At various points in our lives, we all have to reckon with who we are and what we really want. Sometimes, this lesson comes in the form of a dream job that we wind up hating, or by way of a relationship that looks good on paper but has no spark.
For me, it was in the form of some bleach that made its acquaintance with my head.
My hair has always been on the blonde side, either by nature or nurture. When I was a kid, it was the color of sand. Around middle school, when my locks began to veer threateningly towards light brown, I started using a product called Sun-In to lighten them. For all intents and purposes, Sun-In is hydrogen peroxide and water, but what do you want? I was twelve.
By the end of high school, I had settled into a respectable pattern of home dye jobs of the Clairol variety, and once I hit my twenties, I began getting highlights professionally done. My routine served its purpose well and until about age 27, at which point, for reasons I can’t now recall, I was seized with a strong desire — I wanted to change things up. I wanted to stop playing it so safe.
I wanted to go platinum blonde.
What could have just been a quick trip to the salon instead dragged on for about four months. Instead of just doing it all at once, I sidestepped my heart’s desire by going back to my hairdresser after she did my highlights about three times in a row to complain that she hadn’t made my hair light enough. Finally, perhaps tired of listening to me, very likely in an effort to get me to never return, or maybe in an act of legitimate altruism, she hit me with a bowl of bleach to the dome.
I actually didn’t know what she had done until I went to the bathroom to peek, and staring back at me in the mirror was Draco Malfoy.
It was a shock to suddenly look like a Harry Potter character, but the change was what I was looking for. It was extreme. It felt daring, even despite the fact that, let’s be honest, platinum hair is hardly a form of follicular rebellion in Los Angeles.
Still, I loved it. I loved that when I put lipstick on, I had a look. No longer a bleating sheep in the aimless herd of sorority girl highlight-heads, I was emboldened to bust out my highest heels, my nicest sweaters and even – yes! – wash my clothes before wearing them. It was as if I had accessed my inner, most fashionable self.
After a week or so of riding the high of essentially being the next Jean Harlow, though, I came across a few problems.
For instance, if I didn’t put on lipstick, I looked kind of like a white sheet with eyeballs. On nights and weekends, when I put on my standard yoga pants and sweatshirt with grease stains, my hair turned me from your average twenty-something slob into a washed-up Vegas showgirl. And my existing wardrobe didn’t quite match my bold new ‘do. Half of it, you see, now made me look like a student in clown school.
In other words, my hair was high maintenance. But I desperately wanted to rise to the challenge. I wanted, for once, to be as committed to looking my best as the Dita von Teeses of the world. I wanted to have the cosmetic fortitude to get dressed and do my make-up and my hair every day, goddammit, and have it all be worth something.
So I tried. I went to the MAC store and worked my way through about 85 different shades of lipstick, finally emerging with my mouth swollen and puffy and my hands streaked with color but triumphant, clutching a tube called “Russian Red.” I figured out how to curl my hair into an adorable vintage-meets-late-aughts style.
And for a short while – a very short while – it worked. I was able to beat my indolent beauty routine into utter submission. It was gone, for maybe two weeks. My better coiffed self had prevailed!
But it didn’t last, and the reality of my situation hit me about three weeks after my dye job. Looking into the mirror one morning, I was greeted not by Draco, but by Courtney Love, circa the Frances Bean restraining order days.
My roots were growing in.
This was no ombre root, either. This was a stark, dirty-looking root that needed to be colored, I realized, almost immediately.
Readers, I was bested. It was once thing to get into the make-up and the heels. But to have to touch up my hair, in a salon, more than once every few months was simply more than I could give. I was an au natural kind of girl after all.
Mournfully, I put down the red lipstick, and I admitted defeat.
At first, I just let my hair begin to grow out on its own, and went back to highlighting it. But soon, it was clear that big secret of the Harry Potter movies isn’t where the final horcrux is hidden, it’s that Draco Malfoy’s hair is damaged beyond repair, and eventually mine, too, began to feel like straw. It was over.
I went to a new hairdresser, and with a heavy heart, asked him to dye my hair back to its original color. I had reached the extreme, touched the stars, seen the view from the top of the mountain, and it was time to climb back down.
During such trying times as the one I’ve described, we learn how far we can stretch, how much we’re willing to sacrifice and to what end, and for better or for worse we come to know ourselves more intimately. I now know that I’m no Angelyne. And I don’t dye my hair anymore.
Although these days, I have been thinking about maybe just a few highlights.