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s someone with long, curly hair — the kind that frequently feels like a more powerful accessory than a favorite necklace or pair of shoes — I spend a decent amount of time thinking about the connection between the stuff that grows out of my head and the stuff that goes on inside of it. In other words, I’m deeply intrigued by the close interplay between hair and identity. Considering that hair can be easily altered, that it’s programmed to grow back no matter what you do to it, isn’t it fascinating that we imbue it with so much power?

The truth is, a dramatic haircut really can feel like a seismic shift, not only in terms of how you look but also in terms of how you dress and how you act. That’s why committing to getting one takes guts. It takes extra guts when the dramatic haircut in question is one you never thought you’d get, which is exactly the kind of chop four Man Repeller community members received last week at the hands of Hairstory stylist Wes Sharpton. Read about their experiences below (spoiler alert: It’s a real treat).


Sarina

What’s the one haircut you never thought you’d get?

A roundish, neck-length shag.

Why were you initially opposed? What made you change your mind?

From an emotional standpoint, I was afraid I wouldn’t like how the haircut turned out and then I would have to walk around with it on my head for months. I was also worried my potential disappointment would justify not taking more risks in the future. From a practical standpoint, having long hair is pretty handy. Mine is textured enough that when it’s long, I can twist it into a bun without a hair tie and it stays put. I knew if I cut it off, I would miss that.

At the same time, I recognized that my hair would always grow back. I started to understand that my underlying fear was more about how I would explain why I cut it. Was I rejecting femininity? Was I embracing femininity? My long hair has always been one of the first things people associated with me. It was tied to my identity, even though that’s not what I intended when I let it grow out. It wasn’t a statement, but it was a safety blanket — a part of myself that I didn’t have to question. I fretted that a major change in my appearance would reveal the existence of my inner identity turmoil, which in high school is a particularly terrifying prospect. As someone who likes to maintain an assured persona, I wondered what it would feel like to expose that I have absolutely no idea who I am.

Ultimately, I decided to ignore my existential angst. I decided I don’t need to justify myself to other people and, most importantly, that I can be excited by the idea of not having everything figured out yet and just cut my hair already.

How did it feel to finally take the plunge? Do you like it?

Chopping my hair was liberating. I didn’t notice how much it weighed me down both physically and metaphorically. Wes did such a great job, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out. It definitely has me living in my ’70s dreamscape.

How do you think this haircut will affect the way you act?

Judging by how well the haircut turned out, I’ll be taking more risks in the future. I think this shag will be my gateway to loosening up in general. Looking back, I realize that I shouldn’t have been so nervous, and I wish I had chopped it off sooner. Sigh. I guess I need to buy some hair ties now.


Brittany

What’s the one haircut you never thought you’d get?

A mullet.

Why were you initially opposed? What made you change your mind?

It’s definitely a fraught hairstyle. For a long time, when I thought “mullet,” an image of Billy Ray Cyrus in the ’90s would pop into my head, which isn’t generally what I’m trying to emulate. For years, the prospect of any haircut, let alone a risky one, was unthinkable to me, and even as I’ve slowly come to embrace new lengths and colors, I’ve still stayed within a certain comfort zone. However, after moving to Bushwick (which I assume has the most mullets per capita of any New York neighborhood), I started seeing ones that were both fashionable and feminine, and this new versatility really intrigued me. At a certain point I realized it was time for me to evolve past my blunt cut (maintained via dull scissors in dorm rooms), so I cautiously committed to getting the haircut I’d become so preoccupied with: the mullet!

How did it feel to finally take the plunge? Do you like it?

It felt exciting and nerve-wracking. I was so disoriented on my way to the salon that I nearly entered through the building’s freight entrance. Nevertheless, I eventually arrived at the proper address and I couldn’t be happier with the final product! My sister compared it to Joan Jett’s hair on the I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll album and I didn’t even have to bait her to say it, so it’s been really ideal.

How do you think this haircut will affect the way you act?

I’m hoping that as I inhabit a hairstyle that’s more unruly, I’ll allow myself to loosen up more with my appearance. I tend to dress with a certain exactness. It’s exhilarating for me to steam my clothes each morning and it’s really important for me to feel like the colors in my outfits coordinate and that my overall appearance is fairly polished. Especially coupled with the bold makeup and jewelry I’m inclined to wear, I feel like this jagged mullet is going to add some really cool dissonance to my more “put together” ensembles, and I’m so stoked to play with that!


Ariel

What’s the one haircut you never thought you’d get?

A buzz cut.

Why were you initially opposed? What made you change your mind?

I don’t know if I was exactly opposed, but I’d long orbited the style and was looking for a sign (I ended up receiving multiple). Part of my motivation was simply pragmatism. I had so much thick hair, which was expensive and took a lot of time to maintain, but I’d never gone shorter than a bob or had so much new growth in my hair’s natural state.

Some of my motivation stemmed from growing up and being told that having “good” or “long” hair is important. I could write many books on what learning that as a Black girl has meant for my Black adult self (or how the generational wisdom regarding the aesthetics Black women passed on to Black girls to ensure a smoother existence in a non-Black public plays out in 2018). But, long story short, my baby rebellion of opting for only slightly shorter hair just wasn’t cutting it (haha) anymore.

