much ado about hair

Posted: January 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

“Do you dye your hair to get it that color?”  My new friend’s mom bent over me, squinting at my scalp in the sunlit kitchen.  This was my first visit to her home; my friend had led me in and announced, “Mom, this is Karen.”  She had turned around from the work she was doing, and this was her first comment.

I was in the seventh grade – 12 years old.  I guess kids who are 12 sometimes now color their hair – but that’s generally highlights, or maybe some shocking blue or something.  My hair was just the natural blonde I was born with.  This was 1978, we lived in rural Illinois, and I had for sure never heard of a kid dying their hair.  I peered up at her and shook my head, feeling the heat of a rapid blush staining my pale cheeks.

“Well, if Miss Clairol made a blonde color with all those shades, they’d sell out.”  She turned back to the work she was doing, dismissing us to run upstairs to my friend’s room.

I really did have great hair.  I didn’t notice enough to know it at the time – it was just my hair, you know?  I took it for granted.

By high school, I was opinionated on the subject:  people who dyed their hair were just wrong.  Why shouldn’t they just be satisfied with the color God made it?   Why tamper with nature?  I didn’t spout off about it, but there was a whole little speech inside my head on the subject.  Of course I wasn’t factoring in that my own hair was a color Miss Clairol would love to be able to reproduce.  I was still taking what I had for granted.

Being human, I of course wanted what others had.  My hair was okay, I supposed, but when I looked at girls with dark hair and deeply tanned skin, I was envious.  I felt ugly next to them.  “I like the way your sparklin’ earrings lay/Against your skin so brown,” sang my favorite band, the Eagles.  It seemed to me that those lyrics described true beauty, and I was impossibly far from that standard.

After I had kids, my body slowly stopped making that multi-shade uber-light blonde.  It happened so gradually that I didn’t see it in the mirror.  I was at a Mallards hockey game one night when my image showed up on the big screens there, and it took me a moment to recognize myself – the drab hair was just all wrong.  When had THAT happened?

I’ve never been able to reconcile myself to that darker color.  It’s not that I think one color is better than the other, so much – it’s just that I don’t look like myself without blonde hair!  I look like a stranger.  So I’ve been dying my hair for years – when my mom had a shop, she did the color, and after I moved to Chicago, I got on the phone with her and learned how to buy my own box of dye and apply it at home (I don’t imagine I’ll ever be able to bring myself to pay to have it colored – I’m just too tight.)

Along the way, my dark hair has been slowly changing to more and more gray – at least, it was as of a few years ago.  These days I don’t let enough time go between root touch-ups to know what the ratio of gray is, but if it kept advancing at the speed it seemed to be going back then, I must be mostly gray by now.

Earlier this year, I got tired of my haircut and wanted a change.  I wanted to try something asymmetrical, with some red sections.   I think my stylist was a bit apprehensive about it, but I explained that while I was raising my kids, I had always planned to grow dreadlocks “someday when I go to JPUSA and become a hippie,” and then by the time I got to JPUSA, there was already so much gray (and was under the assumption that one cannot dye dreads) that I didn’t grow dreads.  I think black folks look GORGEOUS with gray dreads, but with my complexion, I figured I’d just look like I didn’t take care of myself.  I missed my opportunity, much to the chagrin of my children.  My son even had some of his friends call me up and give me crap about it when I lived at JPUSA.

I explained to my stylist that I MIGHT or MIGHT NOT be too old for asymmetrical and bright red, but if I waited, FOR SURE the day would come that there would be no “might” about it – I would just flat be too old.  I wasn’t about to miss the experience.  She believed me and did just what I wanted.  I loved it!

…I loved it…for a little while.  Actually, I got tired of the red pretty quickly.  I mean, I liked it, but I got so self-conscious from total strangers constantly stopping me to comment on my hair.  They were always complimentary, but I was always aware that it was getting me extra attention, and I’ve not been feeling enough self-esteem to want extra attention this year.  So pretty quickly, I let the red go (that was the only color I ever someone to apply, so letting it go was a budget help, as well.)

Then it wasn’t much longer before I got tired of the haircut, too.  When it works right, it’s cute, but when it doesn’t, I look manly.  Given that I don’t wear even small heels, and that I do bulky sweaters all winter, I already look manly enough.  I don’t want to look manly.  So a couple of weeks ago at my monthly hair appointment, my stylist and I strategized how best to grow out this cut.  She has assured me what I already supposed to be true:  this is gonna get awkward.  I will have bad hair days.  It’s a good thing I didn’t dispose of my hair accessories.  But at least we have a plan and are moving forward.

Now, we come to the point of this blog (yes, it took me over 900 words to get to the point!)…I am debating about what to do about my color.  It has never been my intention to keep using hair dye until I die. I don’t need to be a 90 year old blonde.  But I have no idea when or how to transition from color to natural.  When I lived at JPUSA I was frequently wowed by the beautiful gray heads there, not to mention a really cool lady about my age whose hair is totally white.  Why couldn’t my hair have gone white?!  It’s so spectacular!  I’d totally go for that!

It seems to me that this passage of growing out a short haircut is most likely my last, best opportunity for changing to natural without excessive awfulness.  So, despite the box of hair color waiting in the bathroom, I haven’t redone my roots lately – and it’s getting to be time, if I’m going to.  I just don’t know if I’m going to.  All those years of being single, at least PART of my motivation for continuing to color is I figured guys my age weren’t probably looking to date someone who looked like a grandma.  If I were a wife, I often thought, perhaps I’d be all gray already.  But now I’ve been a wife for a year and a half, and I still want to feel beautiful for my husband.

Could I feel beautiful with gray hair?  Oh, hell…I can’t seem to manage to feel beautiful at all these days.  So it’s hard to make a call on hair color when I’m losing every battle in that war, day by day.

Wonder what I’ll do.  I would certainly welcome insights from you, my dearest readers!

  1. sherrirenee says:

    I started going natural almost a year ago because my hair was badly damaged and I decided to use nothing but natural products. I tried coloring it using coffee but it didn’t take. So, I decided to embrace my gray. I can relate to not feeling beautiful… I’m at my highest weight ever. But, my hair is healthier than it’s ever been and I like it… I decided that’s all that matters. I am sure you will be beautiful (yes, I think you are beautiful… inside and out) whether you color your hair or decide to go natural. 🙂

  2. Pam Myers says:

    I say whatever it takes to make you feel beautiful for your husband and YOURSELF, do it! For me, it’s keeping my hair past my shoulders and “releasing my highlights” which is code for covering the gray that appears at my hairline around my face. My hair color has calmed down since I was a kid, it was more red and kids teased me and called me carrot top and fishstick. But my grandma and dad were both redheads so I’m going to keep it. It’s a part of them. But that gray…it goes away for ME. I’m one of those fortunate women whose husband would think I’m the prettiest girl in the room even iif there was not one hair on my head. And I think you have the same kind of husband.

  3. Cindy Maynard says:

    If I didn’t color my hair I’m certain, due to family genes, I would either be speckled gray (like my mom) or totally bald (like my dad)! I’m not ready to be either just yet. There are some women I know with beautiful gray hair, Pam Ricke, her mother Joanne Anderson, Kathy Lee Curtis (ok well I don’t know her personally, but she has nice hair!! ha ha). I think it is up to you. But you should know…….you are beautiful to me because I know your heart! Love ya!!

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