Live Free or Try Dyeing

The Influencers 181 Add to collection
INFLUENCER: Harbour's Sara Barqawi on how the UK's search for hair dye has mapped the path of lockdown
Live Free or Try Dyeing

I’m blue. 

I’ve been blue haired since 2016. 

No, I don’t vote Conservative.

Why blue? Well, it was purple. All beside the point, though. I didn’t come out of my mum’s fanny this way. 

2016 was the year I moved to New Zealand for a non-corporate job. Rationally, I thought it was my last opportunity to have a silly ‘unemployable’ hair do. 

In actual fact, I realised I was fairly unemployable as another History grad anyway. I was about join a workforce with no experience beyond knowing about different ways of shoehorning the word ‘gingerly’ into essays on Queen Elizabeth I. So, I moved as far away as physically possible, leaving behind a hefty bereavement and some personal hang ups in London town. 

There was no bigger desire than to bleach out the black I’d painted it and start afresh with something more vibrant. 

Brighter. More alive. Definitely not like the others.  

But it was also a way of counterbalancing how I actually felt - a way of regaining control. Thankfully, people didn’t know, but it filled the hole where my confidence used to be. I’d changed quite a bit, and it only felt right to embrace a new colour – even if that meant subjecting my scalp to the brutality of bleach.

Trauma, big or small, isn’t always the reason behind people dyeing their hair a new colour. What’s interesting, though, is the spike we’ve seen in the desire people have had to dye your own hair during lockdown, followed by a dip while lockdown measures have eased. 

While twitter was awash with tweets about how a new hair colour was only a matter of time for many individuals, hair dye as a google search term is also up by 60% from the start of lockdown. Anecdotally, quite a few close friends had texted or messaged asking for tips and tricks on how to dye your hair without it all falling out. 

So why now?

Psychologist Chas O’Connell weighs up how dyeing our hair represents a sense of control, as well as an ability to experience change in a world which appears to have stopped. When we lose control over one area of our life, creating the illusion of control over something else is a coping mechanism. Hair is a pretty easy one to have change instantly and dramatically, and the risks were lower at a time when we weren’t allowed to see each other.

This is why we all want to do drastic things to our hair during lockdown. It fills so many things we’re currently deprived of, given that the locus of control is completely out of our hands because life as we know it has been put on pause. 

Dyeing your hair is a multi-step project-like process where you have an end goal. You see progress in the process, and that’s helpful. Many of us lack all those fulfilling things at the minute. It’s an expression of self-care which helps us heal when things are traumatic.

This pandemic is, and will continue to be, traumatic on the nation’s psyche. People have died, and our health care system is on its knees. With many out of work, life is undoubtedly tougher. We’ll feel austerity more than we ever have. 

When we do eventually go back to normal, it won’t be much different to the ‘old normal’, though. Things might be tighter on the nation’s piggy banks, but we’ll still crave the pub. We’ll go to work (old or new) and remember there’s always a lizard in a position of power who genuinely needs instruction manuals on how to form ‘genuine’ bonds with other human beings. We won’t have missed being crushed on the central line. We’ll slot back into our old humdrum. 

Yet, we ourselves may be slightly altered by the experience. We may flake less and be far more open to hugs with people we trust, at least for a little while. 

It’s notable that as we slowly emerge from hibernation, the search hair dye searches have curtailed. This is unsurprising though: we have the happy distraction of being reunited with friends and, let’s face it, there might be a few more consequences of having seaweed green hair than they were a few months ago. 

While the population are moving towards restored levels of peroxide-related experimentation, the experience of locking down and coping with a huge overhaul to our way of life has been quite traumatic. Coming out of it may move us towards cherishing the little things in life, with all its vibrance and colour. Can’t wait.


Sara Barqawi is a strategist at Harbour

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Harbour Collective, 1 month ago