It is a balmy evening when Rahul’s eyes slant across a crowded room to his college best friend, Anjali, for the first time in eight years in the cult classic Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). Gone is the bob-haired tomboy of the fore; in her place stands a confident woman assured of her self-worth. While the decidedly feminine undertones of Anjali’s makeover and the movie’s patriarchal compass have since sparked debate, it cannot be ignored that when she is looking to crawl out of an emotional spiral, she turns to her hair to afford her a sense of agency.
And Anjali wouldn’t be the only one. The pop culture canvas is blanketed with examples of women who have wielded the power of a hair makeover as a conduit for ephemeral escapism. In 2007, troubled pop legend Britney Spears famously walked into a suburban salon and proceeded to shave her head. Having fled from rehab and being denied the opportunity to see her sons, raising a pair of clippers to her hair was the young pop star’s attempt to wrestle some vestige of control over her publicised life. Elsewhere, an intrepid Emily gave herself a rosé-inflicted blunt fringe that she termed as ‘trauma bangs’ in the newest season of Emily in Paris.
Spears’ story is familiar to any woman tempted into the siren song of a transformative pixie after a heartbreak. Attempting to reinvent our physical image might only offer a synthesised sense of control, but during times of turmoil, the cathartic act of hacking off your length can translate into a metaphorical sense of lifting a ‘weight’ and profoundly letting go for the journey towards healing and acceptance to begin.