I can remember the first time I dyed my hair. I was 11 years old and had just started wearing tinted Chapstick. My mom helped apply blonde highlights out of a L’Oréal box to my fine, auburn hair. I loved it because I felt completely transformed — but I wanted more. During “crazy hair day” at school, when all the kids were encouraged to do something extreme with their hair, be it fake mohawks or complicated braids, and whenever I wanted, she’d help me paint streaks of gooey nonpermanent cobalt blue and hot pink on the bottom half of my hair.
I never considered my unusual hair “odd” or “unnatural” despite the obvious fact that nobody is born with baby pink and lilac colored hair. After my initial experimentation with blonde highlights, I worked my way up to a deep, cherry red and I haven’t stopped for 13 years. Fittingly, I find comfort in the bright-red colors because I know they work for me, and frequently return to them.
Bluish blacks, navy blue, turquoise, gray, green, deep plum, lilac, hot pink, orange, and a mishmash of rainbow hues — I’ve tried them all.
In between colors, I go back to platinum blonde, but never without some residual color remaining — patchy purple, or bits of pink that were missed during the bleach-out. I think it adds to the imperfection of things, and that’s why I dye it myself. At this point, it’s a ritual. My floor gets covered in towels and I set up a table in the brightest room of my apartment. On top of the table sit different bowls full of powder bleach, developer, and candy-colored hues. If my mom is around — who recently turned 60 and was inspired to dye her hair sunflower yellow — she’ll help me apply the dye while we gossip. An “unnatural” hair color that is too perfect in its uniform shade to me looks clinically cheapened.
I don’t dye my hair crazy colors for attention, though people who make that suggestion are the only ones who ever make me rethink my appearance. I’ve heard people, mostly not in New York, say awful things about my hair from a few feet away. A few months ago, a short man came rushing out of the N subway train across the platform. “You need to change your hair color,” he told me, before dashing away. Women have also told me they “wish” they could dye their hair different colors, like they’re prisoners of their own appearance. They use the excuse that their husband or boyfriend wouldn’t like it, or that it wouldn’t look good on them. To put it simply, I dye my hair unconventional colors because I feel it gives me more ownership over the way I look.
Accidents happen with alternative hair color too. There have been mistakes hidden by cheap hats and expensive updos created at New York City salons that I really couldn’t afford.
In 2014, I had cobalt-blue hair, curled and worn with a dark brow and bright-red lip. It felt so different and so dark. Each day I washed it, it turned to a different shade of blue, gradually turning to a turquoise tinge. I felt uncomfortable around my boss at a traditional magazine office environment — like the color was almost too alternative — despite the fact that I always maintained a less alternative appearance through my clothing.
Last summer, my hair was grey-hued lavender, parted down the center and worn with huge hoop earrings. If there is a such thing as the most basic, wearable non-natural hair color, this would be it. It went with everything in my wardrobe, but the grey tinge bothered me. Looking at myself facing backward in the mirror, I decided I could potentially look anywhere from age 40 to 60 at the age of 22.
Today, it’s a dusty pink that I love so much, I’ve started wearing all pink, all the time. It’s the same feeling as having beautiful, exotic nail art — every time I catch a glance of it in the mirror, I’m happy.
At the end of the day, I always tell myself that I dye my hair for me and no one else. To me, it’s an accessory worn every single day — one that can always be changed. I’ve always thought there’s some fun in playing with stereotypes, too. Having pink and blue hair while carrying a Chanel bag or wearing beautifully made clothes as opposed to the Hot Topic band tees and neon bracelets associated with bright hair colors sometimes confuses or surprises people. They’re not sure what to think. And I like that.