Restless Hair Syndrome Is Totally a Thing, And I Totally Have It

When I'm restless, I feel the ache for change — change of city, change of friends, change of jobs. But instead, all I can change is my hair.
Publish date:
June 6, 2016
hair color, hairstyles, stress, hair changes, grief

Why is our hair so important to our sanity? Why, in a time of crisis or major life event, do we feel the need to make a physical change to our appearance?

My theory (one of many): because it is one of the few things in our lives that we have complete control over. No one can tell us how to manage that aspect of ourselves. With so much pressure for women to look, dress, and act a certain way, hair, for some, is the only true freedom of expression. For others it's tattoos and piercings, (or any number of bodily changes to our appearance) but even those can negatively affect things like a job hunt.

When things are spiraling out of hand and you've lost a grip on things, your hair can be the constant — the thing you can decide on and predict the outcome of.

I grew up incessantly dissatisfied with my hair. Or so I thought. Every other month, I wanted a new color, a new cut — something to really reflect who I was and how I was feeling at that time.

I had quite an emotional childhood to say the least. There was a divorce before I was born, step-family, a lot of yelling and fighting, and a lot of pressure to behave exactly as expected. I couldn't paint my nails certain colors. I couldn't dye my hair. I couldn't have anything pierced except my ears. I had to dress modestly. At school, I had a uniform. How was I to reflect the inner turmoil of who I was? To express myself? The only option I had left: a haircut. Usually a drastic one. I would grow my hair out beautiful and long only to chop it all off and get a brief rush from such a change that reflected my wide range of emotion.

And then box dyes starting making appearances. I'm a natural dirty blonde, so first came brown. Then black. Then I stripped it so I could dye it red. Then blonde again with black streaks (my sister lovingly referred to these as "skunk chunks"). Pretty soon, every time I felt the world was crashing in around me, it would reflect in my hair. I was a very angsty teen.

As I got to college, I had more freedom. My father wasn't around to see me as I went four hours away, and I had "money" to actually have it done instead of doing it myself. I also mistook my passion for hair coloring as a clue that I definitely wanted to be a hairstylist one day, but that's whole other story.

In college, I was red, then blonde, then brown, then maroon, then blonde again. And then I stayed blonde for a while. And then, with no reasonable answer as to why, I thought it would be a good idea to perm my hair. And then my hairstylist insisted I cut it and start fresh and LEAVE IT ALONE because it was so dried up and crispy that I couldn't even brush it.

So I did. And for a while, it was blonde and grew out and I was happy and realized I didn't need to change things for a while.

And then a very big relationship ended and I dyed my hair red again.

Then I moved and got depressed, so I cut over a foot of my hair off and dyed it pink.

And then, when pink faded back to blonde I let it get healthy (aka less crunchy) and I met someone. And fell in love. And found a steady job. And my hair has been blonde since.

For the past two years, I haven't done a thing to it. And then I got dumped this week and am currently contemplating my next move. Silver? Lavender? White-blonde? So many options to release my pain!

Sorry for the detailed timeline of my hair, but you get the gist. And I realized it's not just me. It's celebrities, it's (female) characters in shows and movies. Look at Britney. Look at Hannah from Girls. Look at your friends! I have many friends who have done the same. And I wanna know why.

I spoke with one of these friends who is actually a male model; he generally kept his hair long and wore a beard. At one point, he hit a very painful step in his life, and he said that he inexplicably felt the need to shave. Everything. And so he did.

He later thought that maybe it was a show of deep grief — like something such as hair should not be a concern when there are so many more important things happening. He likened it to older traditions in biblical times when people used to pull out their hair when in mourning. Was it cultural or was it an instinct, to carry no self-frivolities when truly and deeply grieving?

For my own personal quest, I think it's an effort to feel more in control when things are happening around me that I can't control. I've noticed that when I'm restless, I feel the ache for change — change of city, change of friends, change of jobs. But instead, all I can change is my hair.

So I do. It calms me. For about a week. Until the next crisis that I can't handle comes along and my life seems to be spiraling out of control. The more restless and out-of-control I feel the more daring the hair change. It could be something to have control over, or it could be so simple that when I'm feeling super-shitty and generic, I want something new and fresh, to make me stand out.

Whatever the reason is, I don't think this makes me weaker, or less sane. I think it actually is just some sort of creative outlet or expression. If I were even slightly artistic, I'd probably be madly painting to get all of my emotions out. If I were a musician, I would be writing the saddest and angriest songs in the book. But I'm not. I'm a girl who works an ordinary job and lives an ordinary life and sometimes just needs an extraordinary change to feel a little less ordinary.