Back to Blonde: A Personal Essay
My hair is what you might call straw, too bleached and basically dying. I started highlighting my hair in seventh grade for fear of losing my natural blonde to my ever more invasive brown roots. Since then I’ve had highlights probably every three to six months – I’m 20 now, so you can do the math on the destruction my hair has gone through. It’s beyond repair, but still—as long as it’s on my head—I don’t think I can help destroying it. But it’s not just about being blonde. Between the boring, regular blonde hair days, I had chaotic breaks from brightly colored hair. I would even go so far as to say that each of these “phases” has been an expression of my possibly unbalanced mental state – as those who have dyed their hair a color far from its natural shade know, the question” It’s okay ?” is not uncommon. As our fashion statements often convey to the world how we feel on the inside, anything unconventional sets off alarm bells of instability – or at least that’s how I felt. Let’s dive into it.
It was spirit week my freshman year of high school, and my grade color was royal blue. Unsurprisingly, I opted for temporary blue hair tips. However, as insignificant as it may seem, it is actually significant because it was the beginning of my realization that with a simple excuse like a week of wits, I could dye my hair any color I wanted. The best part: it wouldn’t last. While this may not be a direct representation of what was going through my head, you could say it was a reflection of my depression (feeling blue, if you will) simply because I live in a state constant depression. But, I thought I looked like a mermaid and I liked the attention. I quickly regretted it because the blue-blonde mix made my hair swampy green.
pink number one
More of a magenta, this was my first all over hair dye. Perhaps most directly related to my mental state – slightly heartbroken, the pandemic had just canceled my senior year and I was terribly skinny. Perhaps a direct translation of “I want to die” into “I want dye?” Looking back I know it was worrying because the year before a friend’s beautician dyed my hair blue, this time my friend had a fever that night . But I was so depressed and determined to change something in myself that I frantically did it myself over my bathroom sink. Only a crazy person would trust their non-artistic self to ruin their own hair.
It was supposed to be hot pink, but it’s more like magenta because I didn’t bleach my hair first, so my dirty blonde hair diluted the pink. But alas, it felt like something, and I was happy to feel for a moment like a different person – brave and fun – able to ignore my mundane, sad reality. I went to a party that night to launch this new version of myself. But from there, the quarantine escalated and I had a magenta, depressing isolation headache. And with my increasing dose of Wellbutrin and waning happiness, the subtle pink streaks disappeared as well. I graduated from high school with my natural sandy colored hair, lamenting the fact that I couldn’t go to a hair salon and get my quarter highlights. So that summer, before I started college, I dyed it pink.
pink number two
This time it wasn’t a pale magenta, but a bright pink in your face-I’m-really-going-through-it. The bottle said it was vegan so I immediately bought it – and it said it would only last eight days. He does not have.
Another friend this time, more experienced in the self-coloring hair lifestyle, suggested I do it. Instead of just going straight into pink, she bleached, washed, toned, washed, dried and finally dyed it. The pink this time was very vibrant. I was skeptical at first – I looked like a walking highlighter – but once I got home and wrapped it up, I loved it. The first thing I did was go to my friend’s 18th birthday party that night – seems to be a trend – and I soaked up all the compliments. But fast forward July to August, the start of school, and my hair was still very pink. I was a little frustrated, considering it had been over eight days, but also because I was no longer in the frame of mind I was in a month before.
You see, in July, my impulsive decision to go pink was probably a direct reflection of my anxiety to leave home and go to college, my desire to change something, a wave of summer boredom or all of the above. Still not mentally fulfilled and barely eating, the extreme style decision made sense. A month later, however, happy to finally be leaving for Berkeley, I was embarrassed to start a new chapter of my life with literal remnants of the previous one hanging over my head. In an effort to get back to the normal blonde, I went to my hairdresser, but even though she bleached it, there was no guarantee it would be okay, and while it helped immensely, I started school with peachy hair. But considering how miserable and boring a Zoom school year would be for me, that start ended up being a rather apt omen of what was to come.
Last, and certainly least exciting, was my attempt at lavender hair. The most recent episode – about three days ago – came after dreaming the week before that I had my pink hair again. This dream stayed with me as I remembered the fun of changing my hair and also how bored I was. Without hesitation and with the confidence that I now had stable connections at Berkeley and that no one would stop being my friend if I became a horsewoman – a valid fear – I decided to dye my hair light purple.
However, it didn’t go as planned. My friends and I went to the store, bought some temporary lavender color, the ingredients for bleach and toner, and excitedly let my friend do the dyeing. Although a little nervous about destroying my hair even Following, I ignored the fact that it might never return to the length it once had. But after the whole two-hour ordeal of bleaching, toning and dyeing, by the time I went to wash off the lavender dye, no one had the energy to stand up and blow-dry it – including me, so I fell asleep hoping to wake up wrapped in my purple hair.
To my surprise, I looked in the mirror the next morning to see no such thing. It did not work. Lavender tincture was, I guess, not good. So now I have blue highlights and slightly silver, but very blonde hair. I considered trying again, but my friends reaffirmed what I was already thinking quietly – it looked really good. The accidental blue toned highlights make me feel like a toned down aquamarine, and besides, I really love nothing more than being as faded blonde as my hair allows. But more importantly, I took this as a sign that I’m just not in the same sad hair-dyeing mindset that I once was.
While it might be nothing more than shitty hair dye, for me, I take comfort in knowing that I’m in a good place now. Because a mental state of exhaustion may have been habitual in my life over the years, with sporadic flashes of je-so-sad-I-will-dye-my-hair, it almost seems unhealthy to fall back into that feeling sometimes. The feeling of not really being myself unless I am intolerably depressed is a feeling that I can certainly crave for. But that’s not the truth right now. I am myself, and I am finally happy myself. I have amazing relationships in my life, I go to my dream school and I study what I love, I eat when I want and I feel healthy, and I’m just grateful. So alas, the hair dye didn’t fully develop – it wasn’t supposed to – but I’m almost glad it didn’t. And just because it might feel familiar – as hard as I might have subconsciously tried – at this point, I just can’t bring myself to go back to that feeling or that hair color.
Outward appearances can be an expression of our deepest thoughts and emotions that we can’t always put into sentences – or it certainly was for me – and sadly they seem to have come out of my worst feelings. Dyeing my hair in seemingly outrageous colors is now like reminders on my body – or in my worn hair – of the melancholic waves I survived. And while the tides of life have their ups and downs, I intend to ride as high as long as I’m on it – only washed out blonde and better than ever.
Contact Khristina Holterman at [email protected].