You Should Cut Your Own Hair

I was standing in front of my mirror, holding a piece of my bangs between two fingers like a cigarette. Eyes crossed in concentration, I sliced down. This wasn’t the first time I’d cut my hair; it’s not even the first time I cut my own bangs. But it is the first time I used any semblance of a technique, and now that I have it, no one will ever stop me from yelling about the power of cutting your own hair. 

Last week I took Jayne Matthews’s online DIY bang trimming course, which is technically a two-hour Zoom recording from 2020. Matthews was a huge name in hair even before the pandemic, but when she had to close her salon she pivoted to virtual haircuts before launching her online courses in DIY cutting. Matthews specializes in shaggy, lived-in cuts that evoke Cool Girls through the decades: Jane Birkin, Audrey Hepburn, Stevie Nicks, and Alexa Chung. Her social media feeds are filled with mullets and shags, bangs and French bobs and pixies. 

Like plucking my eyebrows too thin or shaving above the knee, cutting my own hair always felt forbidden, like in my ignorance I could do irreparable damage to my appearance that I would regret forever. That didn’t stop me from doing it, though. I would surreptitiously snip chunks from the ends in art class and be thrilled when the cut disappeared into the rest of my hair. The slice of the blade cutting through this thing that felt like such a symbol of my me-ness was intoxicating because I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to do. 

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The first time I cut my own hair with an aesthetic in mind was in seventh grade. I decided I wanted little cheekbone-grazing side bangs like Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap. I snipped them with a pair of craft scissors and they looked so stupid, but I was high on the power of altering my appearance myself. I remember every home-cutting experiment since; the attempted layers I gave my best friend one night in high school, the chop I gave myself between video chat meetings in May 2020, and so very many attempts at trimming my bangs. One afternoon in January 2021 (none of us were doing well back then), I emerged from a bang trim in the bathroom with uneven bangs cut way too short. I asked my husband if they looked bad, and he just looked at me and said, “I love you.” Even as I list these out, I can hear my mom’s voice in my head, urgently pleading with me to stop cutting your hair. But why?! 

In Matthews I’ve finally found someone who agrees with me, and who was willing to teach me how to do what she does. At first, I found the whole enterprise surprising; why would a hairdresser cannibalize her own clients by teaching them to do what she does? One way to think about cutting your own hair is learning how to cook for yourself at home. It’s great to go out to restaurants to enjoy professionally prepared food every once in a while, but it’s a crucial, basic skill to be able to feed yourself on a daily basis.

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This reframing of hair cutting feels so much more radical than just learning the basics of a trade you can practice at home. Culturally, the image of a woman cutting her hair implies insanity or a crisis of some sort. There is something that bums me out about ceding so much of the control of how I show up in the world to another person. No one in the whole world has spent as much time with my hair as me, and learning to trust my own knowledge of my hair feels like a huge shift. Expertise is something that absolutely exists in our world, but I also have my share of haircut regrets from people who I didn’t feel quite got what I was going for, or didn’t understand how my hair’s texture would react to a particular cut. One stylist insisted on blow-drying and straightening my hair before touching it with shears, ensuring that my hair would only look right if it was also blown dry and straightened. Knowledge and training and experience all count for something, but not enough to give up your agency or the fun of trying new things for yourself. This counts for your hair but also other parts of your appearance—try making your own clothes, or give yourself a tattoo. The fear of trying these things for yourself is tied to a fear of not being “pretty,” which I get. As a cis woman, I’ve been socialized my whole life to value beauty as a fundamental value. There’s so much more on the other side of pretty, though, and not to get all Marxist on your asses, but seize the means of production when it comes to expressing yourself! 

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Under Viv Chen’s video demonstrating Matthews’s technique (great bangs, btw), one of the comments illustrates the fear I think so many of us feel when taking our appearances into our own hands: “Bangs are #1 on the fk around and find out list. Go to your hairstylist, don’t saw off random bits like this.” That commenter is totally right. Fuck around and find out. It will always grow back. 


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