“The easiest way to change this, in my mind, was to go to Boots to pick up some hair dye and hope this made me look in the mirror and feel happy again.”
For hair dye > therapy enthusiasts: Rebecca opens up about how her hair reflected her mental state over time.
“Hair is everything. We wish it wasn’t so we could think about something else occasionally, but it is. It’s the difference between a good day and a bad day. We think of it as a symbol of power.”
Those of you who watched the BBC series Fleabag will no doubt remember this scene. Claire has had a questionable haircut, and rushes to sort things out with the hairdresser.
For many people, this may just be a joke scene with a bad trim, but it’s something that resonated deeply for me. Throughout my ups and downs of mental health, it was difficult for even me to tell if things were going downhill, or uphill.
When I watched this scene, however, I realised a common factor: my hair.
During primary school and into secondary, I was painfully shy and self-conscious. My mum cut my hair, and although it was always “okay”, I never had pride in my hair. It was frizzy, bushy, hard to manage.
When I was 13 I had my first professional haircut. It felt amazing. I was complimented for my hair for the first time, I felt a million dollars and my confidence increased. However, my hair quickly grew out again, which coincided with me getting my first set of hair straighteners. Finally, I could be “like the other girls”, with sleek straight locks.
The only thing was, it took well over an hour to straighten my hair every morning, which led to its own problems: early mornings, fear of rain and post-PE frizz. I become demoralized with my hair and with my appearance, and my self-consciousness increased.
When I was 16, I dyed my hair black. I know, a bit late for an emo phase. During this period of my life, I hated myself. I was depressed and wanted to be someone who I wasn’t.
The easiest way to change this, in my mind, was to go to Boots to pick up some bottom-shelf hair dye and hope this made me look in the mirror and feel happy again.
Shock horror: it didn’t work. But it did give me some pride; I looked in the mirror and saw I could change myself, and I liked how it looked.
I dyed it several times, but eventually as my roots grew out, I grew out of my depression. I then left school and went to university. There, I discovered I didn’t have frizzy hair, but curly. I’d just been using the wrong products. I built up a routine. Wash day was structured and I took care over what I was putting in my hair.
Every time I had a meeting, a presentation, or a special occasion, it wasn’t my makeup or outfit that made me ready; if I’d done my hair I was ready for anything.
This worked well for several months, but then I started slipping on my routine. It was January, exam season, and all the stresses and anxieties were piling up. It wasn’t until several mental ups and downs that I realised that there was always a warning sign before I went down the wrong track. If my hair routine was getting neglected, then it meant my anxiety and depression was increasing.
Now, if I skip my routine for more than a week, I sit down, and self-reflect. Do I have any stressors or anxieties? What can I do to mitigate this? Obviously, it’s not a cure-all, but It definitely has helped me time and again to nip things in the bud and to stop me spiralling.
For some people this warning sign might be skincare. It might be skipping the gym. It might be food. For me, hair is everything.