With each dramatic chop, I feel more and more like myself.
Shannon Bauer Selfie
Credit: Shannon Bauer/Jakkrapat/Getty

"Are you sure this is what you want to do?" my hairstylist asked, her worried face staring back at me in the mirror.

I responded yes; I was sure.

"There's no going back, you know."

I knew, but in an effort to assure her of my confidence I turned my head around, looked her straight in the eye with a huge grin (beneath my face mask), and told her that I was positive about my decision.

By the look of near-terror on her face, you'd think I was electing for a risky medical procedure or agreeing to a Post Malone-esque face tattoo. In reality? I was just cutting my hair. Well, saying that I was just cutting my hair is like calling 2020 a mild inconvenience. I was saying goodbye to my waist-length locks, snipping off a full foot, and donating 10 inches of that to Children with Hair Loss. Unlike my hairstylist, however, I wasn't nervous. Over the past decade, I'd grown out and donated my hair three separate times; this most recent chop was my fourth.

My Cyclical History with Sheers

Since my first major haircut 10 years ago, I've developed a pattern: I donate my hair whenever my life is in some kind of transition. But I'm no Disney Princess. I can't sprout eight inches overnight like one of those hair-growth dolls with a knob in their back for adding length. (Ugh, if only.) Rather I just always have the idea of hair donation in the back of my mind. And when I'm in a "growing-out" phase —  which usually happens about two years after my last donation — I start to toy with the possibility of doing it once again. Eventually, I pull the trigger to make the chop — and it always seems to be when I'm in the eye of an emotional hurricane.

"Many women feel as if their hair in one season doesn't connect with who they visualize being in the next," says Abra McField, hair loss practitioner, hairstylist, and owner of Abra Kadabra Hair & Healing in St. Louis. This could not be truer for me; I reinvent myself with each snip. The first time I donated my hair was just a few days before high school graduation where I gave the class address. The next was a week after college graduation; then after two deaths in my family and again right before starting a new job. Most recently? July 2020, in the midst of, yes, the coronavirus pandemic. (Related: What You Need to Know About COVID-19 and Hair Loss)

It doesn't take much self-analysis to realize that the external transformation of going from loooong to short is a reflection of the major internal upheaval happening. And it's actually a pretty common reaction. "Physical changes during life transitions can be a way to feature that milestone and can also be a stabilizer for the feelings of unsettlement and uncertainty," says Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Westchester, New York and adjunct faculty member at New York University. Simply put: It's a counterbalance to the feelings of being out of control and fearful of the future.

The Power of Perspective 

Through years of misguided trends, I've had nearly every haircut ranging from Victoria Beckham-esque bobs and such long strands that even Rapunzel would be jealous to thick Zooey Deschanel bangs and Rachel McAdams circa 2004 asymmetrical layers. Clearly, I'm not someone to have the same 'do for decades — or for subtlety. Dramatic hair changes that fit each stage of my life make me feel more like myself. That's not to say I don't understand resistance to change — quite the opposite actually. For example, my red hair is a huge part of my identity. Suggesting I dye my hair blonde would warrant the same wide-eyed reaction as asking me to get the aforementioned face tat. And for many other women, their cut, color, or texture is an integral part of their character, representing, say, their womanhood, strength, or uniqueness. If a woman has a strong attachment to her hair because it is symbolic of how she is choosing to see herself, it can impact her emotionally, says Maidenberg.

When that attachment is loosened or broken, as it is following a major cut or color change, it allows more room for flexibility and could potentially change preconceived notions you have about yourself. "In my practice, I have seen women who were socially anxious cut or color their hair in a way they felt softened them up, was more youthful, or felt sexier," says Maidenberg. "It enabled their self-belief and self-love, which prompted them to take more initiative, make their needs known, and put themselves out there more openly and authentically in their relationships."

Cliched dating advice says don't make any big changes after a breakup. Don't dye your hair black. Don't get bangs. While the thought isn't terrible — wait until you're less fragile to make such an impactful decision — there's a reason the post-breakup haircut is a thing. Because making a physical shift that reflects what's happening to you emotionally or where you want to be following this turmoil can feel pretty damn good. So if you want to get a new 'do? I'm here to be the BFF that encourages you to have your woman-scorned moment. (I'd also recommend getting one of the best sex toys for women on Amazon, just sayin'.)

None of my epic haircuts have been the result of a breakup...yet. But there's emotional baggage that's cut away, collected, and shipped off along with the donated strands of hair. You're quite literally trimming off dead weight, so you can start over with a new perspective. Don't picture this like the plot of an Amy Schumer movie; it's not just a few snips and suddenly you're sauntering out of the salon with an over-bloated sense of self-worth. It's a quieter kind of confidence.

Whether it's 10-inches donated styled with sweeping side bangs or extra-dramatic layers, I look into the mirror to see someone who's powerful, capable, compassionate, and, if I'm being completely honest, a little more vulnerable. Sure, I was a strong, independent lady before my hairstylist took shears to my strands. But it's easy to forget all of your accolades when, say, a pandemic is unfolding or your embarking on a new career path. That first glance in the mirror post-chop, however, changes all of that. I'm able to see the version of me who's able to and going to go headfirst into the next challenge. There's a reason this metamorphosis doesn't come from a trim. This isn't any ol' haircut, there's a bravery that only comes with cutting nearly a foot of hair in one fell swoop.

Plus, there's the added element of knowing what I'm "losing" is being "given" to someone else. Similarly to when you spend an afternoon volunteering, doing something for others gives you a sense of accomplishment and boosts your own self-confidence. Donating your hair to people experiencing hair loss is incredibly selfless, and I believe everyone who is able to, should do it once in their lifetime. And when you think of the attachment you have to your own hair, literally giving the hair off your head feels meaningful and significant in a way that writing a check to your favorite charity just can't touch.

"Whenever someone in my salon donated their hair, they would often talk about being reminded to be grateful for their own health and like they were truly making a difference in somebody's life. It made the sacrifice easier," says McField. And don't get me wrong, these feelings are powerful on their own, but it's the emotions I feel in the weeks and months after that drive me to continue to grow, then cut, then repeat (the cycle). (See also: These Vitamins for Hair Growth Will Give You the Rapunzel-Like Locks of Your Dreams.)

Four Down, Countless More Cuts to Go

To quote every boss, news anchor, politician, human: 2020 has been an unprecedented year. Quarantine has certainly made life feel almost unbearably hard, and considering I can experience the full spectrum of human emotion in a single hour thanks to the uncertainty of COVID-19, I wasn't sure what this most recent haircut would bring. But, even in a seemingly perpetual pandemic, there's still a transformative power to a good (and, IMO, dramatic) haircut. I went with a sassy, chin-length sweep that feels fitting to go up against this dumpster fire of a year — even if it's just from the comfort of my apartment.