This piece originally appeared in MUSE Issue XVIII. Check out the issue here. 

A haircut sends a message. Chopping off locks shows a woman is moving on, bangs show she’s all business, and a new colour signifies she is no longer the same person. But can a pair of scissors and a bottle of hair dye really change who you are?

It’s no secret that many women feel in some way attached to their hair. As dramatic as it sounds, even a trim can signify change. We’ve been led to believe that changes in appearance will eventually manifest into real life changes, rather than the other way around.

Sometimes, a haircut is a cry for help. We’ve all seen some crazy stress-dye situations around exams. When you feel out of control in a situation, controlling anything, even hair, can be therapeutic.

Turns out, in contrast to women, haircuts are solely practical experiences for men. In an article by Express, a study showed that, on average, women change their hair every 18 months. Contrastingly, men tend to change their hair only four times throughout their adult lives. Of course, this difference could be due to the absence of “What Your Fade Says About You” articles from Men’s Health, compared to those in women’s magazines. Recent promotion of male grooming has led men to look for more options for hairstyles, but they still lack the emotional connection most women have with their hair.

So, if men do not use haircuts as a coping mechanism or as a pathway to self-discovery, what do they use instead? Society sees men as less emotional, so we could be oblivious to subtle cues of their distress. In fact, a change in appearance is a common coping mechanism for stress even if that change isn’t a haircut. New tattoos, piercings, clothes, or cars can be outlets for men’s stress relief.

Other lifestyle changes in both men and women can indicate unstable mental health. Does your friend who used to love partying suddenly want to stay in every night? Did they switch from applying for career-related summer internships to wanting to drop out of school? Of course, lifestyle changes could also be signalling a positive change in a person’s values. Your friend could drop out and want to pursue a music career seriously, or give up the party lifestyle to spend time on another worthwhile interest.

I don’t believe that haircuts, tattoos, or any other physical changes actually change who you are, nor do I think they solve any underlying issues. I do, however, think that we are constantly changing as we gain life experience. Our interests, views on relationships, and perceptions of ourselves are not constant. Sometimes, it may be easier to show people your new self through a haircut rather than a sermon. It’s important, however, that these changes signify embracing your new self, rather than running away from the old you.

Tiasha Bhuiyan is an Online Contributor for MUSE