I dyed my hair for the first time at the beginning of October, and it was so much fun.
As in, way more fun than I expected, and I expected to enjoy it.
It started off with Elizabeth, my stylist, pulling out a big book of hair swatches for me to pick from. I had to rely on her guidance quite a bit, because I had no idea how the dye would look once she’d actually applied it. I wanted to go for a natural-looking auburn color—something dark and bold but still believable as a natural hair color. At the same time, I worried that in attempting to pick something natural I wouldn’t go red enough. Like, I wanted to have red hair, just not red red hair. It’s a fine line.
Elizabeth’s big tip was that lighter = brighter. And since I didn’t want to go for fire-engine red, we decided to do a mixture of two dyes: one a reddish brown, and the other a reddish copper.
Elizabeth went off to begin her mad scientist hair-dye chemistry (or maybe she envisions herself more as a creative genius painter), and I waited in my chair, sentimentally gazing at my natural hair in the mirror, wondering when I would next see it again. When Elizabeth returned, I expected to have one final, big moment to say goodbye. But I guess she’s less mushy about these things than I am, because she just slapped the dye straight on without warning. Which was totally cool, actually. In retrospect I appreciated that she just got on with it.
A couple hours followed in which Elizabeth coated all of my hair with an alarmingly orange-colored cream (the dye), then left me to sit and read while it soaked in, and then washed and dried and styled it, mostly with my back to the mirror. The entire time, even as she applied the wet dye to my roots, she told me how much she loved the color, and how much she thought I was going to love it, and I still have no idea how she knew that even before the dye had started to work, but she seemed pretty confident.
Forget mad scientist or genius painter. Maybe she’s really a wizard.
Anyway, when Elizabeth finally turned me around, I made that jaw-dropping face which she later told me is the reason she loves her job. All my life I’d subconsciously identified myself with brunette characters: Belle, or Hermione Granger, or Elizabeth Bennet. Suddenly I had become Anne Shirley or Ginny Weasley.
(Which, when you think about it is a little weird. Why identify yourself with some fictional characters more than others based on their hair color, especially when you’re reading a book and often times never see them visually represented at all? Yet, I’m pretty sure most of us do this.)
I think I walked out and could not stop smiling for several hours. Every time I saw myself: big grin. It helped that I’d picked such a dimensional red that it seemed like a different color in every light.
That said, after the initial excitement I felt very nervous about my hair for the first week or so. I kept being surprised by my own reflection in the mirror. I felt self-conscious in front of other people, and couldn’t wait to wash my hair to get some of the staining off my scalp. Also, every time I wore green I felt like the poster child for Irish tourism, which wasn’t a bad thing it itself, but it did feel a little cheesy.
After a week or so the color toned down, and either I liked it better that way, or else I just finally got used to it. I’d originally planned to do red for only a month, but by the time my next appointment came round I’d decided one month wasn’t enough.
Also, it was still Fall, so the color felt in-season. This was another thing I learned about dying your hair: people pick seasonal hair colors. I mean, this was (at least in part) the reason I’d chosen red, so I’m not sure why it surprised me. But nonetheless, I had several people complement my hair by telling me I’d made a good choice for the season.
A lot of folk told me they liked the red, but I was more surprised by strangers or people I’d just met commenting on how they liked my choice. As in: they knew it wasn’t natural, even after it had softened and could conceivably have been so.
I had mixed feelings about this. As I mentioned in my first post, I’ve always felt (somewhat irrationally) that dying your hair was cheating in some way, as if you’re somehow faking not your hair color, but some aspect of your personality. That in itself says a lot of weird things about how we attach personality stereotypes to hair color, which again is somewhat irrational. But given the fact that those stereotypes do exist, and that we somehow expect them to map to hair color in some way, then wouldn’t choosing a hair color which you felt better suited your personality be a truer form of self expression than otherwise?
Probably I am reading too much into this, but probably I will continue to do so as this series continues. Consider yourself forewarned.
Anyway, I liked making a personal statement of my hair color, and it felt cool to connect with people about that, if only a little. Also, it surprised me how much I noticed other people’s dyed hair. Now I understand a little better why past hair stylists kept expressing amazement over how my hair had never been dyed.
In conclusion, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed red hair, particularly after it mellowed a little and became more coppery and less auburn. My stylist keeps telling me that red and blonde are the most addictive colors, and that for many of her clients, once they get a taste they keep going back to whichever of those two shades they tried first. I don’t know if that will happen to me. I always expected to go back to my natural hair once I’d tried everything else. And while I know a really vibrant copper is in my future this summer, I could see myself eventually gravitating toward a rich chestnut with a hint of red undertones.
In the meantime, it’s on to something darker.