Taking a photo of Billy Ray Cyrus to the hairdresser was never on the cards for Sophie Jackson. But the siren song of the mullet proved too strong to resist.
I can admit that I have smirked at many a mullet. Who among us hasn’t? I have stared, partly in awe and partly in amusement, at possibly every mullet that has crossed my path. That is, up until I got my own cut a few weeks ago.
It’s more than just the boldness of the mullet that has always made me want to smile at them, it’s that this particular haircut is a sort of inside joke within Aotearoa. What other country takes itself so un-seriously that they would genuinely embrace the mullet to the degree that we have – 40 years (and counting) from when it was actually popular?
I quietly believed that those who chose the mullet for themselves were doing it for one of two reasons: because they thought it would be funny, or they thought (mistakenly) that it would look good. I had yet to learn the mullet’s mighty history, or its power to start conversations and connections with people you’d never expect.
My own mullet journey started at the end of March, when I went to my favourite queer-owned barbershop, ready to commit to potentially the most bizarre haircut I’ve ever had. I’d taken one tentative step toward the mullet last year when I got the “shag” cut that had taken over my TikTok feed. I have a deep (totally healthy) emotional attachment to my hair, which I blame on the fact that strangers and loved ones alike have given me compliments on nothing else for my entire life.
Handing the hairdresser a photo of Billy Ray Cyrus was never on the cards for me. But I had two main motivations: one was peer pressure (I had told too many people that I thought I’d look cool with a mullet to back out) and the other was the mental health campaign The Mullet Matters.
The campaign was simple: you sign up, you raise money, and you chop (or, less dramatically, grow) a mullet. The money goes to the Mental Health Foundation and helps them to send more free mental health resources across the country to those who need them. For those of us not so keen on running a marathon to raise money, it’s surely an obvious alternative. Seeing as I already work at the Mental Health Foundation, there was zero expectation that I would get involved or have a mullet cut, but it felt like a sign. The siren song of the mullet continued to call. I got my hair cut just before the campaign ended.
People had fundraised from all over Aotearoa. Everyone’s stories were different; some were doing it because they’d lost someone they loved to suicide, some because of their care for their community and some because they are affected by mental illness themselves. As the campaign closed, some of the fundraisers were invited to a celebratory photoshoot, and I was lucky enough to be included (along with my mullet).
On the day of the shoot, 14 proud mullet owners gathered. We had nothing in common aside from our hair and our commitments to the cause. Though we discovered as the day went on that this wasn’t actually true; two people were from Christchurch, and swapped stories about their town. Two people were studying the same course at uni. Everyone was wholeheartedly proud of their mullet, and not only because they’d raised money with it.
The mullet was a conversation starter – it made us more approachable somehow. Our mullets also acted as a nod to a part of our identity that we felt proud of; for me it was being part of the Rainbow community, and a break away from feminine beauty standards. For others it was a symbol of self-confidence, or a haircut that’s popular in their hometown. Without fail, we all discovered in each other’s company that getting the mullet had in some way made us happier or helped us to connect with another person. We stomped around Te Aroha that day resisting accosting people and evangelising about the mullet.
For me, this haircut has helped with embracing queer identity. Although I’ve been out for well over a decade, the way I connect with queerness has changed over time and I’ve struggled to allow myself to break away from femininity – which for me has meant always at least having a feminine haircut, even if I explored more gender-neutral clothing and eased off from wearing makeup.
I asked some of my newfound mullet-sporting mates why they loved the hairstyle so much.
Chey said it was “the connectivity and sense of unity” as well as the boost of confidence that’s made her love her mullet. It’s been a reminder of the possibilities of going against expectations: “I feel liberated.”
Lili felt the same sense of liberation, even saying it was like a “new identity” or a rockstar persona. To her, the mullet is “fun, unconventional and not too serious”. Again, it’s a symbol of freedom and difference. It’s hard to cringe at a mullet when you see what it means to people.
It’s not just us; there’s a reason the mullet has endured. If you’re a history buff, dig in to the revolutionary history of the mullet. From indigenous resistance against colonisation to alternative music scenes, the mullet is almost always a resistance of social norms. An androgynous haircut! It goes out of style all the time and still it persists! It is both “business” and “party” at the same time! For me and the group who chopped mullets as part of this mental health campaign, it was a symbol of resistance against the mental health stigma that stops us from speaking to each other and living our fullest lives. It’s just turned into more than we expected.
If all that feels a bit too earnest a description of the mighty mullet, I’d argue it’s also just a great, fun haircut. Even when it looks goofy. It’s a good reminder to embrace silly stuff, because it might even change how you see the world around you. As Chey said: it’s liberating.