I remember when I was a kid and asking my mom when I could dye my hair “funky colors.”
“When you’re 15,” she said. It was a throwaway age number, a ballpark number that meant to really say, “Not anytime soon, sweetheart.”
Well, I held onto the “15” age in my head for years. I turned 15, and I went to the hairdresser asking for a light pink streak on my left side. Sitting in the chair excited while she painted the bleach and put the pink in, I knew that it was a foot-in-door situation for me. No way was I just going to have a pink streak in my life and be done with it.
Since that time, I’ve had every color I could think of on my head. I’ve signed waivers at the hairdresser before, saying that if the color they used on my head sucked, that 17-year-old me wouldn’t fight back. I’ve colored my hair with stuff that was closer to fabric dye than hair dye. In college, I went through all-over red, purple, blue, purple-and-black, blue-and-dark brown, and walked in commencement with hot pink hair. I’ve dyed my hair with henna, which is an arduous process that involves crushing up a brick of it in hot water to make it a yogurt consistency before coating my hair with it and wrapping my head in saran wrap for 4 hours to let everything settle. And you wonder why they don’t use henna at hair salons? Anyway — my hair’s been through a lot.
Having hair dyed every color under the sun was certainly a fun period in my life. In fact, I hinged part of my identity in my hair. I was pretty distinctive because of it and would attract attention from curious 3-year-olds and shocked boomers alike. I would look in the mirror and see a head with a neon blue bob, a punk-rock purple pixie, or a feisty Fuschia look. When I stopped dying my hair, I worried that I would miss that.
I’m surprised to say that, after about three years since my rainbow hair days, I don’t miss a moment of it. I don’t miss sitting in a chair while bleach fries in my hair, burning my scalp. I don’t miss spending an entire afternoon every month having to bleach and dye my dark brown roots in my all-over blue hair. I don’t miss asking my hairdresser about products that would repair dry and damaged hair that, frankly, was past the point of redemption. I don’t miss poppy violet hair fading to a sad purple that screams less “chic lavender” and more “dye your patchy, gross hair.”
That said, I don’t regret the self-discovery I had with my hair-dying journey. My hair has been recut and redyed countless times. During that time, the rainbow colors lost their luster, their cool factor, and they didn’t make me feel any more or less punk rock or awesome. Changing my hair all the time didn’t change my inner feelings about myself — that was some personal, do-the-hard-work-to-fix-yourself stuff.
Sure, little kids don’t look at me and think I’m a fairy who escaped the land of Oz anymore. But, I still feel happy. I still feel cool. I haven’t changed my hair in years, but I’m still me. That’s what matters.