Every Girl Knows What Breakup Hair Is And Now We Know Why They Do It

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman emerging from the depths of a messy split, a bad job, a family drama or friendship breakdown will feel a sudden urge to drastically change her look.

OK, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but it is definitely fair to say that in life and pop culture, the post-breakup chop is a thing -- so much so that style guru Alexa Chung has had to tell her followers: "Never touch your hair after a breakup."

Obviously, we all know that hair is just hair -- it can be straight, frizzy, curly, long, short and pretty much any assortment of colours you like. It can have good days and bad. It can go up or down or half up-half down. But, for better or for worse, and particularly for women, our hair becomes part of our identity.

While it may seem like little more than a weird cultural phenomenon, there is actually a psychological reason for the urge to tweak your look post-relationship breakdown.

A change in hair -- or, more broadly, in appearance and behavior -- is an important way for people to mark the end of bad, stressful and potentially toxic situations in our lives.

One of my friends recently started dating men for the first time (after exclusively dating women), scored a new job and had to recruit a bunch of new clothes to create a corporate wardrobe that didn’t really feel like it reflected who she truly was. After three years of long, undyed hair, she took herself off for a cut and colour at a small salon on the esplanade across from Sydney's Bondi Beach. She told me, "I just didn’t feel like my hair belonged in this new stage of life. I was starting a new phase and I needed my hair to reflect that."

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Celebrities do it, too. Emma Watson got a pixie crop pretty much the same day they wrapped filming for the final 'Harry Potter' flick, Reese Witherspoon debuted a fringe for the first time after separating from her then-husband Ryan Phillippe in 2006, and the first time Kim Kardashian went blonde was after ending a three-year relationship in 2004.

Reese swapped Ryan out for a fresh new 'do. (Images: Getty)

I spoke to psychologist Gemma Cribb, who specialises in women's and couples' therapy, about why women are so attached to our hair, and the reason we often change it after a major life event.

“Traditionally and in our current culture, women gain status and admiration for being attractive. It is a currency that research has shown allows those that have [traditional beauty] to be more persuasive, be perceived as more trustworthy and honest, and have an advantage in politics and sales. Having shiny, healthy hair is cross-culturally perceived as beautiful in women and so, naturally, it is what women focus on when they want to keep up or improve their appearance.

"Often when we go through a crisis or life change, we feel overwhelmed and out-of-control. Changing your hair or other aspects of your appearance is one thing that you CAN control, so it helps you regain your sense of personal power and find your feet again.

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"Taking care of your appearance can also be a relaxing and self-caring activity, and spending time doing this can give people the time-out they need to recharge after a major event.

"Finally, your appearance tells others about who you are and what you value.  When your life changes you may feel that you grow as well and need a new look to communicate the new aspects you have found in yourself.”

So there you have it -- our hair (and, in fact, appearance overall) is such an integral part of how we communicate with others that the post-breakup haircut phenomenon is nothing more than a way to let those around us know that we have changed. Or, we think we have changed. Or... we wish to change. Whatever it is, rock your new 'do with the confidence it deserves.