Friday, April 27, 2012

Summer blonde

Opinions on my hair color vary. I think of myself as blonde, because I was very blonde as a child. Jeff alternately thinks of my hair as brown (because he met me when I was 21) or as blonde (because my current hair color is the same as his cousin's, who was also blonde as a child and whose hair color Jeff has not mentally updated in the last few decades). My best friend in high school aptly called it "hair-colored hair."

So when spring came, I started my usual habit of waiting for buses with my hair spread out on my shoulders, trying to catch as much sun as possible to lighten it a bit. But after a few weeks of this, I wondered if this wasn't the year to invest $1.05 in a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. It seemed like cheating, but how was a five-minute application of chemicals really worse than standing around outdoors waiting for UV damage?

After a little experimenting, my hair was lighter. Not quite the streaky gold that normally happens in summer, but a flatter yellow. It looked okay. I hoped people wouldn't notice that I had changed it.

But a few of them did (though not Jeff, who couldn't see the difference even after I told him.) Various coworkers and acquaintances asked, "Did you lighten your hair? I like it!" At first I was annoyed that they were calling attention to it - didn't they realize it was shameful to dye your hair? Eventually I realized they didn't see it that way. After all, most American women dye their hair at some point. But I, in my Victorian way, thought of it as vain and fake.

Other people, even ones who see me often, said nothing. I hoped that meant they hadn't noticed.

And then last week I went to the New England Folk Festival and saw about 80,000 old friends, many of whom commented on the change. Hearing all that made it clear that the change was noticeable. And that people who hadn't commented - such as my entire family - had probably been going by the "if you don't have anything nice to say" rule.

Most horrifyingly, a couple of people identified me as a redhead. I knew that people's color vision varies, and I'd had that argument about whether the shirt is purple or blue, but it had never occurred to me that this would apply to my head. If there was anything I didn't want to look like more than a woman who dyes her hair, it was a woman who dyes her hair red. And roots! I assumed people with their roots showing were kind of lazy, but somehow dark roots appeared instantly. I hated looking like a bottle blonde. (Or a bottle redhead.)

We can talk about the social justice implications of this if you want. We can talk about my internalized sexism, my artificial definition of "natural", and the fact that I've read too much Louisa May Alcott. But ultimately, I just wanted to not be embarrassed about my head.

So today, in order to look like the kind of woman who doesn't dye her hair, I dyed my hair again. It's back to its regular color (which is, according to the Revlon box, "lightest golden brown"). The act finished, I went outside to catch the bus into Medford center. I went back to my springtime ritual of standing with my back to the sun.

A man, one elbow leaning out his car window, leered at me as he passed. "Hey, Goldilocks!" he shouted.

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