Did you check the mirror before heading out the door this morning? Of course you did. We all do. While the way you look has no real bearing on your merits as a human being, studies show that it can absolutely affect the way you perceive your own value. And that perception can dramatically affect the way you think and act. Case in point: Bad hair days.
Hair has always played a role in the way we see ourselves, from a biological and historical perspective as well as aesthetic. It has been known to signify health, status and even a person’s involvement in socio-political movements. One estimate suggests that we spent $83 billion on hair care alone in 2016, and in five years, that number will jump to $94.5 billion. In other words, the next time someone claims #messyhairdontcare, go ahead and call BS.
So what happens on days when you’re feeling like a bad mugshot, compared to those glorious hair moments when a lion ain’t got nothing on you? A lot, actually. At least in your head.
Bad Hair Is Gender-Blind
“Interestingly, both women and men are negatively affected by bad hair days,” says Marianne LaFrance, professor of psychology and women’s and gender studies at Yale University and the director of the 2000 study “An Experimental Investigation into the Effects of Bad Hair.” “The cultural truism is men aren’t affected by their appearance. But this is just wrong.”
It Might, In Fact, Affect Men More
What the Yale study uncovered was that there are actual measurable psychological effects of bad hair: A decrease in performance self-esteem, which is essentially how you feel about your abilities; an increase in social insecurity; and an increase in self-criticism. Surprisingly, the negative impact on performance self-esteem hits men harder than women. The same could arguably be said for how it makes men feel socially. When primed with memories of bad hair, males in LaFrance’s study felt more nervous, less confident and had an increased inclination to be antisocial. Women, on the other hand, felt more embarrassed and self-conscious.
Good Hair Got Me Like…
On the flip side, having a good hair day has some pretty powerful effects on your psyche as well. When you look good, you feel good — we know this. And the benefits of self-confidence can be pretty tangible. Believing you’re attractive also can make both men and women feel like they belong in a higher social class, according to a recent study by Margaret Neale and Peter Belmi of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Looking good can give you an edge when it comes to workplace politics and how you present yourself, but it can also make you a hierarchical jerk, so try not to let it go to your head.
But Try Not to Overthink It
Before you lock yourself in your room shouting that you can’t adult today because your hair is looking less that stellar, keep this in mind: Most people aren’t even going to notice anyway. Psychologist Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University says, “People assume the social spotlight shines on them more brightly than it really does.” Gilovich performed a number of experiments in order to test how well we perceive how others perceive us, which he dubbed the “spotlight effect.” The results? We believe that far more strangers notice our flaws or details about our appearance than they actually do.
It’s probably because they’re too busy thinking about their own hair.