Colored Hair vs Natural Hair
I use my hair as a signal to strangers; I’m different, maybe even a bit strange.
I was raised in a religion so strict some call it a cult. Despite my best attempts at persuasion, my single mother would not allow even a tiny streak of unnatural blue to grace my long blonde hair.
At 15 I got caught using a temporary coloring wand before school one morning. It was confiscated and I was punished.
So by the age of 16 I started thinking about cutting it instead. I asked a family friend (from church) in her late 20’s for an honest opinion. Her response: “Jenée, you can’t cut your hair! You are your hair!” She had known me my whole life.
The next day I drove myself to the nearest beauty salon and insisted on super short “pixie” cut (the 90’s had just ended).
My mom cried when I came home. I dyed it all black a few weeks later.
My next haircut was from a barber who essentially shaved it off for me, leaving just a bit of fuzz. At school, no one called me “hippy girl” or “the girl with the hair” anymore.
As soon as I was out of the house, I was experimenting with color.
Despite the fact that I was told it was only a phase, I continued to use my style as a form of positive self expression throughout my 20's.
After a breakup, dealing with the death of a friend, or in need of a change; My hair was always there to help me sort out my feelings.
While living in Manhattan I was approached on several occasions by people wanted to take my photo. On many more, people did it without asking; From tour busses, through store windows, and sometimes on the sly.
Once, while listening to music on a commute I felt a tap on my shoulder. I pulled out one of my earbuds and a man asked “do you have any rolling papers?” He just assumed based on how I looked that I would.
As I entered my 30’s I decided to try “normal” hair for a while. To see if I was holding myself back from opportunities with my self expression.
Things did change. People started making different assumptions about me.
At a new job, someone from another department was having a casual chat with me. At one point she said “I mean, I’m not saying I’m voting for Trump or anything but…” and proceeded to tell me that poor people are getting too many food stamps and that’s why so many are fat.
Looking across the table, I realized she was assuming we came from the same background. Long sleeves hiding my tattoos and long blonde hair camouflaging a small facial piercing, we could have been sisters. Two, white, thin, affluent women just chatting about our superiority.
She didn’t know I was thin because I’ve had untreated autoimmune diseases my whole life. She didn’t assume I was a Welfare kid who’d never had adequate medical attention.
Maybe I should have told her what dog food tastes like, and how hungry you have to be to try it but I was mute: With a mixture of rage and shame.
Sometimes it was more direct, like the man who shouted that I was an “entitled white bitch” how was “blowing smoke in his face” while downtown Chicago.
I was puffing on an e-cigarette near the curb and some of my strawberry ice cream cone scented vapor had blown in his direction. I told him it wasn’t smoke, it was vapor and it couldn’t hurt him.
He followed me for a block and a half, shouting the same thing, until I pulled out my phone to call the cops. He didn’t know I’m terrified of cops or that I was born to an inmate, just that I looked like someone he couldn’t relate to.
Most of the time it’s more subtle. It’s the way a grocery teller throws your carefully selected produce into the bottom of a bag, or the side eye you get on the train. If you’re sensitive like me, it’s a palpable sensation of hostility.
A few days ago I turned 32, but not before dying my longish blondish hair to resemble a peacock ish.
Despite the fact that I’ve been spending far too much time in isolation as of late, I am happy to report notable positive social interactions since; The young cashier that gave me extra tickets for the sweepstakes, the chatty guy at the resale shop who gave me a discount.
Perhaps it’s all part of my vivid imagination, or simply a confidence booster that positively skews my perception. Whatever it is, it’s not a phase. I am more me when I look this way.
My mother thought it was a sign of a rebellious attitude, and maybe she was right. I rebelled against a cult, an abusive childhood, sexual assault, and statistics that say I should be in jail or dead.
Along with the stories tattooed across my skin, I use my hair as a signal to strangers; I’m different, maybe even a bit strange. But I am willing to admit it openly, and am vulnerable in this truth.