The haircut: A body image trial

Having just completed an incredibly challenging year abroad, I decided I needed a change. Something radical. So why not chop off all of my hair? It would the perfect symbol of growth, accomplishment, and moving on, I thought. Which was totally valid. But I’m glad I didn’t go through with it.

See, what I was imagining wasn’t just a symbolic change — it was a complete physical transformation. I’ve been personally working against unrealistic beauty ideals for a few years, trying to help myself shake external, arbitrary expectations of what I should look like for the sake of living a full, healthy life that isn’t focused on my appearance.

But once in a while, I fall back into my old habits. And when I thought about getting a new haircut, I wasn’t just picturing a personal triumphant moment, I was picturing myself looking like the images on  the right.

These are the images of haircuts we see on TV, in magazines, and on hair salon posters. And when I’m looking for a new “do,” how can I help but superimpose my own face on these models and hope for a similar result? I can even use InStyle magazine’s website, which encourages you to give yourself a “makeover” by pasting the hairstyle of a celebrity onto a picture of yourself to see what you would look like if you had their hair.

But amateur Photoshopping aside, I could only ever achieve these looks with hours of styling a week and, more importantly, complete reconstruction of my jawlines and cheekbones. Getting the haircut wouldn’t accomplish what the media-influenced, body-obsessed side of me was truly hoping for: to look like the girls in the magazines. To be someone I am not.

As I headed for the hair salon, I caught myself. And I took a breath. And I got my hair trimmed. I still want to chop it all off in the near future — I’ve always wanted a short cut and there’s no reason I shouldn’t go for it! But when I do, I want the decision to come not from a place of accommodation and negative body image, but from a place of self-actualization and confidence in being myself.

Gabriella Feingold is body image enthusiast, an actor, and a singer. She is currently an administrative coordinator for a non-profit in New York and continues to pursue creative work in human rights and social justice.

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