In defense of bangs
Fresh off the plane back from my study abroad experience in Paris, and standing in front of the mirror in my mother’s bathroom, I took a pair of kitchen scissors and haphazardly cut a fringe, framing the front of my forehead. The bangs were uneven, a little too thick on the right side of my forehead, and very clearly an amateur job — but they immediately made me feel transformed, like a new woman.
When my mom saw my handiwork later that evening, her knee jerk response was, “Oh god, Meghann, what have you done?” My friends had a similar response (I’d consulted with very few people prior to my decision). In general, the theme seemed to be one of cautious support with a wary undertone of, “Are you sure you’re OK?” I reassured them that I was, in fact, doing well, and that the bangs were a conscious fashion decision and not the product of a mental breakdown — perhaps trying to convince myself as much as them.
I didn't think it would take much convincing because, for the most part, I felt like I was doing well. I returned from Paris feeling more confident, independent and solid in my identity. This was a year of change and new experiences, and I was going to embrace it fully — hair and all. Cutting my bangs was another exciting change in an era of my life where things seemed to be constantly in flux, and I was completely OK with that.
This was the dominant narrative I was telling myself. There was one big “but” to this, however — I didn’t have a summer internship lined up. That was something I was enormously insecure about, and perhaps the anxiety surrounding that aspect of my life manifested itself into enough liquid courage to pick up the kitchen scissors.
Bangs on women tend to fall into one of two categories: 5-year-olds on their first day of kindergarten or “artsy girls” with film cameras and Monet paintings on their walls. I’d flirted with the “artsy girl” identity before (having both a film camera and Monet prints on my dorm wall), but was wary to commit to it.
As a high school senior, I was deciding between the University of Michigan and University of California-Berkeley. One of the appeals of the University of Michigan was how many different types of people I would be surrounded with. But being from California meant Berkeley was the easier option. It was in-state, I would know people there, and I’d spent a fair amount of time in Berkeley.
I also felt that everyone that went to Berkeley was the same in a familiar way — “artsy” political activists who cared about the environment and were vegetarian. I was afraid it would be too easy for me to fall into that identity without really trying to be different, without actively surrounding myself with people who didn’t come from a liberal Californian town.
So I came to Michigan, and I surrounded myself with new people. Freshman year, I definitely made some friends that were familiar artsy political activist types, but also spent a fair amount of time in circles that were more “mainstream”— and tried to make myself as palatable as possible to as wide a range of people as I could. I dressed relatively unobtrusively, I tailgated for every game day, I went to frat parties on Friday nights.
And it was great — I felt like I was getting the full “college experience.” It was also completely necessary, I think, for me to try different things and throw myself into that scene. The thing that I eventually began to come to terms with over the next few years, however, was that I wasn’t always being quite myself in these situations. I was trying to be neutral, to be whatever and whoever was expected of me in any given setting — whether that was the (pseudo) sorority girl who wore bedsheets to themed toga parties, or the political science student who wouldn’t shut up about John Locke. I wasn’t necessarily being untrue to myself. I was just trying, really hard, to be the stereotype of a million different things at once.
So, I cut my bangs. I figured that if I was going to live a life of stereotypes, I might as well pick one and run all the way with it. And while the new haircut was in part maybe just a manifestation of a need for change, it also simultaneously symbolized me letting go of the Meghann who would try to blend into every social group.
I am a stereotypically artsy liberal political activist girl from California who now lives in Kerrytown, and I am fully ready to embrace that aesthetic in the most obnoxious, cliché way possible. Cutting the bangs also gave me courage in the way haircuts tend to do. The bangs made me feel new and shiny, and view myself in a different light. I felt more confident in my own skin than I had in a long time, and the feeling lasted.
My bangs and I have been together for almost four months now, and we’re doing great.
It might just seem like a haircut — and it totally is just a haircut. I still look more or less like the same person I did a few years ago. Even my own father, who is notoriously unobservant about these things, didn’t notice my bangs until I pointed them out to him an hour into our dinner. I’m well aware that there are much more dramatic changes people can make to their lifestyle — yet, bangs still feel like they hold a special spot as a tried and true classic of self-reinvention.
Bangs tend to get a bad rap as a product of mental breakdowns and low periods of someone’s life. This narrative, however, overlooks the reality that changing one’s personal appearance (even if it’s through bangs) can be immensely cathartic — changing the filter through which the world perceives you is so empowering and in my case, made me feel more like myself than I had in a long while. And I did eventually find an internship that summer. Which probably can’t be entirely attributed to the bangs, but I’d like to think that they get at least some credit. Or at least some credit goes to the confidence and subsequent wave of motivation they gave me.
So if you’re considering bangs, my advice is to just do the damn thing. Just maybe invest in some sharper scissors than your mother’s kitchen pair.