The Breakover

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Words: Hannah Parkinson (She/Her)

‘Breakover’: noun A complete reinvention of oneself and one’s image, achieved through treatment and improvement of one’s physical appearance, as well as ending one’s relationship with a detrimental significant other.*

Whether we care to admit the extent of our own vanities, many of us use a new haircut, a new tattoo, or a complete style overhaul, to say something to the world. This is less about who we are and more about who we want to be.

I was 13 the first time I dyed my hair. It was an awful yellowy-orange unredeemable shade, which clashed horribly with just about everything. I was 16 the first time I performed my first post-breakup hair dye. This time it was short and black, to contrast the light brown it had been before we had met. My hair has been long, short, half brown, half blonde, with fringe, without fringe, vibrant red, cherry, copper, back to brown, and now dark and shorter than it has been since I was about 14. I affectionately compartmentalise each segment of my personhood by these eras and, with this, by the people I dated at the time. My sense of identity in each era has felt intrinsically tied to how I expressed myself externally.

I booked an appointment to dye my hair after a past breakup, eager to shake off the memories. I wanted to dye every strand they had touched on my head, to shed the person I had once been. People say not to make rash decisions during times of emotional upheaval, but it is at these times we crave change the most. I think by this point I have tried just about every form of self-improvement going – journaling, yoga, working out, (many) therapies, drinking water, getting out in the sun; but I have found out the hard way, no amount of aggressively wishing to feel better will put back together the pieces. 

We lean towards self-reinvention as a form of self-care and to distance ourselves from times that bring us emotional distress. We crave the person we are in a relationship with and often believe that a quick fix; a new image, will bring us this wholeness. But my breakover, I decided, though coinciding with many external changes, needed to be one for the soul. 

To my fury, upon searching ‘reinventing yourself after a breakup’, numerous sites appear encouraging us to use the time to ‘find a healthy weight’. Even sites warning us against the dangers of indulging in empty calories during this time of emotional upheaval. Bullshit. If there was ever a time to inhale a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, it’s a breakup. Reminiscent of that episode of Friends in which Monica and Rachel explain to Chandler after a rough breakup: ‘We save the good stuff for the really terminal cases. When you start getting screwed over as much as we do, you’ve got to switch to low fat’. 

We see it all the time in the media. Think Elle Woods, after being dumped by Warner: her bundle of teary tissues, throwing chocolates at the TV and neglecting her manicure. Her friends prevail, bringing her drinks and snacks, and – in the ever so cliché fashion of an early 2000s movie – dragging her to the salon. Later in the movie, now alone in Boston, miles from home, she finds solace in this same environment. The salon here again becomes the fuel she needs to take back her power. Elle reinvents herself as an act of self reclamation. But we also see other slightly more problematic angles, in which female characters revamp their look in the hopes their partner might take them back – think Sandy in Grease. No more the innocent, bookish girl at the start of the movie, Sandy appears clad in black leather and high heels, fitting the persona of who she feels Danny wants her to be. Does this present a fundamental issue with the breakover? Sandy’s new look implies there was something wrong with who she was before. There is certainly a danger here, we must be careful not to lose ourselves amongst the leather pants and the eyeliner. 

In a much similar way to Elle and her friends, some of the times I have felt the most supported in my life were not by relationships, but by the love from female friends afterwards. Breakups are the worst, and if transforming your look helps you cope with that, go for it, so long as you are doing it for you. If hibernating under a blanket for a week helps you more, do that instead. I found my happiness in the softness of being bought treats, in dying my hair and staining the shower curtain whilst drunk on rum in a breezy student flat, and in crying my eyes out, but knowing I could always start over, once again. 



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