“How long ago did you stop coloring your hair?”
I brought up this question to my CODEPINK buddy Jackie Barshak as I drove her and a couple of 20-something activists up Highway 95 from Las Vegas to Camp Justice, across the road from Creech Air Force Base. We were in Nevada to take part in Shut Down Creech, a major mobilization in early March to protest US weaponized drones.
But Jackie and I weren’t debating direct action tactics. We were discussing something of apparently great interest to “women of a certain age”: what to do about one’s hair.
Jackie had decided several years before to stop dying her hair on a trip to Iran, as she had to cover her hair in public anyway and just let it go gray. Then, back home, she had slowly kept cutting the brown off and letting the white grow out, until her longish, almost entirely white hair fell past her shoulders. She listened patiently to my every detail about the pros and (increasing) cons of having my hair dyed, about what it all meant and how I felt about my troublesome hair.
Finally, after “warning” my husband and much internal back-and-forth, in early June, I jumped off the fence I had been teetering on. Meeting with my longtime hair-care pro, Stephanie at Supercuts, I quoted the company slogan at her: “We cut hair for YOUR ego, not ours.” Chuckling, and delighted that I was willing to try something different (even though it meant no more $70+ hair dye jobs from me), Stephanie got out the dreaded razor and started buzzing the dyed hair off my head.
I kept my eyes on my magazine, scared to look at my reflection as I underwent this transformation. After about 45 minutes, I gazed at the mirror as Stephanie said, “I left a little, because I can always take more off, but I can’t put it back on.”
“Shave it all off,” I told her.
I didn’t want to see any remnants of the faded reddish brown my hair had turned to. My hairdresser carefully carved the hair around my ears, exposing them completely for the first time in decades, and shaved the last bits of brown, and finished by shaving my neck. I noticed that the last tufts falling to the salon floor looked dry and dead. Good riddance!
I took a selfie of the two of us, and after many words of encouragement from Stephanie, I stepped out on the street, feeling shorn, vulnerable, odd-looking… and free.
I’ve gone through many changes and interesting conversations since then. People at my synagogue at first worried about my health. People in my Bay Area CODEPINK group were, to a woman, complimentary and supportive. One (male) friend seemed a bit bummed, but then said I still radiated my “inner redhead” – huh?
For me, this change means no more dying my hair, EVER. I had dyed it for 22 years, and that was long (and expensive) enough! My silvery hair near my ears reminds me of my father, and I realized again how much I miss him, almost a decade after his death. I’ve felt brave, self-conscious, liberated, shy, bold.
It’s been an interesting journey thus far. I’ve been called “ma’am” much more often than before, “sir” a few times (followed by apologies), and have received many more compliments than I ever expected. Somehow being “myself” showing my real hair color, not afraid to be “unfeminine” or feminine in a different way, seems to bring out smiles and connection with others. I’m surprised and grateful that a haircut provides me with an instant ice-breaker/conversation-starter.
Wind and water on my scalp feel great. This cut is perfect for swimming, which I love. I never have to fling it out of my eyes or fuss with it afterward. The hair on the top of my head stands up straight – I sometimes think from studying and protesting US foreign policy for years! It’s teddy-bear-soft and a mix of very dark brown and bright white. This is me, now.
And Jackie? She cried out when she saw my new hair:
“Oh, you finally did it! It looks great!”
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