And some of it, I’ll admit, was stress and sadness: I just moved back to New York, and I’m working a ton but am still beyond broke. The idea of getting a buzzcut was my means of navigating the recent loss of my grandmother/personal style icon PLUS the gooey, complicated space of hurt/-ful family. Hair maintenance was starting to feel like a symbolical rehashing of all these dilemmas every day, and I was never satisfied with any one style.

With all that in mind, going home for my Nana’s service earlier this month involved taking in a lot of photos and realizing that her stylistic “peak” involved — and had kind of always involved — little-to-no hair. A huge chop suddenly felt like a good way to feel a little less stuck, a little more in touch with her memory, and to realize my agency at this stage of my life.

How did it feel to finally take the plunge? Do you like it?

It felt fine — until the day before, which felt more, “Oh…wait shit, really?” The subway ride to the deed itself was spent in a full-on dissociative, wide-eyed dream state. But in the chair, watching my hair fall was somehow easy. It also helped that Wes and Louisiana were amazing at building the hype and reassuring me that this was indeed a Good Decision. For now, I’m easing into feeling the wind on my scalp and always seeing my absurdly small ears. I’ve already forgotten how I look with a head full of hair — and that’s very cool.

How do you think this haircut will affect the way you act?

I’m excited about observing a potential shift in my behavior, because hair is at once so personal and interpersonal! Right now I feel pretty mousy/hyper-aware because the shave is so fresh, but with time I’ll be out in the world and dealing with strangers, more settled into the new look. There are public social advantages large and small that I’m sure I’ve exchanged just by getting rid of my hair — that snap association with more normative “pretty” femininity being the main one — and seeing that change in the way people interact with me might in turn have its own impact on my general attitude.

I see myself with the buzz, though, as…kinda no-bullshit? For sure a teensy bit “smirking sunglasses emoji.” The cut itself notwithstanding, I’ve gone through a lot of hard adjustments in the past 12+ months. Buzzing off my hair feels like I’ve launched a change on my own terms for something that matters to me, which makes it possible to look back with more pride on what I have accomplished over the past year (new hair, new context?). Time will tell if my longstanding aesthetic of “eccentric celestial aunt/grandma who spent ten formative years on the Upper West Side” will survive the cut, though; if it doesn’t, I imagine more of a “Sailor Scout estate sale clothes shopping for themed club parties” vibe is my next logical style step.


Denise

What’s the one haircut you never thought you’d get?

Baby bangs! I have fine, thin hair that is on the wavy/curly line and I have a very hard time finding the right person to cut it. My last two haircuts were way too short and not what I wanted (basically cutting all my hair off), so I’ve been trying to grow it out since January.

And yet! I have a dream haircut — a blunt bob around my chin with baby bangs. I am totally into the bob but am scared to death of the bangs. I’ve tried bangs before, but long ones. In grad school, I flat-ironed them and left the rest curly (oh, the mistakes of youth) and the rest of the time I’ve just pushed them to the side and grown them out.

I’d decided to get the long bob but without the bangs, even though I wanted them, because I felt like they wouldn’t work for me. But dammit, shouldn’t I just go for it for once? I’m 39 years old. If not now, when???

Why were you initially opposed? What made you change your mind?

Bangs don’t usually work on my curly hair. I’ve never worn curly bangs as they are hard to control and they make me feel self-conscious. For some reason, wearing them straight across my forehead and curly seemed somehow aggressive and “too much,” and I was worried about the amount of time and effort styling would take. But I had a hair inspiration folder that was 95 percent curly short bangs — it’s clearly what I wanted, so why not just go for it?

How did it feel to finally take the plunge? Do you like it?

I was really on the fence in the days preceding my cut. I (hopefully) have a job interview coming up and didn’t want to change my hair right before, and I was also worried about not liking the cut and being stuck with a high-maintenance style. But the whole point was that this was supposed to be a haircut that terrified me, right?

I love the cut. Wes really cared about working with my hair and teaching me how to style it. He kept the length in the front and just trimmed the back and bangs. It wasn’t long enough for the bob length but it looks good as is and will grow into what I want. And the bangs — they are a miracle. I just air dry everything and the bangs come out perfectly. Not too long, not too short, and they sit well with their natural texture. I’m actually wearing them across my forehead, big and bushy! It’s outside of my comfort zone, but I like it!

How do you think this haircut will affect the way you act?

I’ve been on a journey of expressing myself through my clothes and style without being so concerned about standing out or what other people think. I recently lost over 100 pounds and am slowly discovering the ways in which I was suppressing my style for fear of standing out (I thought if I wasn’t making an effort, no one could judge me). I’ve completely rebuilt my wardrobe since then, purchasing the majority of my new stuff from vintage or secondhand stores. I’ve found myself buying really unique pieces that I love but then not wearing them, so I started a new policy called “wear your clothes!” I now wear everything I love as a result, even if I think it makes me stand out or is a bit weird. It’s been completely liberating.

I’ve finally stepped outside my comfort zone in favor of a hairstyle that’s a little zany — curly, a bit boxy, with short bangs. And instead of feeling self-conscious about it, I feel confident and at peace. This is me being who I am for me, not for anyone else. So what if I’ve got some wild bangs? I feel like it’s all part of the process of me coming out of my shell and living life for me.

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

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