My parents have taken a while to come around on my hair. The first few times I dyed it, my mother would wrinkle her nose at me. If I had to dye it an unnatural color, why not a dark red, she would ask. Or a very dark purple? Whenever I was between colors, she would tell me not to ever dye it again. You’ll be dyeing it black soon enough, once you get gray hairs, she says. Why not enjoy your hair as it is before then?
Years ago, even these mild comments might have bothered me. They would have sat under my skin, and I would have clawed at myself to dig them out. These weighty words were part of why I didn’t dye my hair at all during my twenties or get tattoos or visible piercings. I believed there was no way I could ever find approval and so I found refuge in the second best thing — invisibility.
I have been taught, in so many ways, to be invisible. I’ve always been too tall, too big, too loud. I was asked over and over again to be a little less of this and more of that. I was never focused enough or quiet enough or biddable enough. I felt like nothing I did was right which resulted in a severe case of self-consciousness. My superpower of choice during childhood would have been invisibility because when you’re invisible, nobody can criticize you.
Attention inevitably led to judgment so I learned early on that standing out meant standing alone.
Even these days, I’ll be out at places like Disneyland or Target and find people glancing covertly or even staring at me. I end up panicking a little inside. Is there something on my shirt? Have they never seen an Asian? Am I really that fat?
Then I catch a glimpse of myself in a window and realize that they’re probably looking at my hair. Why would someone who doesn’t want people looking at them stick a rainbow on their head? I think this is why people stop to talk to me — brightly colored hair must mean I don’t mind the attention.
Women, children, and queerfolk are particularly enamored when my hair is in shades of galaxies, peacocks, and mermaids (that is, blues, greens, pinks, and purples). “Mommy, look! Mommy, her hair! Did you see it?” It doesn’t matter if it’s more sea-hag than mermaid. People still comment.
It’s a warm fall day, and I’m signing out of campus after dropping my kids off. A student behind me gasps. “Wow, your hair is soooo cool!” Her blue eyes are wide with fleeting longing while I grin and say “Thanks!”
She’s probably twelve, that age when girls don’t realize how beautiful and precious and kickass they are. All they see in the mirror is awkward limbs and ungainly height or too-large-numbers on their jeans and the scale. I know this because I was twelve once.
“This color would look awesome on you, too,” I tell her. I know that our school’s policy on hair color has started to relax these past few years. She smiles ruefully and says, “Yeah, if I could get my mom to okay it.” She waves the next time she sees me on campus.
I’m at Disney California Adventure as a grad night chaperone. My back hurts, I’m exhausted, and my husband is in line at Starbucks to get me some coffee. At this point in the night, it’s only soon-to-be-graduated seniors in the park.
A student stops by and says “I just wanted to tell you that your hair looks amazing.” They’re tall with carefully tousled, short, curly brown hair, wearing a pink shirt that has a rainbow on it. They have the sweetest smile. My hair is royal purple and eggplant. My back still aches but my soul feels a little lighter. I beam at them and say thanks. I feel seen. I feel known.
I’ve realized that I can’t live my life for someone else’s approval. Not my mom’s, not my friends’, not my pastor’s, not even the approval of the wrathful God I was always afraid of disappointing. It wasn’t fair to me, and to be frank, it wasn’t fair to them. I resented my parents’ expectations but still tried to fulfill them. By being honest about who I was (and how much I liked being that person), I gave them the opportunity to get to know and love me for who I am instead of the imagined self that stood between us.
It took me a while, but I learned how to smile and tell my parents I thought my new hair color was pretty. That I enjoyed having it this way, even as they were complaining about it. My mother said well, that’s true, you’re young. You should enjoy your hair.
These days, she tells me it looks pretty, no matter what color it is. My father, true to form, notes its color to me, as if I should be surprised that my hair isn’t black. “Oh. It’s blue.” “Wow, it’s green now! Looks nice!”
I’ve learned to be okay with the attention my hair brings me. I get comments ranging from inquisitive to inane to intrusive, and it’s okay. I don’t need anybody else to like it, although it’s lovely and fun when they do. I trade hair tips and dye brands with fellow rainbow hued folks while I’m out and about.
I dye my hair because it helps me remember that it’s okay that I’m different. I can like being different, and the people that love me like that about me, too. There are so many ways I don’t fit, and it’s okay. I still wish sometimes that I could fit into the molds people expect of me, but when I see my hair, it makes me think that being a little mold-breaking isn’t a bad thing after all.
But mostly, I dye my hair because I like it. Even though I like me without it, it’s more fun to be me with it, and that’s reason enough for me.
About the Author: Stella (she/her) is a writer, editor, and also serves as a moderator in PAAC. She’s second-gen, queerean, an elder millennial and a homeschool mom in sunny SoCal. She loves reading, making art, and connecting with the PAAC community whom she credits for teaching her to be salt and light. Her hair is rarely the same color.
Image by: jiao_tang on pixabay