In Defense of Pink Hair
I didn’t know her name, but I always noticed her.
We usually showed up in the girls’ bathroom at the same time for our post-lunch lipstick touch-up, and I would surreptitiously check out her platinum blonde hair dyed hot pink at the ends. I wanted to be her. My own hair was subtly highlighted, but otherwise it hadn’t changed since the sixth grade. I was shy, bookish, nerdy. Not the pink hair type.
Flash forward a decade. I’m six months postpartum. My hair still looks the same—highlights grown out, rampant with straggly split ends. I have a baby who wakes up at least twice a night, a preschooler who doesn’t nap, and postpartum depression. I just quit my night-shift nursing job because I can’t handle the lack of sleep or the time away from my kids. I’m adrift in hormones and constant change, and I am drowning.
My husband books a salon day for my birthday. He calls my grandmother to babysit, finds a five-star hairdresser on Yelp, makes an appointment, and tells me to do whatever I want. I’ve confessed my high school girl-crush (hair-crush?) and to my surprise, he is totally on board. “You can be my punk rock princess,” he sings, then tells me, “Do whatever you want.”
I arrive, armed with Pinterest boards and apprehension. Am I really going to do this? I am reassured by the hair stylist, Marlowe’s, crown of (awesome) purple curls—she is chic and sophisticated, and she’s obviously good with color. I confess my high school girl crush and I show her some pictures on my phone. Then she gets to work.
It takes five hours. I keep sneaking glances at the mirror, although under all the foil and bleach I can only guess how my hair will look. My fingers tingle with nervous adrenaline. I’d like to think I’ve outgrown worrying what other people think, but if anything, it’s an even heavier burden now. Will people at my ultra-conservative church think I’m making a statement? Will the moms at the park shun me? Will my mom raise an eyebrow, implying that I look terrible?
As I sit in the chair, my hair covered in sticky dye and space-age foil, I have my first pink-hair epiphany—who cares?
When Marlowe finishes and hands me the mirror, I feel a little vertigo. It’s bright. It’s very, very pink. No going back now. “I feel like you don’t like it,” Marlowe says. “We can change it. I’ll fix it.”
“No, I really do like it,” I say weakly, and I do. I’m just a little bowled over by my reflection, and how pink my hair is. She takes a picture to show her coworker, and I drive home, mentally preparing for my first reactions.
“Whoa!” says my husband. “You really are my punk rock princess now.”
My grandma, who was watching the kids, surveys me and says, “It really is darling.” (I feel a surge of gratitude for my open-minded grandmother).
The baby laughs and grabs a strand, pulling it into his mouth. I take that as a positive sign—eating something is Nolan’s sure stamp of approval.
However, my three-year-old gives me the best and truest appraisal. “Mama, you have magic hair,” he says.
My husband and I go out to dinner after the salon, and I feel like my head is on fire. We’re at a fancy French restaurant, and I am probably imagining the eyes on me, but I feel like everyone is wondering who the weirdo with pink hair is. Over the next few days, the reactions continue. My sister tells me I look like a rock star (point!). My neighbor looks at me with a head tilt and says nothing (ouch). My best friend’s mother, visiting from the UK, tells me it’s “absolutely beautiful.” (It’s clear this woman raised one of my favorite people.)
For a week or so, my hair is a conversation topic. Then I begin to forget I have “unique” hair. It just feels like part of me. I’ve always been so addicted to approval, but the occasional dirty looks at the grocery store bother me less and less. The simple truth of the matter is that when I look in the mirror at my hair, I feel awesome. I love the fact that my hair is pink, not for any message it sends, but simply because I like the way it looks. I dump my plan to let it fade out naturally and buy color-preserving conditioner in “Vibrant Pink.”
I’ve always struggled with liking myself. As a result, my personality has been silenced as I strive for acceptance from others. My natural inclination is to be a nonconformist, but I have stifled the more exuberant parts of my personality because I thought I needed approval and feared that diverging from the norm, if such a thing actually exists, would mean I wouldn’t get that approval. But now, I’m wearing nonconformity on my head. And it is so freeing. It weeds out the judgmental people who shy away from difference, and more than that, silences the judgmental voice in my own mind. The action of dyeing my hair pink, doing something that was out of left field for me, made me feel like it was okay to take risks. That maybe, the next thing I wanted to try might also be a good thing, even if it is scary, unexpected, or out of character.
I find as I walk through the world with my unavoidably bright hair that my heart feels brighter, too. We move to a new state a few months after I go pink, and somehow it’s easier to talk to people, to be myself, where before I would have shrunk behind my shyness. Everyone can see before they even begin speaking to me that I’m a little bit quirky. With that out in the open, I find myself approaching people easily. I chat with the person across from me at Starbucks, show up at the book club hosted by the local indie bookstore, invite moms I’ve just met to play dates. I wonder if my son is right, and my hair is magic. Maybe the dye chemicals made their way into my brain and rearranged my synapses. However, in reality I know I was always this person—I just needed to listen to her, and the pink hair was the first step.
I have long been tormented by the perfect woman I thought I should be. I should bake cookies and bread, I should have a clean house, I should plan cutesy little activities and wrap my children in a blanket of warmth and perfection. And also, I should be skinny and blonde and wear Anthropologie on my perfectly toned body. That isn’t my reality. My reality is that sometimes I yell, sometimes I read a book on the couch while my kids tussle over the Thomas trains, and sometimes we eat more ice cream than we should. I am not skinny or flat-ironed or fashionable. My life is a little wild. I have pink hair. And it’s awesome.