The truth about “The Poof”

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The girl next door wakes up, runs a brush through her matted hair, ties it up in a sloppily made ponytail and flips up her hood for good measure. Three minutes later she’s out the door.

Shalese Kofoed, on the other hand, would cringe at such a routine. Her morning involves four necessities: a blow dryer, a straightener, a bottle of hair spray and a whole lot of teasing.

“I like big hair,” said Kofoed, freshman at BYU from Eagle, Idaho. “For me, it’s all about volume. And I have really workable hair, so I like it as big as I can get it.”

[media-credit name=”Photo illustration by Luke Hansen” align=”alignright” width=”199″][/media-credit]
Many Utah women subscribe to the trend of "poofing" their hair.
Yes, Kofoed is a die-hard “poofer,” one of many who have caught on to the big hair trend that has become a defining fashion of Utah women in the past decade.

But the trend is not bound by Utah state lines — it has popped up in surrounding Mormon hot spots in the West, which leads some to believe that big hair has ties to the Mormon culture. Even though big hair made its debut decades ago, it has re-emerged and is without signs of de-volumizing.

“All my friends [from Colorado] have massive hair,” said Kasey Mortensen, a freshman at BYU, a mild participant of the trend. “Big hair is the style; I actually had the least extreme hair back home. I noticed coming into Utah that everyone has really big, teased hair too.”

Big hair has been seen time and time again; the ’80s brought about the huge hair revolution, which reappeared in the ’90s, influenced by James Bond and Austin Powers, said Lyndsey McClure, a learning leader at the Paul Mitchell School in Provo. 

“I think that all trends recreate and we see things coming back more and more,” McClure said. “We started seeing [big hair] again because it was a fun style to try to recreate. It has been influenced by time periods, but now it is taken out of context a little too far.”

Many dissenters are not so modest in their criticisms of the big hair trend. The draw to the bouffanting, the bleaching, the teasing, the ratting, is mind-boggling to non-poofers, who find the style unreasonable showy.

“I feel like it’s the cookie-cutter Barbie look,” said Mandy Bitnoff, a junior at BYU. “It looks like you try too hard. Your hair doesn’t go that way; don’t try to make it go that way. But I feel like that’s the vibe in Utah, to look like a little Barbie.”

Bitnoff, from northern California, said she never saw such voluminous hair back home. Drew Harris, a freshman at UVU from Utah, has seen it for years, and is not a big fan either.

“I think that it’s girls trying to get a reaction out of guys,” he said. “And it’s not necessarily a good reaction that they usually get. Guys usually judge them as not very morally clean girls.”

Making immediate judgments based on appearance is a habit many people innately possess, but some men don’t care about the extremity of a girl’s style, as long as they like what they see.

“If I’m attracted to the girl, it doesn’t matter what her hair looks like,” said Logan Nelson, a 21-year-old from UVU. “If she can pull it off, I’m down for it. But if she’s using it to get attention, to go all out and be really weird, then I don’t like it.”

After considering reasons for participation in such a vamped-up style, third-party observers draw a blank. Yet surprisingly, there are unexpected perks and motives for piling the inches up on the hair, and it is not simply from the desire to be “bigger” and more voluptuous than the girl next door.

“I think the biggest thing about big hair is it makes the body look smaller,” said Veronica Vanderholm, a student at Paul Mitchell in Provo.  “Poofing your hair helps to frame your face and makes you look more feminine by making you look smaller.”

Another reason is strictly geographical. Young girls in western states like Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Arizona, grow up seeing the big hair trend — they like the way it looks, especially when older girls they admire are doing it. Thus, the style is most popular with high school students, many of whom tone down the “beehive” as they get older.

“My cousin lived in Utah and I came and visited her at the start of high school and her hair was so pretty; I wanted to look just like her,” said Alyssa Cardon, a freshman at BYU from Jefferson City, Mo., who practices the art of vertically-altered hair.

The insatiable draw is there — yet the sheer enormity of the hair poses a distraction, and causes damage, which leads some to believe it should not be overdone.

“All things in moderation,” said Josh Thatcher, a 21-year-old student at UVU. “I think you can go too crazy with it, because if you go too big, you’re trying to be showy, and we’re supposed to be humble people. It’s OK to want to be different, but I think there are limits.”

Right in line with Thatcher’s train of thought, Cardon admitted she went too far with her hair before she came to BYU.

“I think the more natural your hair looks the better, actually,” she said. “I think the bigger my hair was, the more distracting it was from who I was as a person. I think if people are focusing on your hair and not you, that’s a really bad thing.”

The trend makes its debut in high school, and oftentimes dies down in college, as it has done for Cardon. But for others, the trend is a part of them and their style, and they don’t anticipate calling it quits soon.

“It’s a big, metaphorically also speaking, hair style,” said Kofoed. “It’s kind of a loud hair style and so maybe people think that it’s eccentric or that we’re trying to get attention. But I think if you can work it, work it. Because it’s a fun a hair style and it’s different, and it works for me.”

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