At the start of 2020, I watched warily as the popular video-sharing app TikTok skyrocketed to popularity amongst my fellow Gen-Zers—namely the younger members of the cohort. A part of me swore I’d never join TikTok as I viewed it as something for high schoolers. I prematurely and incorrectly likened TikTok to my 2013 Tumblr account—a popular social media platform whose teen users had built a subculture around it.
I was also positive that I would, under no circumstance, ever get fringe bangs again. But I also never considered the fact that by March 2020, the world would be experiencing a lasting global pandemic that drastically affected billions of people.
So, dear reader, that is how I found myself, at the end of March (after not having left the house for three days) with a TikTok bangs tutorial pulled up, my phone propped up on my bathroom counter. Armed with a pair of pink fabric scissors, I nervously twisted some hair to the front, took a deep breath, and made the quick snip across.
Prior to quarantine, I’d only had bangs twice before. The first was in 2014 after my freshman year of high school—I’d spent months reblogging pictures of Alexa Chung’s bangs whenever they came on my Tumblr dashboard. The bangs didn’t look good on my in-the-midst-of-puberty face, so after four days, I bobby-pinned them every day for five months until they grew out. The second experience was on a whim at the start of 2017 in the midst of college-application season, which resulted in a teacher holding me back after class to ask if I was emotionally alright the next day (true story).
During the fateful March weekend when I decided to give myself bangs, my FYP (for you page) had nothing but bangs tutorials. From the classic fringe cut, to curtain bangs, to the bleached split-toned hairstyle, it felt like the entirety of Gen Z had decided that bangs were the move.
I texted a friend about whether or not I should spontaneously give myself bangs, and she replied, “Why not? It’s not like you’re going to see anyone in quarantine anyways if it turns out badly.” That seemed to solidify the decision.
Despite the fact that every time I had bangs as a teenager ended badly, there was a certain adrenaline rush tied to giving myself bangs from a TikTok tutorial. What if it actually looked good? What if it looked bad? And on another niche, shallow, and very Gen-Z note, would I have to stop posting selfies on my Instagram story if it looks bad?
Over the last couple of years, social media has built a somewhat self-deprecating reputation toward getting bangs. It’s ranged from tweets about getting bangs being more about needing therapy, to The New Yorker asking if “you’re emotionally stable enough to get bangs,” and The Atlantic writing about how bangs “became a meme of distress.”
I eventually ignored my fears, deciding that if the bangs turned out badly, bobby pins existed and Zoom lets you turn off the video feature anyways. After I cut my bangs and brushed them out, they actually looked good. I couldn’t tell if it was a type of cabin fever-induced delusion, but I actually loved my bangs in the weeks after.
While quarantine hair trends remained popular on TikTok in early spring, I noticed that my FYP was filled with generally supportive and uplifting videos of teenagers making the most of quarantine to celebrate self-care routines and take care of themselves. There were a lot of videos about upcycling old t-shirts by embroidering flowers or other designs and making routine videos of healthy breakfasts and quarantine walks. A lot of these videos had an all-encompassing theme of being kind to yourself, especially in a time of global uncertainty.
A lot of Gen-Z users made videos about their glow-ups in quarantine—adopting different clothing styles, learning new makeup looks, focusing on their hobbies, or just working toward a more healthy mindset than pre-quarantine.
It felt refreshing to watch Gen-Z TikTok users make videos about self-care. I spent the first weeks of quarantine flip-flopping between states of anxiety every time I got a New York Times push notification or rushed to finish an essay for my Zoom class. But soon I settled into a new routine of brushing and blow-drying my bangs in the morning, making strawberry milk, (remember that?), and slowly letting go of my worries about school or work.
I kept my bangs for around two months, until they started growing out and I got too lazy to start trimming them. At the start of quarantine when I cut my bangs, I’d foolishly and optimistically predicted that quarantine would be over by summer at the latest. I thought I could go back to college in August for my senior year—the idea of social-distancing, mask-wearing, and Zoom classes continuing felt far-fetched back in March. I held onto this hope of a “normal” fall semester in the first weeks of quarantine as a way to motivate myself to lift my spirits, and to view what seemed like a three-week quarantine as a period to destress and slow down.
It feels ironic to have given myself bangs when my mental health was so stable, contradicting any and all internet memes. I’d be lying if I said the prolonged quarantine, online classes, social isolation, and recent surges in COVID-19 cases nationwide haven’t had a significant toll on my mental health.
As the pandemic fluctuates every day, affecting the lives of billions, it’s still important to maintain self-care, to check in on your friends, and take care of yourself above all. TikTok hair tutorials and impulsive quarantine haircuts will always serve as a good anecdote to describe the uncertainty and the fun of internet challenges during the first weeks of quarantine.