Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 30, 2023

Becoming Brandi Carlile

By DIKSHA IYER | January 29, 2023



Iyer discusses what her changing hairstyle represents about herself.

I cut twelve inches of my hair off a couple of weeks ago. Well, not intentionally. I walked in to the salon, said that I wanted it as short as it could be without my resembling Dora and thought I was going to get a chic Vanessa Hudgens bob out of it.  

I ended up sporting more of a Brandi Carlile look. Not that I don’t appreciate Brandi, I just wasn’t expecting to be channeling her at that moment. However, becoming Brandi was more freeing than I expected; I think I understand why she sports the haircut that she does.  

At first, I wasn’t sure why I decided to chop it all off. I just felt a strong urge to go into my neighborhood salon and declare, “I want it all off!” like the heroine does in every movie when she experiences a symbolic rebirth. Maybe it was the split ends — they were getting a bit unruly. Or, it could have been the fact that I hadn’t combed or washed my hair in a week — putting it up in a bun was all I had the energy to do.  

Essentially, I was feeling overwhelmed with the sense that my hair — and, by extension, my life — was beyond my control. This was a scary and foreign concept to me: I’ve always been taught to take pride in my hair.  

Since I was kid, I’ve been told that my hair is the healthiest and thickest hair that has been seen (I feel like this has to be false, but I’ll take the bragging rights). So, I never dyed my hair, barely straightened it, meticulously checked the shampoos and conditioners that I used and only used coconut oil in my hair.  

I’ve found that my almost fanatic obsession with controlling my hair stemmed from my fruitless efforts to control everything else in my life. I’ve pushed myself to be so high-achieving that I view my entire life as a rat race. To slip slightly or not have a plan in place is legitimately frightening to me. Anxiety races through me and prevents me from sleeping, focusing or experiencing my present moment.  

I consistently feel some sense of apprehension over my life because I am unable to comprehend that I cannot control everything or achieve every goal I have set forth for myself. I have a need to control my life trajectory — my friends joke that I change my life path every six weeks (nothing major, of course, because anxiety).  

This is a punishing cycle — (1) I set lofty goals to feel a sense of progression towards an unknown, featureless finish line, (2) I fall short of these goals because I am human and then (3) I feel like I have lost complete control, aimlessly wandering into nothingness. 

After finals finished, I felt emotionally drained (as does every other college student). However, I dealt with the completion of finals with a deep-seated anxiety of “What next?”  

I think I get this partially from my grandparents (both sets). They are famous for always having another passion project to pursue, even after retirement. They have so much energy to give, and they find something positive to put it into. That’s why I emphasize the partially — there was nothing positive about my excess energy.  

I felt this bubbling sense of energy after everything was finally done because I felt that I was not doing enough. I wasn’t pursuing my life path as urgently as I should, I hadn’t started reading the first book on my TBR list, I had wasted an entire semester by taking the wrong classes and so on. 

My hair reflected my unease with uncertainty; it became clumpy, clustered and destroyed. To gain control over something in my life, I decided that I needed to change my hair and take a page out of the Princess Diaries. So, I found myself dashing to the salon to cut my hair. I did not get what I expected. My hair was much shorter than I wanted it to be. It barely went past my neck and mimicked a pixie cut for people who don’t want to commit to a pixie cut. I was horrified, initially.   

I went home and stared at myself in the mirror, part in abject horror and part in barely contained glee. This was a dramatic change worthy of the Princess Diaries, so I did get my wish, in a way. As I tried to work my hair into something resembling Brad Pitt, I eventually realized that it was useless to dwell on what I couldn’t control.  

Could I do anything about my hair at the current moment? No. So, it was pointless worrying and fretting and complaining about it.  

Then, I asked myself, “Could I love myself and my hairstyle?” Yes, I could grow to love it. So that is where I chose to put my energy. It’s not easy to love yourself or be confident that you are making the right choices. It takes energy. You need to actively believe in yourself; it is not innate like breathing. I needed to convince myself that I am the character worth rooting for when the world gets flipped upside-down. The only person I need to convince is myself. 

To start myself on that journey, I decided to slick my hair back like Brandi Carlile (it seems so silly on paper). I had never done something like that before! I quickly decided that Brandi wears the slicked-back look much better, but I was happy enough with the result. Comparing myself to Brandi Carlile wasn’t going to get me anywhere (but I still do it sometimes).  

In my effort to exert some agency over the anxiety that had been pervading every facet of my life, I took the biggest, most unexpected blow to the one part of myself that I placed most of my energy in controlling: my hair. My hair currently does not follow any type of plan that I had for it. And I find that it’s weirdly freeing.  

I no longer feel weighed down. My hair doesn’t agree with me every day, and it acts differently now that it is so much shorter. I’ve had to get used to that ever-changing status — it forces me to try something new with my hair every now and then.  

Now, instead of restricting myself to only coconut oil, I find myself putting mousse in my hair, just to try it out. I felt so uneasy with every other aspect of my life that I felt I needed to exert control over something, like my hair. But instead, I found a new hairstyle that I wasn’t expecting to get (and, frankly, didn’t really want to get, initially).  

With my new Brandi Carlile hairstyle, I feel more prepared to accept the changing world around me and free myself of some (not all) of my anxieties on my own inadequacies. Although I was forced down a new, unfamiliar path (both in terms of hair products and general life trajectories), I came out on the other side okay.  

Did I mess up and have to go through a drastic change in my life? Yes. But, did I learn to make something positive out of it and ensure that not everything got ruined? Yes. So, if I apply this lesson to the rest of my college experience, I think that it will be okay, too.

Diksha Iyer is a sophomore from Dearborn, Mich., studying Public Health and Economics.

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