Michaela Coel, I May Destroy You’s creator, director and actress opened up to PEOPLE about her character, Arabella’s drastic hair change in episode 5 of the show.
I May Destroy You investigates the subject of consent and what happens to someone after they are sexually assaulted. It’s a subject close to home for Coel who was raped in 2016.
At the beginning of the show, viewers were introduced to Arabella’s lively pink wig. However, after she was raped on two occasions – first on a night out with friends and then by Zain, a guy she was having casual sex with – Arabella decided to shave all her hair off.
This was a purposeful change meant to represent the drastic events in her life. “Everything about the hair journey is very symbolic,” Coel told PEOPLE. “You know, at the beginning, she may feel that she has her life together - she has this pink wig, but the wig is falling apart. It’s fraying,” Coel said.
As the show progresses, Arabella’s life starts hanging in balance. “She shaves off her hair and I’m exploring this concept of realizing how wronged she’d been as a woman and how deceived,” Coel told PEOPLE. “She almost shaves off the symbol, this oink hair that is kind of wrapped into femininity, so she always had this pink hair that she abandons and then picks it back up.”
“She’s always trying to do something with her identity and her aesthetic,” Coel added.
Also read: 12 Interesting facts about I May Destroy You
Speaking more about the similarities between her own life experience and that of her character’s Arabella, Coel explained that their experiences are close but not exact. In terms of her as a character through the series, it's very hard to define how much [we are alike] there's a strange merging of reality and fiction that is quite hard to separate to know, but at many times we are moving in the same direction,” Coel said.
Even though Coel and Arabella are not identical, Coel suggested that the process of writing the show and specifically the role became part of her own healing process.
Catch I May Destroy You Wednesdays at 22:15 on 1 Magic.