Collage: VICE / Images: Courtesy of Michelle Varinata
My parents pleaded with me not to do it, but I couldn’t help myself. “Please don’t get too many layers,” they told me before I left home.
Freshly grown out with ends brushing directly on my shoulders, it could have looked like any other shoulder-length cut. Parted like curtains, my bangs swept across the brows. Tiered layers met at different levels of my face, almost like a staircase. Staring back at myself on the salon mirror, it was a whole new me. The me I wanted to be: an uninhibited, unique, free spirit. My bob was gone after deciding to get the cut my family — and the world — seem to hate most: a mullet.
Named after a silver-scaled fish, the dramatic short on the front, long at the back style was traditionally a men’s haircut, famously sported by hockey players and David Bowie. Hairdresser Suzi Ronson told The Guardian that Bowie was inspired by a photo of a model for Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto in 1972. A few snips and an orange dye job later, the look would become the symbol of his Ziggy Stardust persona.
Eventually, everyone from singer Billy Ray Cyrus, to your dad and uncles, had a mullet. Women started getting the cut too — Joan Jett proudly wore hers with black leather get-ups. The hairstyle would go on to become both a nostalgic and hated icon of the 80s, and by the 90s, the Beastie Boys would popularize the term “mullet,” in an equally iconic song. What was once cool, quickly became cheesy and dated. Then came the comeback.
Now, pop stars like Rihanna and Halsey are sporting mullets. Even Miley Cyrus took her father’s hairstyle for a spin.
I fell under its spell too.
A fantasy since high school, a mullet became #hairgoals after I stumbled upon photos of the Runaways’ Cherie Currie and her platinum blonde hair, while zoning out during class. Extremely shorn at the sides, the layered cut’s rock ’n’ roll vibe was dangerous for a girl with un-layered virgin hair. No matter how badly I wanted it, I was scared that it wouldn’t match with anything I wore, as I was dolled up in a uniform five out of the seven days of the week.
Years later, I decided to jump the gun. I was bored with my undercut and grew it out. Rather than having a reverse mullet situation, I asked my hairstylist to make it a baby mullet. Still a tad shorter than the traditional mullet, the pixie mullet was the perfect transitional cut. I could either wear it down, or tuck the layers inside Gwen Stefani-inspired buns. I could have made it a full-blown mullet, but once again, I was too shy. I was afraid to lose my femininity.
I have my dad’s squarish jawline, so I always felt the need to have hair that complemented this feature. Whether it was an ear-grazing bob or a longer lob, my cut couldn’t make me look too masculine. I thought that if I had a conventional haircut, then I would be sexy enough for men and hot enough for girls to admire my style.
“I thought that if I had a conventional haircut, then I would be sexy enough for men and hot enough for girls to admire my style.”
Then, while scrolling through my phone in 2020, I noticed that my selfies from the exhausting year were missing some spice. Sure, I got likes and compliments on my posts, but I was sick of relying on external validation.
It may seem trivial, but up to that point, I needed people to say I was beautiful to believe that I was. Although I may look confident, I always felt like I needed to try hard to look “normal,” by toning down my makeup and hiding my crop tops inside jackets. I would change my clothes at the last minute, before leaving the house, afraid that anything low-cut or above knee-length were too revealing. I felt like I needed to look girly, but not “too slutty.” Keeping up with these expectations started to get to me, so I felt empty. I wanted to express myself. Unable to sleep at night, I fell into the rabbit hole of chic, modern mullets. Four days before Christmas, I went ahead and did it.
“It may seem trivial, but up to that point, I needed people to say I was beautiful to believe that I was.”
As I sat on the salon chair, my stylist asked me, “What would you like to get?” I showed her a photo of Miley with her shining mullet glory. As the cold metal blade of the scissors cut through, layers and layers of my hair fell down to the floor. I couldn’t believe that the haircut of my dreams was really happening.
After the cut was done, I sent selfies to my family and posted a photo dump of my hair journey on Instagram. My sister still couldn’t stand mullets but my parents ended up liking it more than I expected. My friends told me that I was made to “pull it off,” and the positive comments I received helped me mute the inner voice of insecurities. I still loved the compliments, but I learned that I shouldn’t have cared about what people thought in the first place.
Freed from being boxed by the norms of beauty, having a mullet pushed me to feel confident in ways I never felt before. In place of tees, I started wearing corsets, sleeveless shirts, and crop tops with glossy PVC trousers, leather pants, and curve-hugging skirts. A lover of rainbow hues, I took the plunge and started wearing all shades of the arch on my body, and never asked myself, “Is this too much?” If I wanted to wear all black, the shade of onyx brought out my inner Venom to the world, without a care for anyone’s approval.
Becoming my own Ziggy Stardust, I painted my eyelids in a smorgasbord of glitter, with colors as vibrant as jewels. My inner rockstar was finally on display. Rather than the initial fear of losing my femme self, the mullet reinforced my own brand of bold femininity that I long suppressed under the guise of conservative propriety. It feels like I’ve finally become the woman I’ve always wanted to be.