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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hair color and identity

Like most women, I've always had a love-hate relationship with my hair. I hated the natural curl for a long time. When I was little, older women always gushed over my hair and usually mentioned Shirley Temple at some point, despite the fact that my hair was dark brown and I didn't have dimples. I always wanted to kick them in the knee when they did that, but I was brought up to be polite.

Then when I got older, the sixties hit. All of us with curly hair had years of bad hair days as we fought to get it straight enough, in an era when straight-haired people were ironing theirs to make it even straighter. I discovered chemical straighteners at the age of twelve, and straightened my hair until my last year of college. By then, Afros had come into style for African Americans, and I rebelled. If they could wear theirs natural, why couldn't I? So I grew it out, cut off the straightened part, and had the best damn white-girl Afro you ever saw.

Then, two weeks after my twenty-first birthday, I found my first white hair. Coarse and stick-straight, I thought it was some foreign object that had wound its way into my curls, and yanked it. To my total shock, it was attached. I looked at this white, straight hair in my hand, and thought, "My God, I'm going to look like a dandelion." Fortunately after the first couple of dozen - all of which I pulled - they began coming in the same texture and curl as the brown hair.

First I put a henna rinse on. It gave my blue-brown hair a lovely chestnut cast, and disguised the white hairs. For a while. Then one day, someone asked, "What are all those orange hairs on your head?" I took a good look in the mirror under fluorescent lights, and my jaw hit the bathroom sink. It looked like a halloween wig.

So I washed out the henna and began having it professionally dyed back to brown. This was good for ten years. At that point, watching the white roots come in was very depressing, as well as unsightly. My hair grew very fast still, and it only took 2 weeks for the roots to show.

Being a low-maintenance kind of woman anyway, and having a mom whose hair has been pure white since she was 50, I decided I'd grow it out and have a look at it. When I couldn' stand the roots, I went and had the rest bleached, figuring blonde wouldn't look so extreme.

Yikes. It looked ghastly. Doggedly I left it, until I noticed that the bleached part had turned ORANGE. Ugh!!! By then I had a good bit of root, so I picked up a pair of scissors and cut off all the orange hair. It came out shorter than I usually wear my hair, but looked pretty good. Now I had a salt-and-pepper Afro. By then I was 38.

I left it alone for over ten years. And then I had a midlife crisis of sorts. And one cute man too many told me in a bar that I looked like 35 from the front and 65 from the back.

"Hmmm," I says to myself, "I've never been a blonde." Again, I figured the light color wouldn't show the roots so badly, and this time I wouldn't have to bleach it. So for the last four years I've been just about every shade of blonde offered in home coloring kits. I wanted Marilyn, but that color didn't look good on me. Actually, none of them really did, but I persevered. Now, I'm very tired of the upkeep, and tired of the color. I'M A BRUNETTE, DAMN IT!

And there's the rub. In my heart, and in my dreams, I still have dark brown hair. Since I can't have that any more, I'll go with the natural silver. Even if I do double-takes in the mirror for the rest of my life.

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