These videos and posts are making the jokes because they’re funny—kidding around is certainly not the same thing as lying. But as jokes on the internet tend to do, this one scrubs away at the ability to determine how often an activity really takes place, while at the same time solidifying the assumption that it does.
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Lauryn Lingenfelter, an aspiring YouTube vlogger with a few hundred subscribers, was the only young woman on the platform who agreed to talk with me about her bangs. She titled her (very fun) 2019 entry into the genre “CUTTING MY OWN BANGS ♡ mental breakdown ♡♡,” but told me that she wasn’t experiencing anything other than her average level of generalized anxiety about school and romance at the time it was filmed. She chose the title because it was “clickable, and people relate to it,” and she cut her bangs herself because she thought it would be “a good fit for YouTube.”
Lingenfelter says her friends tried to dissuade her from cutting her own hair in a series of discouraging phone calls. She didn’t tell her mom about the haircut either, knowing she would want her to go to a salon. The resistance, while harmless in Lingenfelter’s case, speaks to the degree of community participation that can go into women’s appearances. When a woman cuts her bangs, she has lost it, no matter what she says. We regret ever trusting her to be near a shearing implement.
“I felt like I wasn’t supposed to cut my own bangs for some reason,” Lingenfelter told me. She added that, when she thinks about it, every haircut she’s ever gotten has felt kind of like a mild mental breakdown, but she doesn’t know why.
Women in America had little autonomy to change their hair much at all until the 1920s. Up to that point, notes Rachael Gibson, better known as The Hair Historian, women would grow their hair long, then wear it up after marriage. When the famous flapper bob—frequently worn with bangs—came into style, women who got it were seen as rebellious and maybe a little insane. “That short hair was almost a full-on breakup with society’s norms,” Gibson says. “There are even stories about fathers suing hairdressers who cut their daughters’ hair, because they thought they’d never get married.”
Bangs had several other moments of fame in the middle of the 20th century—pinup girls’ curled micro-bangs in the 1950s, Audrey Hepburn’s short, dark bangs and Brigitte Bardot’s blond, middle-parted bangs in the ’60s, followed by razored and feathered Farrah Fawcett bangs in the ’70s—but they were rarely the most controversial or important component of any haircut. Even 20 years ago, a fresh pair of bangs was not inherently unsettling. Throughout the aughts, Zooey Deschanel made several styles of schoolgirl bangs seem cool for at least a few years, around the same time that pop-punk heroine Hayley Williams was making side-swept “emo” bangs seem even cooler. The supermodel Kate Moss got hot-girl bangs in 2007, and three years later, reportedly started cutting them herself. As far as I know, nobody assumed this was cause for an emotional intervention.