It hit me for the first time about a year ago. I have no idea what color my hair is.
Oh, sure, I know what color I want people to think it is. But the truth is, I’ve been coloring my hair for so long that I honestly can’t remember what I looked like when I didn’t color it - although I do vaguely remember the word “mousy” being bandied about by spiteful family members during my awkward preteen years.
To be completely honest, I’m not sure I even want to know. There’s a certain level of comfort in knowing what you look like before you look in the mirror, and it’s a little jarring to suddenly realize that not only do you not look like you think you look, but that you don’t even know what you do look like.
I started coloring my hair when I was a sophomore in high school, more out of boredom than any great compulsion to improve my appearance. All of my friends were talking about this magical spray-on stuff called “Sun-In,” which was supposed to somehow mimic the effect the sun had on light brown or dark blonde hair. The package promised “natural looking golden highlights,“ and, although no one I knew had actually tried it, it sounded pretty safe to me. Hey, it had the word “sun” on the label, didn’t it? So, one morning before school, I dumped about half a bottle onto my head after my morning shampoo and began to blow dry.
I’m not sure what color the highlights actually were, but they were most definitely not golden, nor were they even remotely natural looking. I think perhaps “brassy” might be the word I am searching for. In any case, it took three hours, twenty shampoos, and a host of threats from my mother about being grounded and having my car taken away before I agreed to emerge from the bathroom and show my head in public.
One would think that the Great Sun-In Debacle would have put me off hair coloring for the rest of my natural life, but, in reality, it only whetted my appetite for blondeness. Surely there had to be a better way, I thought. So off I trotted to the neighborhood drugstore, where I purchased my first home highlighting kit - Quiet Touch, I believe it was called (are you guys all getting how these products try to make themselves sound all natural and subtle?) This time, I followed the instructions down to the last syllable, mixing a pungent blend of bleach, ammonia, and some sort of mystery powder in a non-metallic bowl and making sure not to let any of it touch my bare hands as instructed. Then I took out the plastic brush, dipped it into the bowls and began to paint.
And so it was, in a small upstairs bathroom in the town of Glastonbury, Connecticut, that the concept of the Chunky Highlight was born - approximately twenty years before the Chunky Highlight actually came into vogue. Actually, the Chunky Highlights themselves weren’t that bad, but, as my yearbook photograph sadly demonstrates, the combination of the Chunky Highlights with the Rave Home Perm Gone Awry resulted in a dateless phase that began shortly after graduation and carried through until the second semester of my freshman year in college.
Throughout the rest of college and thereafter, I meandered my way up and down the Scale of Salon-Assisted Blondeness, ranging in degree of subtlety from the “What? You colored your hair?” variety to the more emphatic, “Yikes! Hand me my sunglasses!” This period culminated in an alarming foray into platinum that, unfortunately, also coincided with my Eighties Disco Phase, during which I wore a lot of gigantic shoulder pads and attempted to create “big” hair by teasing my bangs straight up and securing them firmly at the roots with generous spritzes of Paul Mitchell Freeze and Shine Styling Spray.
No matter what shade I happened to be in any given month, I took comfort in my blonde identity. It made my life easier. It was easy to describe myself, the color went well with my blue eyes, I could always throw on something pink in an outfit pinch, and it inevitably ensured all kinds of attention - albeit often unwelcome attention from catcalling construction workers lounging about their muddy worksites.
Memo to Oversexed Construction Guys: Have any of you ever actually managed to get a real date out of the dozens of women you heckle on the street on a daily basis? No? Then might I suggest you rethink your strategy, perhaps take out a personal ad or go to a singles dance, since your current mode of seduction doesn’t seem to be working out that well for you.
But after twenty five years of blonde ambition, I realized that I was getting bored. At that point, I was heartily sick of all shades of pink, the construction workers were getting progressively louder and more unattractive, and my rapidly proliferating dark roots made my now-monthly excursion to the salon an even more expensive proposition than it had been in the past. Plus, I began to notice another phenomenon that was even more disturbing.
I wasn’t getting promoted.
Well, truth be told, I actually kept getting fired.
Granted, I was partially to blame. I’ve always had a bit of a temper, and, coupled with a sarcastic streak that I am sure you haven’t noticed because I’ve become so good at hiding it, I’ve never been held in great favor by the higher ups in my organizations. And, in technology sales in particular, it’s pretty damn hard to be taken seriously as a woman - but as a blonde woman I found that I had to struggle twice as hard to make my sales. Anyway, combine those factors with a suddenly sour economy and, somehow or other, despite a decent sales record, I always managed to find myself at the top of every layoff list.
So, after my third job in the space of a year ended abruptly one bleak October morning, I sat back and took stock. I decided something had to change. Instantly. And, since I couldn’t very well change my personality in the time I needed to land another job, I went for the next best route.
I hauled my faded blonde tresses into an expensive new salon that I really couldn’t afford anymore due to my suddenly jobless state, and sat down for a consultation with the flamboyant owner. He spun me around in his big chair a few times, applied his hands expertly to the underside of my hair, tousled me “just so,” proclaimed me “gorgeous” (thus instantly justifying the enormous cost of the visit) and declared, “Keep the blonde, Sweets, but jazz it up with some strawberry highlights.”
And so it began.
I started with “a few” subtle highlights, but the Red quickly became an addiction. And the thrill of each application wore off as soon as the color began to fade, so I kept going back for more and more to get the same fix.
So about a month ago, the Flamboyant Salon Owner and I had a heart-to-heart and, together, we came to a fateful decision. Instead of being blonde with strawberry highlights, I became strawberry with blonde highlights.
Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard how outward appearances don’t matter, that you can only change on the outside once you’ve changed on the inside, and blah blah blah inner beauty yak yak yak. Boy oh boy have they been lying to you. Since I have become a redhead, my entire world has turned upside down.
I am no longer automatically considered a bimbo. Now, instead of people looking at me and wondering how dumb I really am, I imagine that they are all looking at me thinking, “Hmmm…a redhead - I wonder what she’s up to?”
Or, better yet, perhaps people now fear me. Instead of wondering what I’m up to, they could be imagining, “Uh-oh, watch out for that one! She’s a redhead! Don’t piss her off!”
I now have excuses for everything. I’ve always hated going to the beach and never saw much point in lying out in the sun. As a result, I’ve never had much of a tan. Now that I am a redhead, no one expects me to be tan. In fact, I can avoid the beach entirely by citing my “sensitive complexion” and sit on the deck, blissfully reading a book in the shade.
Stupid saleswomen at the makeup counter no longer pressure me to try their hateful new shade of scarlet red lipstick. Even they know it doesn’t go with my hair!
Construction workers? They think twice before catcalling this redhead. They know what they’d be stirring up and wisely decide to just look the other way.
And, at long last, I have happened upon the perfect excuse for losing my temper! I can snap at people at will, be as irritable as I please, flip the bird at stupid drivers will full impunity - and no one says “boo” because it’s all chalked up to my “redhead’s temper.”
I bet if I’d done this a few years ago I wouldn’t have been fired so often.
And I never have to wear pink again.