The complex anatomy of ‘Paxy’s’ modern-day AFLW mullet

The COVID lockdown changed many people’s lives but, for Karen Paxman, she emerged with a radical new hairdo that has grabbed plenty of attention.

It was right in the middle of Melbourne’s three-month COVID-19 lockdown last year when Karen Paxman finally found the courage to change something that had been a constant for most of her life: her hairstyle.

When on the football field, the Melbourne veteran would typically have her hair slicked back into a small bun; left to fall below her shoulders when away from it.

Not anymore. Now it’s a complicated array of lengths, fashioned into a modern-day mullet.

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The 32-year-old had been thinking about a change for some time – not necessarily going with the mullet – but certainly cutting her hair short, dreaming of the ease of rubbing a bit of wax through it and off she goes.

It took pandemic isolation and the ensuing slowing down of life – as well as a bit of encouragement from loved ones, as well as the COVID-safe bubble of hairdressing friend – for her to finally do it.

“It’s got a bit of attention, I didn’t expect it, but I can see why, it’s a bit of a change,” she says.

She admits there were two people who were genuinely shocked by the change: her mum and dad, June and Alan, who were first given a glimpse of their daughter’s new style over a Zoom catch up.

“They are pretty relaxed and open-minded people but I think it was a shock, because I’m obviously theirs, but they’re used to it now and overall most people think it’s pretty all right,” Paxman says.

“In terms of time spent doing hair, it certainly saves me a lot.”

Those spared extra moments are important for the defensive midfielder who continues to thrive in the AFLW.

Paxman has played 33 games in five years, kicked 11 goals and averaged 20 disposals. She’s one of only two footballers who have been named in every AFLW All-Australian team since the league’s inception in 2017, alongside North Melbourne’s Emma Kearney. Last year, she was honoured with All-Australian captaincy.

She’s part of a legion of over-30s in the AFLW who were denied junior footy as kids.

Alongside the likes of Crow Erin Phillips, 35, Giant Cora Staunton, 39, Kearney, 31, fellow Demon Daisy Pearce, 32, she’s one of the veterans who continue to impress amid a generational change occurring in the league, with teenagers now coming into the competition having followed the elite pathways now available to girls.

Paxman, who didn’t start playing footy until age 16 after a teacher spied her kicking the footy with the boys at lunchtime and suggested a local league, says it’s amazing to see the likes of Phillips and Staunton continue to smash out amazing performances.

“There is no precedent at the moment for women’s AFL, so who knows how long we can push our bodies out till,” she muses.

“A lot of us haven’t been playing and bashing and crashing since we were five or six like the men’s AFL players … but now being in an elite environment and having access to the best treatments, education around injury prevention, it will be interesting to see how long we can keep going.”

In 2021, “Paxy” is sitting 11th overall in the AFLW Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year vote, and according to statisticians at Champion Data, she’s posting career-high average disposals (23) and second-highest disposal efficiency (63 per cent). She’s ranking seventh in the league overall for disposals.

Could it be the hair?

If it is, she’ll need all its power on Saturday night when Melbourne takes on St Kilda at Casey Fields, with their season on the line and looking to break their two-game losing streak and get back inside the Top 6.

Paxman laughs at the suggestion her new hairstyle could make her the trendsetter of the women’s league.

“I actually had it done and then afterwards I was watching telly and the AFL was on and there were a lot of blokes with mullets, little did I know they were coming back (in fashion), so it was good timing.”

Trendsetter or not, the thing with major changes like a noticeable new haircut is they can be good for the soul.

“A lot of your identity can be wrapped up in your hair and when I got it cut it did take a bit of courage to do it and you wonder what other people will think, but I just thought: ‘Don’t worry about what people think’.”

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