A couple weeks ago, I clicked on a Yahoo Beauty story that was trending on Facebook titled, “The Secret Message Behind Taylor Swift’s Natural Curls.” The article commented on Taylor Swift’s reappearance after a four-month-long “hiatus” (which I assume means four months of zero press, social media activity, Rhode Island pool-float parties, etc.), whereupon she emerged in a video dispatch to congratulate NBA’s Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook (an infamous Swiftie). The video itself wasn’t particularly exciting; Swift’s hair, on the other hand, was practically breaking the internet.
It looked noticeably different from the last time she was spotted publicly — in lieu of the sleek, straight bob she repped at a Houston concert in February, Swift was sporting full-on CURLY (!!) bangs. The rest of her hair was swept back into what appeared to be a low bun, with two perfect-ish tendrils hanging loose in the front like a carefree manic pixie dream girl.
“The singer’s fans are most excited about what her natural curly locks might mean for the future of her music,” wrote Yahoo Beauty. “[They] believe that the new hairstyle is foreshadowing the anticipated release of her sixth studio album.”
To reiterate: this collective freak-out — this massive hyperventilation about the potential release of a new Swift album — resulted from no evidence other than Taylor’s decision to forgo the flat-iron. Huh!
It reminded me of the legendary reaction fans had when Keri Russell cut her hair on season 2 of Felicity, which aired in the fall of 1999. While it was admittedly a drastic chop, taking her lion’s mane of curls to a close-cropped pixie, the backlash was extreme for a mere haircut. The ensuing media firestorm coincided with Felicity’s tanking ratings, prompting WB Entertainment’s then-president, Susanne Daniels, to jokingly say, “Nobody is cutting their hair again on our network and our staff.” Daniels was kidding around, but the show’s viewers were not. They were livid. People actually sent Russell death threats, as if her body and hair were publicly owned properties, and any decision she made regarding them should be subject to a popular vote, or else…
Beyonce’s platinum blonde pixie cut spawned an equally robust reaction in 2013. The Guardian actually published an article titled, “Beyoncé’s Haircut: The Meaning Behind Her New Short Style,” thus perpetuating the idea that a drastic hair change without a corresponding deeper meaning is like a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich without peanut butter: unthinkable.
This pattern, in which cultural narratives, desires and projections are ascribed to changes in female celebrities’ hair, is particularly fascinating given that…well…hair is hair. It grows out. It can be straightened. Curled. Dyed. It is probably the most frequently and feasibly alterable aspect of our physical appearance from an impermanent standpoint — the embodiment of superficial fickleness. And yet, somewhat ironically, we imbue it with portentous power, treating it as a harbinger of major life changes and intimate emotions, not to mention a barometer for popular appeal.
But sometimes a haircut is just a haircut, right? A change for the sake of change, an answer to a sudden craving — like switching up what you eat for breakfast for a few months, or obsessively wearing a certain type of shoe. Beyond the usual scrutiny of women’s appearances, I wonder if this obsession is also amplified by the way our news cycle has evolved, putting a premium on finding the angle or the hidden meaning that will cut through all the noise.
Except Taylor’s curly bangs. Totally a sign, right?