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Why Does Social Distancing Make People Change Their Hair?

Why Does Social Distancing Make Everyone Want to Change Their Hair So Drastically?

CLUELESS, Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy, Stacey Dash, 1995

A couple of weeks ago, after writing a story on how to cut bangs at home, I too considered for a brief moment if I would look good with bangs . . . before snapping out of it. The last time I had a fringe, I was 6 years old, and I've never wanted them before in my adult life. (Because quite honestly, I don't think they would look good on me.) This random thought, combined with the multitude of at-home hair transformations that have happened over the past few months, was all I needed to convince me that something about the coronavirus makes people want to change their hair. But what?

Candidly, this is a very weird time we're in. Nothing about the current situation is "normal." Over the past few months, businesses have shut down, people have lost their jobs, and we haven't been able to interact with people in person, save for the few people we reside with. During this prolonged work-from-home situation, psychologists and industry experts alike have made a case for putting on trousers, maybe swiping on a quick coat of mascara — anything to help us find a sense of normalcy. But drastically altering your hair, be it by giving yourself a fringe or dyeing it a totally random colour (I'm looking at you, Hilary Duff with your blue hair) is the opposite. Is it the stress of the pandemic that makes people want to change their hair colour or practice their at-home haircutting skills, or is it just boredom?

"When we experience stress, it's our natural inclination to want to do something, anything, to respond, adapt, and cope with the stressor, especially when said stressor is uncontrollable and unexpected," said Christie Ferrari, also known as Dr. C, clinical psychologist and blogger. She explained that people typically deal with stress in one of four ways: by getting angry, by distancing themselves, by seeking support from family and friends, and lastly, by accepting responsibility and engaging in problem-solving.

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"Cutting our hair or changing our physical appearance falls into three different types of coping and can be seen as a common reaction to a stressful event," said Dr. C. "These include, wanting to gain control of the stressor, seek social support, and wanting to grow out of adversity. Think: 'I came out looking better after the quarantine.'"

Morgan Francis, LPC, a doctor of clinical psychology and licensed therapist, confirms that notion on wanting to gain back some control in our day-to-day. "With everything being so out of control and so uncertain, this is something I can control," said Dr. Francis. "I can control how I want my hair to look."

But the sudden increase in hair changes goes even deeper than that. In fact, the type of hair change, and more specifically the colours people are choosing, can mean something different. We're seeing many adults dye their hair bright, fun colours like pink, blue, and purple, as opposed to traditional hair colours, and Dr. Francis said that this may not be as random as we think. "Dyeing hair these colours that you would see younger girls want to put in their hair is an adolescent type of behaviour," said Dr. Francis. "And so this could be an indication of just a regression of emotions, and thoughts, and then behaviour. Because really, this pandemic has triggered a lot of traumatic responses for some people."

Both Dr. C and Dr. Francis said it can also have something to do with our self-image. "Stressors, like the pandemic, can heighten or create dissatisfaction with our personal body image, and wanting to make a change to our appearance can be the result of us wanting to improve our self-image and naturally feel better," said Dr. C. This want to look different can also stem from spending more time in front of the mirror. (Something I'm guilty of myself.)

"I would imagine for people that are coming out of quarantine, they're going to want a whole new look when they go into the salon," said Dr. Francis. "Because they're like, 'OK, I'm sick of this look. I've been looking at my hair 24/7, because I've been at home I've had more time to look in the mirror.'" This means we're going to see even more hair changes post-COVID-19, but hopefully by a professional this time, rather than a DIY attempt. It's all about a fresh start.

Image Source: Everett Collection
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