Hang On To Yourself: My Hair Color, David Bowie & Embracing The Weird

So now that I’ve stopped being an Earth Mother hair hippie, I have to beg the question: Do I really want to keep my natural hair color?

It’s cool to know what it is (a sort of warm, dark blond), and god knows I’ve been very, very patient about growing it out. But I don’t know. I started bleaching my hair when I was fourteen; at the time, I put dark red strips in the front. Then I started playing with Manic Panic — I did pink highlights, pink and orange highlights, and teal; eventually I dyed my hair black, and then realized how dumb it looked, and used that super-harsh hair color remover you find at Walgreen’s to get it out. I got it back to a nice, bright platinum by the time I was seventeen, and then one day I had a revelation: I was late for school, I’d gotten mascara in my hair, and my carpool was waiting outside for me. Instead of trying to wash out the mascara, I just took the front chunk and put mascara through the whole strip. I liked it so much that I went out and got black hair dye, colored the front chunk black, and I kept it that way until I was 24 or 25.

Now, here’s the revealing thing about my white-and-black period: I went through about 10,567,492 different hair styles during that time. So even when I finally settled on a color, I had this death-urge to change its shape all the time. I’d commit to growing it out, and then it’d get to be shoulder-length, my patience would wear out, and I’d cut it short. The highest expression of this hair-changing anxiety manifested itself right before my wedding: I’d been growing it out, trying to get it nice and long and styleable, and then one day, in a fit of anxiety, I went to my hairstylist Maggie’s house, sat down in her chair, and said, “I want you to cut it in a spiral.” I mimed what I meant by taking my right index finger, placing it about an inch above my left eyebrow, and then circling it down around my head.

A month before my wedding.

See, that’s the important part: The timing. The timing has always been the important part of my hair-related restlessness. I cut my hair every way you could imagine during my seven-year relationship with my ex-husband, and I’ve come to realize that it’s because I so, so, so badly wanted a change in my life, and the only way I could make it happen was to have Maggie cut my hair in a palm tree, or a spiral, or a mohawk — wait, no, a shorter mohawk — no, still shorter, Maggie. In January 2012, seven months before I left him, I took the black chunk out of my hair so that it was all just a bright, platinum blond. In July 2012, a month before I left, I dyed it a deep, rich red. In the sort of floating stasis between November 2012, when I finally asked for a divorce, and January 2014, when I finally felt like I had some sort of a grip on my life, my hair settled down: I went from a bright red pageboy, to a brown asymmetrical cut, to a brown bob, and, finally, decided to try no-poo and got back to my natural color. I’ve been growing it out since then, not least of all, I think, because I’ve been very content with my life since then: I have a great partner who I’m happily marrying, I’ve been in therapy, I’ve been taking care of my health, I’ve turned a freelancing job into a full-time job. It hasn’t even bothered me to grow it out, or to keep it my natural color.

Until now, that is. Now, there are things that are eating at me (more than) a little bit. I realized this via the David Bowie Is exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which was expansive and amazing and made me cry in awe. David Bowie has been my hero since I was twelve years old, because I was one of those kids who was like, “Wow, that guy is super weird, and everyone loves the fact that he’s super weird because he just through-and-through lives that weirdness like it’s no big deal.” David Bowie, the persona, is super-human. David Bowie, the persona, has no anxieties about what people might think. He presents the public with something it’s never seen before, and he dictates that they will think that it’s cool and normal and within the realm of reality and possibility. And that’s well beyond the fact that his art (his music, his visual art, his fashion, his writing) all has sentiment. It has hope. It’s compassionate. I mean, my god, guys: “I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain – you’re not alone!

I went to the exhibit twice, and spent a cumulative three hours there. And I spent so much time wishing that I could do that. Not “do that” as in “be David Bowie,” but “do that” as in make extraordinary things. And, at the same time, I realized that wishing is stupid. Wishing gets nothing done, and it’s not like I’m dead and can’t do that anymore. But I certainly don’t know where to start, which can be — has been — a painful thing. And even though I have a very clear idea of what I’d like to do, what my ultimate creative goals are, what I would like to contribute to the human race and why it’s worth anyone else’s time, it’s hard to share those ideas with other people and not worry about whether they think it’s a dumb idea (even if I know it’s not). And it’s even harder to find people to share my Great Idea with who would not only be enthusiastic about it, but be able to collaborate to make that Great Idea manifest.

I’m sure a few people are wondering what that Great Idea is, but that’s probably a story for some other time. Besides, I’m still dealing with that what’ll-they-think anxiety. Which gets me back to the hair: I’m glad that, this time around, I desperately want to change my hair not because I’m in a life situation that is emotionally tortuous and desperately unhealthy, but because I am aware that I’m not living up to my full potential, and it bothers me.

And I think that changing your appearance can be a good step. Taking the black out of my hair, and then several months later, dyeing it red, was a big, decided “fuck-you” to my ex, who wanted me to keep my hair white-and-black forever, who never wanted me to change or grow because he didn’t want to change or grow. He had expressed his dismay over my constant hair-changing to me several times, in fact, and even painted it as a sign of pathology, calling it “psychotic” or “schizophrenic,” or, at the very least, describing it as if I was an unstable or unpredictable person who really, really should settle down — should change, ironically, but change to be a static person. I mean, for pete’s sake, I was just cutting my hair.

The point is, being a little brave and doing a small thing to change your appearance can give you confidence to do so much more. For me, toning my hair to be somewhere between the color of one of those orange garnets and the color of a pink quartz, if you’ll grant me the space to be vulnerable about it and admit something that would undoubtedly sound immature to a lot of people, be the first step toward presenting myself as being as much of a weirdo on the outside as I am on the inside, and not caring what anyone else thinks. I tried to grow up and be straight-laced and minimize and do “natural” such-and-such, and it didn’t make me as happy. And, as my left fingers say, YOLO. If I’m not happy and it doesn’t make my life better, what exactly is the point of being the boring version of myself?

I’m not ready yet to make mistakes and fail publicly in the name of things that I really, deep-down, love and care about. I’m not ready because I don’t have the practice. Being a 28-year-old, grown-ass woman with gem-colored hair seems like a damn good way to start practicing. So, gemward it is.

[Image via Shutterstock, Victoria & Albert Museum, and Flickr]

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