My family loves to laugh about how I was born bald and remained so until I was practically entering school! If I was wearing a bow, it was taped to my head.
When I finally began sprouting hair, I had soft blond waves that Paul Mitchell would have gone crazy over.
Then, in what seemed like one day, my hair – the color, the texture, the condition – changed. What was happening, of course, was puberty. The side effects of nearing adulthood meant my hair was now oily, coarse and… dark.
My hair was neither the blonde it was when I was a babe nor a dreamy chocolate color. It was in between, or as the hairdressers confirmed, it was “ash,” “mouse brown,” “brassy.”
I wonder if I wouldn’t have cared all that much about my hair color if it weren’t so trendy (“better”) to be blonde. By high school, it seemed every girl was getting highlights or dye jobs. Looking back, it seems so young to have already begun altering our appearances. But of course, that’s precisely how it happens. We begin to see what’s considered more beautiful, what everyone else is doing, and we don’t want to be left behind. When all the girls suddenly became toe heads, it seems there was no excuse not to jump on the blonde bandwagon.
So I began highlighting my hair. It started with just a few sections. I remember the first time wearing a highlighting cap; it hurt when strands of my hair were pulled through the tiny holes. I even recall a strong chemical-type burn on my scalp upon leaving the salon. But despite the pain, soon enough I was highlighting my entire head (as you can see below in the photo of me, at left, with my sister), getting more and more blonde (less and less natural), until it was finally what I considered an enviable color. But as is no surprise, beauty comes at a cost, and the price tag to “be beautiful” was well over $100 every time I needed a touch-up. It was nuts but addicting!
I continued on like this throughout high school and all of college. Having an entire head full of dye made it dry and brittle. I remember bursting into tears during my junior year while trying to brush my hair because no amount of conditioning product did the job of softening it. It tangled to the touch. By this point, I began to resent the maintenance, cost, and the torture I put my hair through. I simply did not like that I didn’t look like myself. After all this time, a part of me was guilty that I didn’t just embrace the color I had naturally. I’ve discovered that what I struggled with was the conflicting messages that you can improve your appearance with the help of a box or a salon, but it is just as important to embrace how you look naturally. It doesn’t help that advertisers make it all too easy to believe you could be more than what you are. Better than your original version.
The worst part was that changing my hair color didn’t even do what I wanted it to. No one ever really commented on how pretty my hair was. I got a lot of “wow, you’re hair is so blonde!” but I was ashamed by comments like these because, well, I usually felt obliged to admit it wasn’t natural. I was, essentially, an imposter.
It was a slow evolution, but within a year or two of graduating college, I allowed myself to let my hair do its own thing. It took a long time to watch the fake color work its way down. When I snipped away the dyed ends, my hair felt healthier instantly. Part of getting it back to natural meant going through the awkward phases of exposing dark roots and light ends. On the occasional “ugly hair days,” I almost gave in and went back to coloring it. But luckily for me, the two-toned look is also a trend.
After my hair got back to normal, I liked it… for a period. Then I suddenly wanted to be darker, but I wanted to be healthy about it. My sister helped me pick out henna dyes, and I tried some and loved the dark-maned me, especially against my blue eyes. Next I tried one with red-ish tones. This time, I even got compliments. But before long, the color washed away in the shower, and I was me again.
For me, changing my hair color was like wearing a lie on my head. I may as well just announce: “I”m not really this color. I just have not accepted my natural color yet.” I have gone through phases where I talk about going very dark, but then I kind of freak out. I don’t think I’ll ever do highlights again, and I’ll certainly never again make my entire head yellow. It took the experience of changing my color to realize I personally am not ok with not being ok with who I am naturally, and so my new normal is to ignore the impulse. I will never look down on those who choose to dye their hair, because there are many reasons for doing so. For many, it’s a form of expression, but I didn’t do it as a form of expression. I was doing it to be blonde and beautiful. What really helps me is realizing how lucky I am just to have hair on my head. Women of all ages have no hair, for one medical reason or another, and that breaks my heart.
Today, looking at myself in the mirror or in pictures to see my natural locks is a confidence boost. Of course, like most people, I still focus on imperfections more often than I’d like to admit. But I somehow had a change of heart and now admire the darker tones in my hair. It’s a reminder that I am me for a reason, and I need to embrace that in every way, shape, and form, and it’s begun to affect other parts of my self esteem. I look back and realize there was no reason to ever change my color to feel good about myself.