I’ve been obsessed about my hair — it’s length, it’s color, it’s wave — since the time my mother first cut my hair because I refused to keep it in a ponytail during the summer. When my high school best friend started classes at a local cosmetology school, I became her guinea pig. She frosted, streaked, and permed my hair. I was rarely satisfied with the outcome. Frustrated with my contrariness at my last appointment, her supervisor intervened and cut my hair to within two inches of my scalp.
With steely self-control, I let it grow out until it hung dark and long, parted down the middle, further elongating my long face. By then my hair was a reflection of how I wanted others to see me. It had been a bane for my mother who preferred it pulled back when I was younger or closely cropped as I grew older. Long hair was a way to rebel, I thought. Little did I know how it would come to control me.
My hair was thick and wavy with a mind of its own and only when I wore it long, did it maintain some composure. Inevitably, however, I would find myself at a salon, trying a new style, always thinking that this new style would make me more attractive to others, help me be taken more seriously.
At first I liked the gray streak that appeared to the left of my natural part when I was in my early thirties. But one day a college friend casually mentioned that perhaps I should color my hair, as the gray streaks dulled my natural ash brown. She meant no harm and, no doubt, didn’t realize the crazy ride her advice would send me on. I was then in my late thirties, in a graduate program surrounded by students at least ten years younger than me. I was married and didn’t socialize with other students outside of class or work. It was enough that I felt dull. I didn’t want to look dull as well.
Over the next ten years, I colored my hair while I continued to cut it and perm it. I went to salons, and I bought home dye kits when funds were tight. One time I decided that I wanted to be a redhead and bought a home kit. The result? I looked like I had dyed my hair with red Kool-Aid. My husband took it in stride, as he did all my costume changes.
A hair stylist helped me “fix” the color, but the constant struggle with trying to look young and vibrant was taking its toll. Each subsequent coloring was making my hair darker, the gray roots popping up sooner. I became increasingly self-conscious and worried that I made myself look older because I was trying to look younger. Finally I gave up.
On a hot and humid August afternoon, I grabbed my husband’s beard trimmer.
I couldn’t stop smiling. My head felt light as a feather. I had turned fifty years old that summer and no longer felt I could tolerate trying to make myself in an image that pleased others while leaving me miserable.
The next step was to let my hair grow. Five years later I was rocking long gray hair.
But I couldn’t stop there. No, once my hair took on the concept of a blank canvas, I took on color again but differently. No more ash brown for me.
I started with pink tips because, while I love to rebel, I tend to do so in baby steps. Fast forward a few years and I finally accomplish my true purpose in life: to have multicolored hair.
Where do you go after going all technicolor on your hair? The next challenge was to see how long my hair would grow. Sometime last year the ends were tickling my lower back, and I felt (again) enough was enough. My hair is still thick and the only way to manage its weight was to braid it, day in and day out. That got old fast.
Currently, I’m sporting a medium-length bob. All the color has been cut away, but not to worry. I have plans. I just can’t decide on an all-over color or streaks, bright color or pastel, pink or purple. I’m leaning this way:
But I could wind up with this:
As I go deeper into my sixties and suffer the aches and pains of arthritis, fight a losing battle with my weight, and try to massage away my wrinkly, flabby skin, there’s one thing I can do to let the world know that I’m not dead yet. I can always dye my hair.
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