Thursday, June 17, 2010

Politics of Dyeing

At around nineteen, I started noticing my first gray hairs. Well, not gray, white. Hair doesn't actually turn gray. You get white hairs, technically clear because they lack melanin, and it's how they're distributed that make your hair look anywhere from iron to silver to frosty white.

Mine went in streaks in the front first, very Rogue. But now at 31 it's all silver and white. Well, whatever I don't dye pink or blue or whatever.

It's a little strange for me sometimes, suddenly having much lighter colored hair. I was a brunette once upon a time. When I turned fifteen or so I started coloring my hair red. My mom actually helped me. I used henna first. I kind of miss those days, green goop on my head for hours, smelling like tea and mud. Eventually I wanted to go brighter so I starting using chemical dyes with Manic Panic reds layered over it. Vampire Red was my favorite. At the time it never seemed red enough, though. I see pictures now and it's like my head was on fire.

Dyeing my hair was always strangely peaceful. It made me feel better about myself during High School, which was a pretty low time for me. Even if everything else was pretty much shit, hair dyeing was this kind of therapeutic act. Something just for myself that I didn't have to feel guilty about. An act of vanity that was still a little...subversive.

It never really occurred to me that going gray early and choosing not to dye it all the time could be viewed that way, too. Since my hair was always a strange kind of canvas for me, I never saw it as being a part of body politics. Until I got older and realized how much people associate gray hair with age, and aging is not something women are necessarily encouraged to do. "Age gracefully" is often code for "Make sure we never see you trying not to look old...but we still dn't want you to really look old". Like a lot of things related to women's "beauty", you're never supposed to look like you care about it, because that's vain. It's all about looking "perfect" without looking like it took any effort. Meanwhile there are an unbelievable amount of products out there that seem to exist for the sole purpose of convincing you that once 25 hits you are officially decrepit and turning into a dried out, withered old hag.

I'm pretty lucky. Most people are surprised my hair is naturally this color. They always ask how I get this color, assuming that I must bleach it or otherwise make it white. And I've gotten compliments on it, which is always nice, I won't lie. I think everyone likes being told something about them is unusual in an appealing way. But I've had some pretty passive aggressive things said, too. Like that it must be nice that my husband doesn't "mind". Or that they'd be too afraid of "looking old".

First of all, I love my husband a lot, but he has fuck all to say about my hair. My body is not his to dictate. And since he's not a jerk, he has no interest in doing that. He likes me as I am, however I choose to define that. And vice versa. I really don't believe in telling partners how to dress or wear their hair or any of that. As it happens, he likes odd hair colors. And since he met me when it was changing practically from week to week, well, no complaints.

Second, I'm going to look old at some point no matter what. If I live long enough. And honestly? One of my goals is to actually make it to Being Really Damn Old...if I get to wild white hair and all wrinkly like a raisin I will have, you know, won.

Mind you, I get it. There's an enormous amount of pressure on women to maintain their youth. And I'm not immune. I have lots of days where I'm staring at all the changes in the mirror, considering every flaw obsessively, wishing I looked like anyone but me. But then I have better days and find things to be grateful for and if I can see beauty in other women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and ages...then maybe I can extend a little of that kindness to myself sometimes, too. You know, a really little bit. Like a smidge.

So yeah, sure, the white hair is weird sometimes. Just like the laugh lines I didn't have before, and my forehead wrinkle named Agnes. But I feel like...these are signs that I am alive and I am living. And I might as well enjoy it since, much like I've changed since I was 17, and 25, and even 29...I'm going to look back at this from 35, and 40, and 45...and think the same thing.

And anyway, I can always dye streaks pink. >:}