I rarely — or maybe never? — write posts about beauty and fashion. There are plenty of bloggers — most of them much more glamorous and fashionable than I — who write about those things much better than I do, so I leave the stuff about hair, clothing, dieting, and makeup to people who are really into that sort of thing.
I’ve always been a geek and an introvert, and I like being comfortable more than being fashionable. I have never owned a pair of high heels, for example. Kitten or low heels, yes, but spike heels? Hell, no. I hate them. They’re torture. I can’t wear them because of my wobbly, easily-sprained ankles (the result of a figure skating accident when I was 15 — yes, I used to figure skate, and I wasn’t half bad either. I’ll write about that sometime soon, I promise, even though I have no photos of me skating).
I dress like I walked off a time machine from 1994 — worn old jeans, cargo pants (yes, I still love them because I like lots of pockets), sandals or slouchy ankle boots, plaid flannel men’s shirts (I have about 4), T-shirts (though as I get older, it’s getting harder finding T-shirts that are flattering). If I wear a dress (rarely), they are almost always loose and high waisted floral numbers (flattering to my “comfortable” figure), worn over leggings, black tights, jeans, or black pants. (I don’t do pantyhose — I hate them). It’s all very ’90s, though “being ’90s” was never my intention. You can still get away with looking ’90s, but looking ’70s/’80s will get you some weird looks (and ’70s/80s clothes are NOT comfy).
Unlike about 99.9% of other women, I have never owned a little black dress. And I don’t care. I will probably die without ever having owned one. Is that sad?
Truth be told — and I hope I don’t sound too snobby — but minds fascinate me more than bodies. That said, I’m still a girl and sometimes I like to indulge in…the pretty externals. So here is a post about my hair.
Whew, this is going to be a lengthy hair story. I have a complicated relationship with my hair. It’s mostly been a hate relationship, but I think I might finally have found peace with my hair and am learning to love it, or at least like it.
Towheaded at age 5 (1964).
I was born nearly bald, but the hair that grew in during my first year was white platinum blonde — and it stayed that way for a long time, probably until I was at least 8 or 9. My hair was also terribly fine and tangled easily. It had no weight to it at all, and as it was never stick straight, it was prone to frizzing from the slightest bit of humidity. People used to compliment me all the time on my “angel hair,” but I hated it. I hated being the blondest person in my class, and I hated the fact I couldn’t grow my hair long like my friends — because it was so fine it would break off at the ends and become a stringy, knotted mess. I remember crying when my mother impatiently tried to comb it out, and then she’d yell at me for allowing it to get so tangled and knotty, but I couldn’t help it!
As a result, my mother kept my hair cut in a pixie or other short style, or if it was allowed to grow out, it was worn in two thin ponytails on each side tied with yarn, but it never got beyond just below my shoulders.
I remember envying the girls in my class who had long, thick hair that fell like a curtain down their backs. I envied their Clairol Long and Silky conditioner (or was it cream rinse?) At about age 14, I demanded my mother buy me some Long and Silky, even though my hair only just touched my shoulders. Using it made me feel more normal (and the stuff smelled good), but it did nothing for my thin, pale, easily broken hair.
Growing up in northern New Jersey and later New York, I felt odd with my blonde hair. It had darkened only a shade or two since I was a baby — the color was no longer the platinum of my early childhood — by my early teens had developed a slight streakiness, with the underlayer being a slightly darker medium blonde. If you had to give my color a name, you would probably call it champagne blonde or beige blonde with medium blonde lowlights, but I still hated it. Most people thought my hair was beautiful, and they couldn’t understand why I hated it. How could I explain at the tender age of 15 that I felt…too white? Most of my friends in my New Jersey and New York neighborhoods and at my schools were of Italian, Jewish, Hispanic, or some other darker-haired, darker-skinned heritage, and so I felt self conscious and so conspicuously white — and that was not cool!
Long and Silky ad from the 1970s. I wanted hair like these girls!
