at the onset of puberty had a lot to do with distancing myself from the norm of femininity and sexuality in my small town). … Or perhaps some women use it as a way to become more confident with femininity and sexuality.

    I’d love to hair (DID NOT INTEND, but i’ll leave it there… :P) what other people think about this!

  • Amelie J
  • Alice

    I had my first “pixie” cut when I was undergoing chemo, and it was more because I didn’t want to bear the shock of seeing my hips-long hair falling off. Even since, I have been sporting short cuts, and encouraging my friends (during those conversations that we all know “should I cut? but if it’s too short? what if I look horrible?”) to cut. Short hair is more practical, and at the end of the day, it grows back. Happy women may not get pixie cuts, but pixie cuts may stick to happy women!

    • Mattie Kahn

      Thanks for sharing this! For what it’s worth: I think it’s so cool that you decided to maintain the cut. (And I’d bet it looks faaabulous.)

  • Emma

    I cut all of my hair off about a month ago, and it had absolutely nothing to do with my emotions. And it still doesn’t. Everyone else seems to care much more than I do. Even when I was at the salon, when dearest Crystal of The Pink Mullet was done chopping away, she looked at me in the mirror with a very expectant look of what I can only assume was anticipation of some kind of tears (happy, sad, confused, “Now I won’t get married.”), but all I gave her was a simple “Thank you so much! It looks weird.” But it doesn’t look weird, it looks good. I like it. My fine, thin hair has never looked more right. And I still feel like a girl, because guess what, I STILL HAVE A VAGINA EVEN THOUGH I DON’T HAVE TAYLOR SWIFT HAIR. Hair is so disposable, everyone should feel free to do whatever they want with it. It’s a good metaphor for life. The majority of the lovely ladies that come into contact with me all say the same “I’ve always wanted to do that, but I’m not brave enough.” It’s the same women who say that they can’t wear red lipstick. Well, I have roughly the same haircut as a man AND I wear Ruby Woo, but I don’t think it makes me brave.
    I encourage everyone to go for the big chop and rock a bold red lip at some point in their life. It feels good.

    Literally, my head feels like a bunny.

    • Mattie Kahn

      it looks so good!

  • randofernando

    I cut my hair short recently. I was looking for a change because I felt like my hair was in a style rut- I’ve had the same hair placement..yes placement.. for 3-4 years- and wanted to cut off a few inches and through in some pizzazz (and pizzas). A few hours and a bit of a misunderstanding later, I left with a pixie only the Beibs could love. I was in shock because it was my own hair. It was odd when folks started asking why and what caused this and if I’d tied my transformation to a good cause. I hadn’t.. I did this for myself. My selfish self. I made the decision to cut my hair coherently and without any traumatic influence. Honestly, no one would accept my crunchy ill-treated hair even if I had thrust it into their bins. Anyway.. My point.. What is my point? Ah yes.. go for it and own it. It will grow back if you hate it. Spoiler alert: You’re probably going to want to cut it even shorter. And possibly tell people that you’re going to cut your hair because the attention is distracting… Unless you’re into that. Ha

  • ni ni

    Last year, I gathered courage to chop my hair off. I snapped half off, and then had crazyyy cold feet! So I left it that way. It was half-half. So when I felt like short hair I would position the short side in the mirror, when I felt like long hair, the other way round. Now I’m just growing out the longer side as long as I can, so I can braid it and use it as a party whip. I’m so over hair.

  • Joel Harris


  • Kathleen Lamar

    A few words of wisdom about this ever-becoming-famous cut: After deciding to go as Edie Sedgwick for halloween back in 2011 (in reality I wanted to be Sienna Miller in Factory Girl- those earrings! those hats and coats and short, mod dresses!) I went for it and cut 12 inches off my dark brown hair (in part because I had to do something while growing out that damned trendy shaved right side of my head) and lightened my hair to a perfect blonde I had never worn before, and loved it! (read:husband hated it)….for a week. After that, I hated that I had to style it every day to make it look right which really put a cramp in my lazy, stylist side. Also, that blonde would grow out every four weeks! So, things to think about if going for this “effortless” hair if you’re not a celebrity: it can only be pulled off by fine hair, with a natural shade lighter than a level 6, and worn by women with “feminine” features, though I actually liked being mistaken for a transexual.

  • Grand statement or not… she pulls it off to a tee! I must tell you that whilst typing this ‘better her than me, better her than me’ is on constant repeat in my head.

    I think a drastic cut can stem from a lot of things… in my eyes it’s something positive that you’re doing for yourself. Without having bravery, confidence and pinch of ‘who gives a shit’ I don’t think anybody could go for the chop…. Again… better her than me!

  • Hannah Cavaciuti

    Can I just point out that her quote about the “Fashion Police” was in reply to a direct question from a man’s daughter about how the young girl should react to bullying due to her weight…… Not a public protest or a scripted rebellion; just a reply to a young girls question. Yes it shows how Jennifer Lawrence feels, but I’m not sure it proves a concious rebellion.

  • Sara

    to start with- this is yet another reason i love jennifer lawrence- she is not afraid to tell everyone what she stands for- (also did a little lol with the michelle williams comment)

    i also recently did a sort of transformation with my hair- what used to be halfway down my back blonde locks, i chopped to a bob (shorter in back, longer in front). not entirely sure why i wanted the cut so badly but i just felt like i wanted to shed the excess (and fried might i add) length but i feel like chopping your hair can be a cathartic sort of thing. i’m not saying that every woman who chops her hair is nuts but i walked out of the salon feeling like a new woman. so maybe that is also some of the appeal? you transform a little bit with a drastic hair cut- you can wear clothes you wouldn’t dream of before, you look at stores you wouldn’t normally consider, you change it up with your styling… maybe i am crazy with that rationale but i am loving my new shorter ‘do and loving jennifer lawrence’s as well. props to her.

  • anna banana

    i think you smell