After a lifetime of vowing never to cut her long hair, Moya Lothian-McLean took the ultimate plunge a week into self isolation - and cut her hair into a bob at home.
This was no timid little trim either; I went from sporting long, curly tendrils that snaked mid-way down my back to a short, bouncy bob that barely brushed my shoulders.
It was something of an unprecedented action; I’ve never been one to take risks when it comes to beauty. Not since the age of 13, when an attempt to pluck my own eyebrows went so horribly wrong that I ended up getting rushed, ambulance style, to the local beautician. “You look like a moonpie,” the beauty therapist said, surveying my round, upset little face, rescue tweezers poised at the ready. “Don’t ever do this again.”
The message was firmly received. Almost certainly this was for the best; previous occasions where I’d attempted to experiment with styling had seen me both burn a huge chunk of hair off with my mum’s ancient curling wand and paint my face entirely white, thanks to misunderstanding how to apply powder.
But the edict to stop experimenting went further than just eyebrows – it was internalised to the point that I stopped playing around with all things beauty. Most of all, I pledged to never touch my hair.
Like most teenage girls, I was achingly insecure about my looks, except for one element: my beautiful, curly hair. My hair, I knew, was gorgeous, because all the mums on the street told me so. It streamed like a waterfall in thick curls down my back and was a deep, dark brown, shot through with natural auburn highlights.
As a teenager, I remember reading a book - though the title long escapes me - featuring a standout character. The author went to great pains to establish she was no great looker. Yet, her hair was described as her “one great beauty.”
“That’s me,” I thought, with that peculiar adolescent mix of self-loathing and self-love, “My hair is my great beauty.” So I didn’t mess with it. My mother and my aunt – the only hairdresser I trust – would also repeat warnings to “leave it alone!”, drilling into my subconscious that dicking about with my curls would be a Samson-like folly.
For 23 years, my resolve stayed strong.
Cracks appeared in 2018, when I finally started playing around with dye and discovered actually, if with the help of leave-in conditioner and some love, my curls wouldn’t shrivel up and fall out at the mere sniff of some peroxide. For the first time I started to question if my iron-clad rules preventing hair experimentation might actually be made of far more flexible material.
So when struck with the sudden urge to do something drastic to my hair – like slice half of it off – last Sunday, I didn’t dismiss the thought straight away. In fact, the more I sat with the idea, the more it seemed like there would never be a better time to have a hack at it. A desperately-needed haircut had been indefinitely postponed, thanks to quarantine. The split ends I’d been holding at bay were threatening to overwhelm me, no matter how many hair masks I treated them to. Plus, if I ballsed up the snip, no-one bar my boyfriend and mates on Houseparty were going to see it. Optimum conditions.
Thus the decision was made to do it live. Of course, research was needed. First, I did a cursory check of what my hair grade (3A) could look like at a shorter length, via the very scientific Google Image search term “curly hair short”. Friends talked me out of immediately shearing the majority of it off and going full Kehlani, so instead I decided to start with a shoulder-length style and see how I felt. After all, I could always go shorter.
For confidence, I watched a few videos of amateurs taking scissors to their curls and professionals giving top tips. The overriding message seemed to be not to overcomplicate it. I learned quickly it’s important to cut wet, curly hair slightly longer than the length you want, to allow for shrinkage. Then, you should do any fiddly bits when your hair is dry. Basically: do the bulk of the body first and come back to sort out the bangs later.
At this point, I felt almost ready but decided to mine a friend and curly hair expert for any supplementary advice she could give. “When cutting the front, pull tendrils out and cut diagonally downwards, with the shortest sections more towards the centre,” she texted me. “Also, do it bit-by-bit and take breaks! It’s easy to get into a cutting frenzy.”
Enlisting my boyfriend to do the back (which took cajoling; he “didn’t want to be blamed” if anything went wrong), I headed to the bathroom on my lunch break, knowing it’s best to cut hair in broad daylight so you can see what you’re doing.
Parting my hair to the side (how I intended to wear it) and pulling it to just below my shoulders, I raised the scissors and snipped. That was it. Five inches, gone on my right side. I felt absolutely nothing at first, except ‘Thank god those split ends are no more’.
But after applying the same snipping treatment to my left side and the back of my head (although we left that about a quarter of an inch longer), I took stock and was amazed at how non-shit it looked. I was even… quite impressed. It was… good?
“You look beautiful,” my boyfriend said. “Like an adult.”
But it’s his job to be nice and while the style was still wet, I couldn’t form a conclusive opinion myself. After letting it dry and settle, I plonked myself back down in front of the mirror to fix up the front, via the tendril-by-by-tendril technique.
Here, snipping was far less impulsive; I trimmed strands framing my face and on the top layer of my hair at slightly varying lengths to provide body and layering but at a slow pace. Once I’d done an initial round, I put the scissors to one side and didn’t come back to them until early evening, to add in any extra layers I thought it needed.
Finally, upon opening my front-facing camera, I could take it all in. I fucking loved it.
Gone were the dead, straggly ends and limp layers I’d been carting about. My hair felt refreshed, light and healthy. I’d administered a spring cut, perfect for the bright sunshine and blossom that’s blooming outside my bedroom window.
Will I keep it forever? Who knows. But right now, it’s everything I could have wanted. More so because I did it myself. This doesn’t mean the end of my trips to the hairdresser but at least there’s a back up plan if I’m ever in dire beauty straits. Or another pandemic.
And while I don’t want to wholeheartedly encourage anyone else to go forth with the same abandon (je suis refuse to be sued in the middle of a coronavirus crisis), if anyone is considering it, do some serious research first. And also think about how hair type might change the outcome; curly cuts for example may prove more adept at hiding major fuck ups than a dead-straight style.
Just give it another month and maybe I’ll finally be able to tackle the Everest that are my eyebrows…
Images: Moya Lothian-McLean