I’ve had enough, this is my prayer That I’ll die livin’ just as free as my hair
– Lady Gaga
Our hair is a part of our identity. It’s a reflection of our personality, and while the purist in you might wish appearances didn’t matter, you realise the value society places upon it. Our skeptical selves gather information about a person subconsciously, so when somebody maintains their appearance we assess them as having high self-esteem. Since we can’t walk around in philosophical discussion 24/7, we need visual indicators to help us understand each other on a basic level. Whenever we go through personal changes, or process a break-up, or even just get bored, we change our hair to mark the occasion. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”
The Samson effect
Hence, our hair can be compared to the lion’s mane: a symbol of personal power and societal status. Some people express their individuality through bright hair and under cuts, while others keep it short and straight to show they mean business. It’s fun to play with the outer shell of our identity as our adolescent selves knew all too well. Whenever my sister took me shopping as a child, she had to bribe me with a fast-food lunch or else I’d lose motivation. There were only a few material things that excited me, namely tops and dresses, stationary and hair dye. I can recall standing in Boots/Superdrug with my mouth ajar at how many different colours your hair could be. My deepest wish was to be as blonde as Britney but my eye was also drawn to the mystery of jet-black hair.
It wasn’t until adolescence hijacked my hormones that I actually planned to transform my mousey-brown locks. I remember browsing through a hairstyle magazine with my best friend, age 12, when suddenly I decided red highlights on a black bob was the right look for me; luckily my parents loved me enough to deny me their permission. Still, my headstrong self kept the dream of cool hair alive until my 13th birthday, when I was given the go-ahead for a pixie cut. I’d fallen in love with it as it looked amazing on the hair model. It looked amazing. On the hair model. The hair model suited the hairstyle. Hair. Model.
I was too young to factor in my face shape and skin tone, thus meaning I was clueless to the rules surrounding androgynous haircuts mixing with round faces. Generally speaking, faces slim enough for pixie cuts during adulthood, however I was no older than Juliet and soon to have a lot less hair. The next step, I thought, would be to paint it black: increasing the edgy factor would be my saving grace. My goth phase was in full swing at this point, thus meaning I’d look even cooler on my weekend trips to Camden.
My mum refused. She now tells the story of how she let me browse a boot fair for my jet-black bottle dreams in the knowledge that nobody had any to sell. It didn’t work as a deterrence for long though as I soon had a hairstyle akin to Gerard Way, circa 2005:
I used to wear red eye shadow too. Don’t ask me why, I’ve no idea. By the time I was 14 I’d learned my lesson, or so everyone thought. My drastic haircut coincided with a dip in my social status now that I was a confirmed ‘alternative’ and I eventually conceded to the idea that I’d made a mistake. Maybe mousey-brown locks were my destiny and choppy layers were only for those blessed with higher cheekbones. Alternatively, I just wanted what I couldn’t have and missed having long hair as a symbol of femininity. Either way, my thick mane of dull brown hair couldn’t grow back quick enough.
I barely did anything to my appearance when I was 15, other than filter my photos into black and white so I had a new default picture for MySpace. As I turned 16 and left high school I decided enough was enough – pass me that bottle of bleach!
“No.” My mum said.
“Oh. Okay” I replied.
Nevertheless, my years of longing for barbie’s mane had proved my devotion to the hair colour gentlemen allegedly prefer. Before the inevitable ‘reinvention’ of myself in time for Sixth form, I had honey blonde streaks painted into my hair. The idea was to prevent hair damage by highlighting my light brown hair into a golden hue, thus tricking your eye into perceiving an all-over blonde effect. The result of this sneaky tactic?
Lots of people adored my fresh look. My hairdresser had explained to me the importance of matching my fair skin-tone with darker blonde shades, while the kind spirits on Yahoo! answers emphasised to ‘STAY AWAY FROM ASH BLONDE.’
“Ash blonde ay, what an idea. I love the smell of peroxide in the morning” – My stupid mind. Probably.
Highlights were not what my angsty self had set out to achieve but unfortunate circumstances meant my self-care took a backseat for the duration of my 17th year. Blinded by own vision, I worked up the courage to have my hair dyed bleach-blonde in time for my 18th birthday despite not needing the hair damage…
I think blonde suited me, despite its distance from my natural hue. For some reason, I was never content with my hair and always wanted to improve whatever beautiful hairstyle I had. At the time, I was working in a bakery and fawned over the light blonde bob my co-worker had. How could she afford to maintain it so well?!
She gave me the number of a freelance hairdresser who came to my house with hair bleach and gave me a brighter colour for a discounted price. It was a kind act that lead to a kaleidoscope effect in my hair.
– Sometimes you can get addicted to mercilessly dying your hair because you want to look perfect, but perfection comes at a high price! Ask yourself if you really need to re-dye your ‘do and ensure you condition your hair to prevent damage! –
At age 19, I had completed the gap year I haven’t told you about yet (it happened: it was okay) and about to set off for University. Whilst I now had the blonde hair I’d always wanted, I felt the new pastures should be greeted be a ‘new me’ hairstyle-wise. Luckily blonde is a great base for any colour as you’re guaranteed to get a bright result, and soon my hair was pillarbox-red:
I used the XXL Live permanent hair dye numerous times if I thought the colour wasn’t bright enough, or if I could get 2 for the price of 1. After a solid year of this follicle debauchery, my 20th birthday arrived and I decided to dye it yet again. The result was a gorgeous, deep red akin to Freida from Abba. When I travelled back home to London during the Easter holidays, everybody was happy…except for my mum.
“Do you want your hair to fall out?” She said. “It won’t!” I probably said. Good point, well made.
In case it wasn’t already obvious, my mum was right. The above picture was taken just before my hair rapidly started falling out. It wasn’t just in the shower either – strands upon strands fell onto my bed, kitchen utensils…even the communal sofas I shared with 11 other flatmates. It had gotten so out of hand, a group of them blue-tacked a stray clump of my ruby locks to the wall to signify their annoyance. (Admittedly they were also just bullies.) Remember what I told you in paragraph 1? The state of your hair reflects the state of your mind, and it had become obvious to others that I lacked self-care.
Despite this, I didn’t acknowledge the warning signs that my thick hair was soon to shed into thin wisps. Somehow it had come to my attention that semi-permanent hairdye actually conditions your hair into better health. Cue another transformation:
I did what I could to salvage my mane until I grew restless. One day, XXL announced a simple way to dye your hair ash blonde and my student loan arrived just in time for me add this new concoction to my list of hair regrets…
Nobody has a name for that hair colour because it’s a mess of never allowing my hair to fully grow out. I was beginning to wish I’d never ditched the thick blonde mane I had lusted after and attained in the years prior. There’s a visible difference between the texture and shine of this mane and my prior photos. By summer, my hair had thinned to such an extent it looked greasy everyday, no matter how much I conditioned it:
Eventually I settled with the idea of having dull hair until I could condition it into behaving like the silky mane I once loved. In the meantime, I successfully wore a 10-day wash-out box of purple magic last year, aged 22.
Nothing as drastic has happened since and I’m a content brunette. This has taken some time and I might’ve experimented with red and brown semi-permanent dyes along the way, but I’m finally here. I still hope my hair will re-grow with the same thickness it once had, although I don’t hold out hope. I just wanted to share with you my tale of hair woe in the hope you will learn from my mistakes.
1) Sometimes you have to leave your hair alone and accept yourself enough to respect your current appearance.
2) It’s easier to go from a light colour to dark, but damaging to reverse this process.
3) Don’t dye your hair too much. It really is that simple, apparently!