hairy situations

I Cut My Own Hair Using YouTube As My Guide

After the haircut.
After the haircut. Photo: Ryan Plett

The last time I wrote about my hair on the internet, it was to audition for the role of minimally attractive triangle player in the band HAIM. It’s been four months since my plea went live, and while I haven’t heard from Este, Alana, or Danielle, I have a feeling I wouldn’t be welcome anymore anyway. Back in those days, my hair was long, straight, and HAIM-like (but, you know, not as good). Then, about two weeks ago, in a desperate fury brought on by lack of air-conditioning in my apartment, I cut most of that mediocre hair off, never to be seen again. I’ll be seeking a new band to audition for shortly.

When I say I cut all of my own hair off, I mean that in the most literal sense. Did I prepare for this activity by purchasing special hair shears? No. Did I know what to do when I planted myself in front of my bathroom mirror and began deciding on lengths with my two fingers? Hardly. Did I have some idea of how I would look with short hair? Honestly, not in the slightest. But the back of my neck was hot and I believed I wouldn’t last another day with a thick hair blanket grazing my shoulders. Something had to be done.

Instead of waiting to make a hair appointment at a salon that would charge me too much for a haircut that would take too long during a time frame that would be too far away, I found a pair of scissors under my bathroom sink and got right to it. Well, I almost did, but as the sharp blade came closer and closer to my face, I remembered that I’d never cut my own hair. Oh dip. Maybe I should do some research.

Before beginning to hack at my golden mane, I turned to YouTube. There, I found a few self-haircut tutorials that were absolute garbage (one was set in the suburban bathroom of a woman’s office, filmed by her friend on a vertically tilted iPhone), but I watched them all anyway because it filled me with hope to learn that even if a person is not a good videographer, they can still cut their own hair. Maybe it’s not that hard! A few of the videos had the effect of inducing Zen. Many others looked like hair bloodbaths. What were these women doing? What was I doing?

Eventually, after coursing through several of these YouTube tutorials, I found a video that spoke to me.

This one was also helpful. These videos are good because all they implore you to do is put your hair in pigtails, move those pigtails to the front, and snip the ends off. That is supposed to give you a blunt bob style, which was, in my head, what I was looking for, à la Tavi Gevinson, or Kate Mara pre–boy cut. The fewer amount of steps, the better.

The scissors that I used were just standard hair/beauty scissors you get at Duane Reade for ten bucks. I had washed my hair that morning, so I didn’t do anything special to it and it looked typically mussed and puffy. I considered wetting it but I don’t remember why I didn’t. I assume laziness. The hair ties I used were little black elastics that came in a package of about 300 that are purchasable at Duane Reades everywhere for I think $2.99. I parted my hair down the middle, divided it into two halves toward the front of my head, and stared at myself for a very long time.

It’s all good, man! Take a deep breath! Why are your sentences so blunt!

The scissors, as it turns out, were not as sharp as I thought, so when I began hacking off the grimy and unhealthy ends of my pigtails, I had to stop and start a lot, not unlike James Franco cutting off his arm in 127 Hours. Each pigtail got thicker toward the center, which reminded me of bone, the thought of blood came up, and then I’d feel woozy, and I’d pause momentarily. Eventually, I made it through both chunks of uncooperative bullshit and looked down at my neck to see two pigtails capped on each end with rubber bands. Success, I could see, was imminent.

This next part was a little harder, unfortunately. When I took off each rubber band, as you can predict, my hair looked like a big sheet of blunt heaviness with no shape or style, flapping loosely around my skull. The hair blanket was back but in bob form! There were some uneven parts of the cut, too, where I’d clearly gotten bored with cutting in a mostly straight line. That’s okay — after all, this was the “cleanup phase.”

Before the haircut. Photo: Courtesy of Dayna Evans

I reflected on haircuts of the past, remembering how my stylists would come at my hair carefully and with intense focus. Since my hair was dry at the time, I did the thing that hairdressers do and pulled a bunch of strands between my middle and pointer fingers, and tried to level the wonky parts off with my scissors. This is easier said than done and requires a level of precision that I have never really been known for. Inevitably, I ended up with piece-y bits poking out from everywhere. What made me believe I could do this impossible task? I walked back into my room and put my face down on a pillow.

It’s important to take breaks in every activity you put your mind to. The brain needs periodic respite from exhausting challenges. You can quote me on that.

After my temporary lie-down, I began leveling all the funky pieces to the best of my ability. I did that by looking at places that were uneven and then saying, “Okay, I gotta make this even.” This was a marginally successful way of thinking. I got rid of some of the longer strands and moved on.

The third to last step in the process is “adding shape,” which is a term that I’ve heard my hairdresser use before and so now I feel comfortable using with authority. “Adding shape” meant slicing into the middle of the hair blanket wantonly to make layers. I would lift up one-inch chunks of hair and either pick at the bottoms with the scissors (“edgy”) or cut on a diagonal so that there was some form to the style. I picked at random, cut different lengths, then looked at myself smugly when things seemed to be evenly “shaped.” This, of all the steps, was the most fun. My hair: a beautiful canvas on which I could paint! My hair: à la mode! C’est chic.

The final step in the process was the most difficult and took the least amount of time. I took my phone, turned on the selfie-facing camera, and put my back toward the mirror. This is the scientific way of finding out if your haircut is even in the back. When I learned that, yes, my hair was uneven in the back, I had no plans for how to even it out. Imagine a ton of acrobatics and ill-bent limbs, and there you have it. Eventually, I resigned myself to the idea that if the back looked bad, I wasn’t the one who had to see it. This was someone else’s problem, not mine. I had spent a solid 30 minutes giving myself a haircut; I had other things to worry about.

The next day, after I finally showered and washed my hair, I cleaned up some bits and pieces that were too spiky or too blunt or too long, and then I admired my work. I have a bob now. And my neck is no longer hot. Those are two wonderful things, but the best part is the knowledge that, having cut my own hair, I can continue to do so forever. As the saying goes: The first cut is the deepest.

I Cut My Own Hair Using YouTube As My Guide