Last weekend, under the influence of boredom, anxiety, and marijuana, I ordered a beginner’s embroidery kit from Amazon and awaited its arrival with bated breath. Crafting anything fiddly with my hands is not my forté. I knit, but mostly so that I don’t look at my phone while I watch TV, and all I’ve ever produced that is of worth is a few baby blankets and a lot of scarves that live in a basket under my bed and are probably riddled with moths. Embroidery seemed like a fussier task and one that would require all of my concentration. I lack the attention to detail necessary to create embroidered masterpieces because creating samplers worthy of an Etsy store is counterintuitive to the task at hand, which is a distraction and not productivity.
This need to do something instead of refreshing various news sources over and over again has also translated to me, and presumably to others, into a niggling desire to undergo some sort of dramatic physical transformation. Born out of both boredom and vanity, I have considered attempting nail art, “trimming” my split ends, and, in moments of deep despair, attempting to give myself a bikini wax. The transformations that I speak of are less maintenance—a man trimming his beard, those with pixie cuts considering their options—and more about the dramatic impulses that might lead someone to attempt balayage using bleach, tinfoil, and gumption. Cutting your own hair is a distraction, sure, but you will have to live with the end results for an indeterminate amount of time. These impulses are the output of an idle mind desperate for anything else to think about. Maybe if I give myself baby bangs, I will feel better, or at least different.
Faced with a vast grip of newfound free time and the overwhelming feeling of control slipping away, the impulse to do something different to one’s physical appearance is becoming harder and harder to resist. Many of us have nothing but time on our hands, and time, when it stretches out indefinitely, it feeds into anxiety. Two weeks out, it is clear that everyone is searching for a sense of control over their own bodies and minds. Parsing out tasks that would take three hours on a lazy Saturday to stretch over a full weekend’s worth of unstructured time is an attempt at regaining control through distraction. Cooking is a form of control, so is online shopping. Doing a full face of makeup for a walk to the bathroom and back is, too. Cutting your own hair, however, is a different beast. Please don’t. Put down the scissors.
Unless you are actually a stylist, cutting your hair at home is a terrible idea, though the impulse and the thinking behind it makes sense. If the only person seeing you and your new Louise Brooks-at-the-sanitarium bob is the across-the-street neighbor, who stands at peers out the window for an hour every day, then sure. Go bald, go pink, go nuts. But the same rules that apply to getting bangs during a breakup apply to this specific scenario, too. The empowerment that comes with changing your appearance, however thrilling it may be in the moment, is fleeting and works against my general understanding of our situation, which is that this current moment of stasis is not permanent. We are on pause, not a full stop. There will be haircuts and manicures and waxes in the future.
The internet has begun to push at-home haircutting tips and service pieces about how to safely wax your pubis, as a canny grab for traffic and a way to capitalize on the current moment. The Atlantic published a piece advocating for box dye and hair experiments during self-isolation as a way to work against collective boredom. The Cut advocated for cutting your own hair for the very same reasons. This sort of service journalism would not have existed two or three weeks ago, but reality has shifted slightly so this is where we are. Together, all these new-found hobbies and crafts form an imperative towards productivity: the tasks we undertake are all small, incremental steps towards self-improvement. Cutting your own hair feeds right into this narrative—nothing really matters right now, so playing around in an inconsequential manner is freeing, but there’s also the chance that a newer, shinier version of yourself could emerge.
It’s not that anyone who does decide to experiment with layers or trim their own bangs will get out the other side of this thing with a newfound passion for hairstyling, but even the suggestion that now is the best time to drastically change your appearance speaks to a sense of making the most of it—understandable advice when shit is going sideways. But taking a pair of kitchen scissors to your hair and working out a bowl cut is not a hobby or a suitable distraction! It will only make you feel worse.
The imperative to use this time to be productive is self-sabotaging because it feels highly unlikely that anyone will get any better at the hobby they’ve chosen to undertake. The point of all these tasks, from hair-cutting to scrapbooking to getting really into bread, is not productivity, but distraction, an activity that redirects your mind from a larger, more pressing matter. By definition, distractions are not productive! Trimming shaggy bangs between haircut appointments is okay, because if your hair looks terrible, help is but a phone call and a salon visit away. If the bangs look bad when you do it yourself now, well, staring at the result of your hubris for what could be a very long time might feed into the very anxiety you were attempting to silence. Staring at yourself in the mirror after dying your hair blonde for the first time and realizing that it looks like shit is good for a laugh, but when laughter can quickly turn to tears for no real reason other than existential stress, well, who needs that?
Though there is a freedom in abject failure, which we should all embrace with impunity, I don’t know if that same freedom extends to our physical being. Hair grows back. The tail of your left eyebrow will repopulate itself eventually. But the chance that you will feel like a worse version of yourself in a time when we are all experiencing a collective situational depression seems risky to me.