When I was 11 years old, I was standing in line at the mall when two girls in their 20s began oohing and aahing over my hair. “Those streaks are so foxy!” said one, while the other lifted my hair and began holding it up to the light. “Where did you get it done?” she asked.
Well, I’d gotten it done at the pool in my apartment complex by the New Mexico sunshine. I remember feeling oddly powerful in that moment: I was just a kid, and these women coveted my hair — my normally very brown, very boring, not-quite-curly-but-not-quite-straight hair. The next week I bought a bottle of Sun-In with my babysitting money, and thus began my 35-year love affair with dyeing my hair.
I lived in Michigan during high school, was poor as dirt and had all the wrong clothes. I combated this by becoming one of the lone punk rockers at my high school; I bought men’s t-shirts, hand painted them and then cut them up so badly I had to safety pin them to my bra straps to keep them properly affixed. I had the perfect ’80s mullet, with long spiky bangs and shaved hair over my ears and long in back.
A long way from the Manic Panic store in New York City, I still wanted funky colored hair, so I bought one of those terrible bleaching kits — the bag with holes and a hook to pull your hair through. I bleached my bangs and used Kool-Aid to dye them pink.
It looked passably pink, but there was a problem when it rained: the color ran. And since this was central Michigan, it pretty much always rained.
Eventually, a local hair salon got in a product called “Jazzy” Hair Colors and I had my bangs dyed pink professionally. I can still remember the fallen look on my boyfriend’s face when I walked in with my bright pink hair. I also remember the time some kid named Paul introduced me to a new student as “the weirdest girl in school.” But I didn’t care. Rather, I got that same feeling of power that I had at the mall; my hair could change how people saw me, no matter who I was inside.
Eventually, I returned to “normal” hair for my high school senior photos. Then I moved to Philadelphia, got an office job and spent a lot of time trying to look and behave like a “normal” person. I still played with my hair now and again, dyeing it black and getting a Bettie Page haircut, coloring it a blazing red, or putting in loads of blond highlights (not my best look).
But in my 30s, I came to embrace the fact that I really wasn’t what anyone could call “normal,” and I began living my life the way I wanted to live it. I quit my job and began working for myself. I started a family, and I decided to call myself a writer with a capital W. But as my 30s drew to a close, I felt that same sort of dread many do when faced with the big 4-0. So I decided it was time to rethink the pink.
Initially, my hairdresser dabbled with pink highlights, resulting in a handful of vaguely peach colored hair around my face. I left the salon, defeated, but decided to go back a few weeks later and say to her, NO, I WANT PINK. LIKE, FOR REAL. That time I left happy.
For a while, I played with various shades of pink, finally settling on a hot pink with purplish overtones that looked pretty damn awesome. I’ve kept it for four-plus years, and while I’m now growing it out into more of an ombre situation (it turns out that covering gray, bleaching and coloring my hair pink is an expensive habit, so having longer dark roots saves me some serious cash). I cannot imagine dyeing my hair a “normal” color again.
Plus, my daughter loves it (and has a bit of pink in her hair as well).
There is something magical about settling into your life in your 40s, knowing who you are, and not giving a flying fuck about what anyone else thinks. I’m living the life I’ve chosen, and my pink hair is a evidence that my freak flag flies proudly.