A recent survey conducted in Britain by Toni&Guy found that the average woman changes her hair 150 times by age 65. I’d say I’m well on my way to reaching that number, and then some. My hair may be big as hale, but its straw-like texture ain’t keeping any secrets.
I started coloring my hair freshman year of high school. My mother, herself haling from a long lineage of hair-dyers, would let me come along with her to get her roots touched up every six weeks. One 45-minute session of getting my virgin hair painfully yanked through a rubber cap with a crochet hook and I was, well… hooked.
It started with highlights in the summer, which transitioned into going dark every fall and then lightening again in the spring–it’s a cycle I haven’t quite managed to break since the tender age of 15. Then I started hacking it off. Mandy Moore’s shaggy How to Deal pixie was my first inspiration–I brought her picture to my hairdresser, who promptly covered Mandy’s face with her thumb and warned me in the evilest way ever (unbiased opinion here): “Remember, you’re not going to look exactly like her when it’s done… it’ll be her hair, on your head.” YEAH I GET IT THANKS.
Going to get my hair done was a sort of sadistic ritual for me. I’d generally leave the salon with tears in my eyes and start bawling in the car on the way home. I’d get to my house and stare at myself in the bathroom mirror for about 45 minutes trying to make it Tim Gunn work.
But it wasn’t until mid-high school, when I discovered LiveJournal, that my hair obsession really took off. My favorite LJ “community” was called MadRadHair. It was literally just a billion girls and a smattering of gays consulting each other and bragging about their MadxRadxHair. It was pretty much the most awesome thing ever. Like what else did people even do in high school? Get drunk and go to makeout parties or something? Not me: I would spend hours taking selfies in my bathroom with my 3 MegaPixel camera, photographing my new ‘do from all angles to add to my from-birth hairstyle timelines. These people had to know what my hair looked like in second grade in order to help me pick a new cut/color today, right?! The more extensive my timelines and varied my hairstyles, the more comments I’d get. It was a rush. So I had to change my hair all the time. (It should be noted that MadRadHair still exists today, just in a much more pathetic, less loved state. Thanks Tumblr.)
But as time went on, I began worrying about how much time I dedicated to thinking about it–and the toll it was taking on my part-time paychecks. Black. Blonde. Red. Maroon (ew). Light brown. Dark brown. Short. Long. Layered. Angled. Bob. Bangs. Asymmetrical. Who even was I?
Color Oops became my BFF, straw was a texture with which I was well acquainted. I would dare myself to go as long as possible without a dye job, convinced that five months was a massive victory in my quest for self-acceptance. But I never lasted much longer than that. An ill-fated, post breakup attempt at spirit lifting, subtle pink highlights resulted in near-fuchsia hair, subsequently lopped off into a black bob. Less than a year later, I cried for days when my hairdresser combed clumps of spaghetti hair out of my sad, limp, platinum lob. I shudder just thinking about it. Why did I keep doing this to myself? It finally occurred to me that my unhappiness with my hair could actually be stemming from somewhere deeper–unhappiness with myself.
So I consulted a professional: Andrea Mathews, a licensed professional counselor, therapist, and author of The Law of Attraction, to find out if what was going on with me and my hair dissatisfaction was more than follicle-deep. While she warned that constantly changing one’s image can be a symptom of Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD), at this point in my life, I probably don’t have too much to worry about.
“I wouldn’t necessarily be too alarmed about an adolescent or even a woman in her twenties changing her image through hairstyle and color changes frequently,” she tells me. “Though we say that adolescence ends somewhere between 18 and 21, it doesn’t really–not psychologically anyway. Many people are still trying on the different hats (or hairdos, as it were) of identity even into their early thirties.” The takeaway? I’m actually a 26-year-old child, and I’ve still got years of hair damage ahead of me. Hallelujah!
One thing’s for sure: I need to somehow learn to stop expecting my hair to bring me happiness. Right now, it’s the longest it has ever been. I always had this warped idea that if my hair was long enough to cover my chest entirely, my life would be better–kind of like an extreme and ongoing good hair day. The fantasy, in bits and pieces, involved me spending most of my time topless in a field of wildflowers surrounded by hummingbirds and tame rabbits nibbling on seeds from hand. No I’m kidding! …Kind of. But instead of bringing me unending pleasure, my ratty long hair is starting to grate on me–and once again, I’m itching for a change (and itching in general–how do long-haired people do this?).
Looks like I might have to set a date with the ‘dresser sooner than I’d anticipated…
Click through for my history of
mental illness hair experimentations. Many selfies await you!