"It's especially good cause now I won't sit on my hair all the time," former Real Housewives of Dallas star LeeAnne Locken told PEOPLE

By Dave Quinn
February 28, 2020 05:38 PM
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Credit: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images; Mariah Bucù

LeeAnne Locken is embracing change these days.

A day after announcing that she would be leaving The Real Housewives of Dallas, the former Bravo star walked the red carpet at Wednesday’s release party for the 2020 Sophisticated Weddings New York Edition with a new, shorter ‘do.

“I chopped off 5 inches!” she told PEOPLE at the event, held at Gotham Hall in New York City, New York.

“It was time for changes all around,” she said, noting her RHOD exit. “I’m all about fresh starts, and this felt like the right way to kicking off this next chapter. A true shedding of the past. New weave, new LeeAnne!”

Asked how she felt about the cut, Locken, 52, boasted, “I just feel lighter all around.”

“It’s especially good cause now I won’t sit on my hair all the time,” she laughed.

She had the support of her husband Rich Emberlin, too, who gushed about how much he loved Locken’s new look. “She looks beautiful no matter what,” Emberlin, 57, said.

Credit: Mariah Bucù
Rich Emberlin and LeeAnne Locken
| Credit: Mariah Bucù

This isn’t the first time Locken has undergone a hair transformation. Last February, the reality star dropped her dark black hair color in exchange for updated caramel brown locks with sun-kissed highlights.

Locken hadn’t rocked a color this bright in well over a decade. She previously spent 40 years as a blonde while working on acting and modeling gigs (as Miss Congeniality fans will remember), before slowly transitioning to a darker ‘do over the years.

So what inspired her 2019 style switch? Her then-upcoming nuptials (she and Emberlin tied the knot in April 2019).

“My hair has been super dark, almost black, for so many years and I felt like it was so hard on my skin tone,” Locken told PEOPLE at the time. “I just felt like it was very harsh and it was prohibitive. Like, I couldn’t be tan with dark hair, it didn’t make sense. And I want to look soft for my wedding. I want to look angelic.”

LeeAnne Locken
| Credit: Tommy Garcia/Bravo

Locken has been a full-time cast member on RHOD since its premiere in April 2016.

The Texas native gave the Bravo show some of its most talked-about moments thanks to her bold personality and fiery temper (who could forget her iconic “They’re just hands, but they work quite well” hot mic scene?).

Some of those moments got her into the hot seat — especially in season 4, when Locken made racially insensitive comments toward her Mexican castmate Kary Brittingham during a group trip to Thailand. She later apologized for those words, and she and Brittingham have since reconciled.

But clashes with her cast mates aside, Locken was often seen on RHOD talking about her mental health, opening up about her own issues with depression and suicide that began in the wake of a recurring and traumatic sexual assault by the hands of a family friend. She also used her platform on the show to highlight her other philanthropic efforts, spreading awareness about AIDS activism, LGBTQ issues, animal rights and the dangers of sexual trafficking.

Now, Locken says she’s looking forward to time away from the cameras.

“The last four years have been a trolley-slapping good time but after much consideration, I have made the personal decision to step away from RHOD,” Locken said in a statement published exclusively by PEOPLE on Tuesday.

“Getting to share my wedding with the viewers last year brought me tremendous joy, however, the season was very personally challenging for me,” she said. “I am looking forward to stepping away from the cameras and spending quality time with my husband and friends, traveling, but most importantly, getting back to philanthropy, which was my main reason for joining the show.”

“Thank you to everyone who has laughed and cried with me along the way,” Locken added. “It’s been an amazing journey, and yes my pantyliner is still exhausted. There are so many exciting things on my horizon that I can’t wait to share with you.”