Another problem I had with my blonde hair were the inevitable dumb blonde jokes that were always directed my way. I was book smart and usually made high grades, but I was also very sensitive and the jokes hurt my weak sense of self-esteem and began to make me feel like maybe I really was dumb after all. I felt like I had to make a big show of being smart all the time, in order to prove that I could be blonde and also be smart. It was very stressful always having to prove myself. I felt like, because of my hair color, people just didn’t take me seriously, and treated me like I was stupid, even though I wasn’t. I hated feeling like I had to be on all the time, and couldn’t just be myself, because the real me might come off stupid and make those dumb blonde jokes true.
To this day, I don’t understand why blonde jokes aren’t considered racist or at least politically incorrect. But people still tell them, and seem to like them; even other blondes like them. In fact, some blondies seem almost proud of being seen as “dumb blondes” but that was never me. Maybe you have to have a healthier sense of self to be able to appreciate such jokes if you’re a blonde, but in my teens, I had dismally low self esteem and could not laugh at myself. I cringed when I heard those jokes, and felt like running away in shame.
A third factor contributed to my hair-hatred. I felt very rebellious toward my narcissistic parents, who seemed to love my hair color more than my talents, my intelligence, or my personality. They always bragged about how “Lauren was the only blonde baby in the nursery” or “Lauren is the only blonde in her 5th grade class.” God, how I hated those “compliments.” They made me cringe. I just wanted to be like the other kids, dammit. Why couldn’t they understand this?
This isn’t a picture of me, but of my daughter at about age 9. The color of her hair here is what my color was from mid- childhood up until my mid-teens, when I decided to start dying it. (My daughter’s hair is dark blonde now, and she actually lightens hers).
When I turned 16, I found the solution to my problem. I decided to dye my hair. I had a sort of crush/obsession on a girl, Denise, who I thought was gorgeous — mostly for her long, shiny, silky curtain of light-chestnut brown hair with its gorgeous reddish-gold highlights. It swung when she moved her head! Mine never swung like that! Compared to her hair, my hair looked so washed out and boring — it was mostly all one color: pale beige blonde on top with ashy medium blonde undertones. I also didn’t like the way there was hardly any contrast with my pale skin. I thought darker hair would make me look more dramatic and bring out my attractive facial features more.
So I decided Denise’s light chestnut brown hair was the color I wanted, and to my shock and delight, my mother reluctantly allowed me to dye my hair that color, although she insisted I use a temporary dye that would wash out in 6 shampoos. She moaned pitifully and literally cried during the whole process. “You’re going to ruin your hair!” “It will never be the same again!” “People would kill for hair the color yours is, what is wrong with you?” and “Why on God’s green earth would you want to have mousy brown hair?”
Well, as things turned out, I loved the results. I liked them so much I decided I was never going back to being a blonde. To my delight, the chestnut color had come out a little more reddish than it showed on the package, probably because it was several shades darker than my own hair (you’re not supposed to darken your hair more than one or two shades, but I had darkened it by about 3 or 4!) It looked very natural, it actually fell better (because the dye thickened the hair shaft), I could actually grow it long for the first time in my life (due the the added weight), and my friends actually liked it! They were puzzled about why I didn’t want to be a blonde (because just about everyone in those days was going lighter, not darker), but they had to admit the light auburn color flattered me and went well with my very light skin. I only had to wear a bit more makeup than usual. My self esteem improved, and I no longer felt like I had to prove to everyone that I was smart. No one would ever again call me a dumb blonde!
Proud of my new long chestnut hair at age 18 (1977)
Over the years, I continued to dye my hair. Eventually the permanent dyes were drying it out and making it frizzy, so I switched to safer temporary dyes. An added bonus of the extra color in my hair was that it actually thickened the hair shaft, and made my hair heavier and fall in a more flattering way. One reason I continued to use dye was for exactly this reason. I needed the extra weight the dye added to my hair shaft, which made it look so much thicker and fuller. I did not want to return to the flyaway, hard to manage fine hair of my youth. The leave-in conditioners that are supposed to add body to your hair had never worked for me, they just left my hair feeling greasy.
