The dramatic haircut has had mixed success. It works well on Mad Men and Girls. Sally's decision to cut her hair is a complicated one, and the viewer is left slightly concerned at the Freudian implications of what she's done: She wanted to look more like a woman she thought her father was attracted to. And yet she is a child, and children tend to seek attention without necessarily thinking through the consequences. It is a slightly unsettling scene, but it fits with her character development. As for Girls, Lena Dunham, the show's writer and star, has already explored Hannah's neuroses throughout the series, so the haircut fits in with the broader portrayal of her character.
On The Newsroom, however, the haircut is a sign of shallow female character-writing. Maggie conveys her traumatic experience in an outwardly emotional, almost adolescent, manner. She doesn't brood and let her emotions fester, or release them in angry, insightful rants. She simply cuts and dyes her hair, looking sullen the whole time. This is emblematic of Sorkin's treatment of female characters on the show in general: They look incompetent or emotional, if not both. Emily Mortimer's character, Mackenzie, is presented as smart and experienced journalist, yet she finds it very difficult to cope with basic life problems. In the first season, Mackenzie struggles to understand basic email functions. She sleeps with a politician who makes guest appearances on the show, a reckless decision for a journalist to make. Another character, Sloan Sabbith (whose name is reminiscent of a 1980s porn star's), is beautiful and smart, but has poor decision-making skills and low self-confidence. She sets one of her bosses up with a woman she knows is unstable and she releases a source's information on a personal whim. She almost talks her way out of a new job, saying she's unqualified to talk about economics, despite having a Ph.D. in economics. She sets Timothy Geithner on fire. Maggie's haircut is just one example of Sorkin's stereotyping of women as emotionally fragile, rash creatures.
But even when a dramatic haircut is done well, as it is on Girls and Mad Men, it still sends a troubling message: It seems to confirm that a woman's value lies in how she looks, and that only psychological instability would cause her to make a drastic change in her physical appearance.
A haircut doesn't have to be a sign of internal turmoil. On The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling's character, Dr. Mindy Lahiri, gets a haircut, which represents a leap of faith. After doubting her ability to live with her boyfriend in a cramped tent in Haiti, Mindy took a chance on herself and her relationship. The impetus for the haircut was not trauma, but Mindy's decision to make a huge change in her life. After informing a friend that she was considering going to Haiti with her Christian boyfriend for volunteer work, her friend suggested she cut her hair to better manage life in Haiti, without the amenities Mindy would have in the States. The character is notoriously shallow and selfish, so the decision to cut her hair, which she claims will make her look less feminine and therefore hurt her vanity, is a big step for her. She is walking outside her comfort zone.