It started as a casual curiosity: if I happened to witness a quarantine haircut in my newsfeed, I'd linger on the post, savoring the anticipation, the satisfying crunch of dead ends between blades, and then gasp of shock, followed by relief. Then, my interest evolved into an intentional hunt; I'd type "quarantine cut," or "DIY hair cut" into the search bar on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. I'd spend hours scrolling through videos, watching the same series of events: the sectioning of hair, the eventual slice between length and freedom, and then the celebration: a detached section of splayed strands, like a pom pom. Watching quarantine haircut videos became my secret pleasure.
It's like a formulaic TV show: despite all of the trepidation and nerves, you know there's going to be a happy camper shaking out a breezy cut — a dazzling display of liberty that's so enticing, you think about doing it yourself. The videos are easy to get hooked on. The hashtag #haircut has 6 billion views on TikTok. There are about 50 million posts on Instagram tagged #haircut, and quarantine cuts have been trending on YouTube for weeks. I'm clearly not the only one obsessed with these videos, but why are they so fascinating?
"It's about control. Think about it this way: typically people come in for about three hair cuts a year, and yet after only a few weeks in quarantine, people are feeling the urge to cut their hair — it's not about hair," hairstylist Vincent Minchelli tells Bustle. "It's about taking control of your life and of how you look, and it's about salvation," he says.
For weeks, my interest was a voyeuristic hobby — I was living for the emotional ride, without ever touching the scissors. But one Saturday afternoon in March, I locked myself in the bathroom and sectioned my hip-length hair into two pigtails, slick over my chest with Wednesday Addams precision. At first it was just a trim; half an inch. Then, I got more confident and tied the rubber band markers three inches up. I shook it out and ran my fingers through my hair; though it didn't look much shorter, it already felt new. My ends were thick and soft, my follicles seemed energized, and immediately my roots lifted from the pull of gravity. I sectioned and prepared my hair again, two more inches, and then two more, and then two more. A phone call saved me from going shorter. My voice shook with fizzy excitement as I told my friend I was looking at 10 inches of hair in the sink.
"There is this idea that not only is a haircut a new look, but potentially an opportunity to be a new person, which is a seductive prospect for many people who struggle with feelings of futility in their life," clinical therapist Caroline Given, L.C.S.W., tells Bustle. This might resonate with people now more than ever. Even if you have no intention of altering anything about yourself, Given says that there is an element involved in haircutting tied to "shedding the past." When we cut our hair, "we're permanently removing something that was a fixture in our former experiences to make room for something new," Given explains. It can be symbolic of turning to a new page — a theme that's relevant right now for all.
"Doing a big chop is like a dare: it's exciting to watch, and it's exciting to participate," Minchelli says. Whether you're aware of it or not, he says that when you watch a haircutting video, you see the person who has taken their hair into their own hands as strong. "It takes strength to do a big cut, and when you watch it happen, you think you want to be strong, too," Minchelli says. This is true not just of watching hair videos online, but also in the salon. Back when his New York City salon was open, he'd notice all eyes on clients getting haircuts. "There's a lot of satisfaction in making a change, and the joy of feeling lightness after a big cut is very real — even to watch."
My quarantine haircut does not look great. It's an awkward length, it's uneven, and the ends are so blunt and dense, I've been told I now resemble the Sphinx. But the haircut helped me let go of a lot of emotional and literal weight. As quarantine restrictions lift, my haircut remains a physical reminder of this experience and the ways in which it has changed me, invisibly. And, I have a great excuse support my hairdresser when he reopens for business.
Caroline Given, L.C.S.W., clinical therapist and social worker.