Eventually, I began to experiment with other colors: bright red, strawberry, auburn, dark brown, black! The black looked horrific — I looked exactly like Morticia. I hated it so much the next day, I went to the hairdresser and begged them to fix it. They had to spend 3 hours bleaching my hair, but it never got lighter than a medium reddish brown. My hairdresser decided to enhance the color I wound up with — a color called Red Setter. It was actually a dark auburn and looked quite pretty. Although it was still too dark for my complexion, the stylist had done a good job making it look natural. It wasn’t perfect, but I could live with it for awhile.
My hair in 1996 — way too dark here, but not as bad as the BLACK. Sorry about the poor quality of the photo.
Once, in my thirties, I even decided to dye my hair platinum blonde just to see what it would look like. I hated it, and ran back out to the store, my head covered with a bandanna, and selected a dark blonde color to fix it. After that escapade, my delicate hair was a straw-like frizzy wreck from having been so damaged from all the bleaching and dying. I went back to the hairdresser and got a short cut to get rid of all the split ends and dry frizz. The result actually looked cute.
I went back to my tried and true light chestnut brown. For a time during the early 2000s, I got the idea to dye the underlayer of my hair dark brown and leave the top layer lighter. I rather enjoyed the two toned effect, but keeping up with it required a lot of maintenance, which requires patience which I don’t have. A few years ago, I had a haircut and on a whim, told the hairdresser I wanted the strands framing my face to be blonde and a few other blonde highlights. This decision surprised even me. The hairdresser fingered through my roots and asked me why I was dying my hair darker since she thought the original color at my roots was much prettier. “What’s the point of having blonde highlights when you already have a lovely blonde color and are covering it up?” I felt judged. I decided not to go back to that hairdresser. I didn’t like her attitude. She didn’t understand.
I continued to experiment with different colors, even with pink streaks at one point. But never once did I consider returning to my natural color. It occurred to me I no longer even knew what my natural color was anymore. When I reached my late 40s, I realized that I had been dying my hair for so long I really didn’t know what color it was, and not only that, I could have gone gray and didn’t even know it!
A selfie I took three years ago during my adventurous/experimental phase. Dark brown underlayer, lighter on top, a few pink streaks. I like this photo of me!
By my 50s, I stopped dying my whole head, because I had noticed that after awhile it always became way too dark at the bottom and lighter at the top, and acquired a muddy, uneven look, so I started dying only the roots. Eventually the bottom and outer parts of my hair faded back to a sort of golden blonde, not all that different from my original color, just more yellowish.
Over the past year, something strange began to happen to my hair. Although I was using the same temporary light golden brown color I had been for years, my hair began to take on a purplish cast that I’d never had a problem with before. Was it the product? Did they change the formula? Was it because I was older and the composition of my hair had changed, making the dye take less well than it used to? Had I gone…gray?
Top of my head today after shampoo and lemon juice rinse (slightly damp, and dry).
I decided to find out, but the only way to do that was to let my hair grow out and see what my actual natural color was. After more than 40 years of covering my natural color, I no longer knew what my hair color really was! So as it began to grow out, I used a dark blonde rinse (Roux makes an excellent wash-out rinse in subtle colors) at first just to try to even out the color, cover any gray, and make the roots less obvious.
But I needn’t have bothered. I’ve been growing my hair out now for about 2 months, and using a lemon rinse to reduce the purple tinge of the dyed parts of my hair (which is itself fading). The color that is coming in is a bit darker than it was when I first began dying my hair in my teens — it’s a medium honey blonde now with the underlayer a darker ashier blonde. It’s a beautiful color, and I have decided to grow it out. But the best part of all? At age 59, I don’t have one gray hair! I never would have known that unless I finally decided to let my natural color come out of hiding.
This is my hair combed forward over my face, and it’s very close to my actual natural color. Where’s the gray? There isn’t any!
I feel like as we get older, we have less leeway in experimenting with various colors and probably shouldn’t do it. Young women can get away with trying all sorts of crazy colors — lighter, darker, or even colors like pink, blue and green — and still look good or at least intriguing. But I feel like for an older woman, straying too much darker than your natural color, especially if you’re naturally fair haired, ages you.
No longer will I worry about dumb blonde jokes. Dumb blonde jokes are pretty much limited to the young anyway, and I have enough self confidence in my intelligence today that those jokes won’t bother me if someone does tell one.