Unpacking what the viral trend reveals about you, your hair and how others perceive you.
There’s a lot going on in the world of hair on TikTok these days.
The slicked-back bun is the unofficial hairstyle du jour. Black cherry dye jobs have emerged as the colour of the season. And the rise of coquette beauty is pushing bow-bedecked hair tutorials onto our FYPs. But the latest hair trend to go viral is about much more than mere aesthetics. TikTok’s “hair theory” is about what your hairstyles say about you, and how they lead you to be perceived. So, let’s talk about it.
Amassing a cool 70 million views, the #hairtheory hashtag generates an infinite stream of videos in which TikTok users seem to shape-shift before our eyes as they wear different hairstyles in each short clip — showcasing how switching up your hair can alter your overall appearance. A simple tucking of hair behind the ears allows for a full view of one’s true face shape, which can be missed by styles that typically cover the ears. Other videos reveal how flattering an out-of-character middle part can be on a serial side-part wearer. Pointing out the fact that your face changes when your hair does is stating the very obvious, but the “theory” aspect of this trend is less about the way these styles make you look, and is instead, all about perception.
Though the concept of hair theory is loosely defined on the app, the general consensus is that its deeper meaning explores how hair has the ability to change the way that others perceive you and even treat you. For example, a messy bun in the workplace may suggest that you’re more laidback, resulting in different treatment compared to someone who has, say, opted for a slicked-back style in the same setting. Or in athletic spaces, having your hair meticulously styled could have you wrongfully judged as less of a competitor.
Further unpacking this theory, TikTok user @burcibasi ‘s viral video (above) points to the psychological phenomenon of “enclothed cognition” which changes others’ behaviour towards you based on your clothing, and how this idea can be applied to hair. In the comments of the same video, one user weighs in on how the length of their hair plays into this theory, writing, “It’s so true though bc I have short hair and when I put my extensions in for a night out I’m treated sooooo differently.” Another user writes, “Curly girl, definitely treated different when it’s straight and told I look more sophisticated.” This is a narrative that also carries over to Twitter, where the hair theory discourse continues.
While the TikTok trend is focused on making hairstyle changes, users have also pointed to how different colours can affect their treatment in a “blondes have more fun and brunettes mean business” sort of way. In a TikTok video that has garnered nearly three million views, @sabrinasallum explains how her hair colour changes have affected her dating life (red nail theory, anyone?) and the way she was treated by men, citing that she went on the most dates as a blonde. “Now I just have my natural black hair and I feel like I don’t get nearly as much attention as I used to, but I’m OK with that because this is my natural hair colour. So, I would rather a guy accept me for this and know that he actually accepts me and who I am (rather) than accept blonde hair because it’s his kink.”
Here’s what we have to say about hair theory: it’s obvious that switching up your hairstyle will affect your overall appearance and there’s lots of hair inspo to be taken from the trend, but your hair does not define you. And the styles you choose to wear don’t either. Hair can be a fun form of creative expression that changes daily based on your mood or your outfit — so when it comes to hair, you do you. We can’t deny there’s truth to the idea that hair can affect the way you’re treated by others, and what this trend brings to light is that there’s a larger conversation to be had about why that is.
As a wise old internet meme once said, “I no longer wish to be perceived.” And we don’t, either.