My Breakup Pixie Cut Was About More than Broken Hearts

Sarah Ratchford thought appearance had long stopped being a core part of identity—until a dramatic chop changed everything

Sarah Ratchford Pixie Cut: A portrait of the author, Sarah Ratchford, with her pixie haircut.

(Photo: Jessica Laforet)

Spring was just beginning to suggest itself when, at a vegan restaurant over a plate of tofu that wished it were eggs, my friend yanked my toque off my head and said it was time for me to get a haircut.

Post toque-grab, she snatched the hair mid-shaft and said, “This isn’t doing anything for you. It isn’t hair.” Evidently, she had been keeping this sentiment veiled for some time.

I sighed. I had to agree. The hair was dyed a murky brown in a sad attempt at my natural auburn. It had mostly snapped off halfway down due to a combination of overbleaching and malnutrition following a brutal breakup. In an attempt to regain some style a month or so before, I had consumed a few PBRs and consented to an ill-fated undercut. The only answer, as my friend so kindly pointed out, was a pixie cut.

The idea of hair as mask or signifier of impending shift is nothing new. If anything, it’s trite, overplayed. But I had dreamed of the classic chop for a decade. It was delicate yet severe, eternally chic and so easy to maintain. Over the years, I presented the idea to various stylists, wondering if I would look “pretty” without my face-framing, usually blonde waves. Each time I brought it up, their eyes would widen and they’d stammer some version of, “Not today, hon. Maybe better suited to a day when you’ve had more time to… think about it.” They could smell my fear, in other words.

I wasn’t afraid of change, per se. In the past year I’ve had pink, lavender, white, grey, chestnutty red, side shave, stark bob, suicide bangs. With the pixie, I feared being ugly and naked. What about when I was having a bad face day? I didn’t realize just how deeply the gender binary and its accompanying beauty standards held me in its stranglehold until I had to make this decision. I’m a newly realized non-binary person, meaning I don’t identify as a man or a woman, just a human being who doesn’t feel the need to comport myself in any specifically gendered way. (I’ve been hesitant to publicly label myself as non-binary because I don’t face the same daily violence and marginalization as many other more visibly non-binary folks do, but that doesn’t make it any less true.)

I want to avoid oversimplifying here. It’s not like non-binary people chop their hair off or make other changes to their appearance and all of a sudden poof! they find themselves. There are many ways to navigate toward one’s true gender expression, and many ways to define what it is to be non-binary. Appearance is only part of it, and doesn’t come into play for everyone.

All I can speak to is my own experience doing this, and while I will likely always benefit from the privilege that comes with cis white womanhood regardless of how I wear my hair, my own personal exploration of what it means to divorce my old gender codes has played out in my appearance. I’ve spent the past few years avoiding most things femme: I stopped wearing bras, makeup and heels. I wear simple tees, skinny jeans, Blundstones, oversized men’s plaid. The laissez-faire 90s look may be trendy, but I wear these clothes because for me, they’re also an armour that protects me from prescribed notions of how I should move through the world.

I felt that short hair would confirm my androgynous nature, but again, was afraid of being so bare, so accessible.

In the end, it was my friend’s bluntness coupled with the right stylist that took me to pixie level. Toronto-based stylist Anne-Marie Cloutier shares both my love of short hair on femme folks and my general disregard for combs and shampoo, so it was a perfect fit. She chopped my hair on my first visit.

After the cut, what happened surprised me. As soon as the unfortunate strands scattered onto Anne’s Marie’s floor, I started to gravitate to all things femme again. Tiny earrings made for babies, delicate gold chains, dresses. I realized that, perversely enough, the moment I stopped performing femininity I had started performing androgyny instead. I had internalized the idea that, to actualize my identity—to have any chance of being believed about my identity—I had to present in this scripted, flannel-sporting way. Appearances are far from the only way to express our gender, but navigating this change in mine became my chance to learn in practice what I had long known in theory: transness does not look one way.

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