I didn’t go to the hairdresser when I was a kid. My mum used to cut my hair, all of our hair. The first time I went to a hairdresser I was a teen, and even then my mum was with me, and I hated the straight cut I got, when I wanted… I don’t know? something more? but it was my mum who directed the hairdresser’s hand, and her scissors, and I got my hair lobbed off bluntly at the back, and it was the same as always. I wanted layers, and something curved, and wispy, and I wanted my hair to be like that of my school friends who went to hairdressers all the time. But a hairdresser was a frivolous expense when you have perfectly serviceable scissors at home, and mum who can give you a perfectly serviceable haircut.
It was my mum whom also gave me my “midnight, year 2000” haircut, which was the first time I had really short hair. Mind you, I had some bobs, some fringes, some other inventions in between. But the year 2000 was supposed to be somehow different, and new — and I got a pixie cut.
But even when short, it was straight, and fringly, and not at all like the cute pixie cuts of my school friends got, who went to hairdressers all the time.
The first time I cut my own hair was sometime in mid 2000’s. I had just finished school, and it was the summer, and in a few short months I was going to move to Ireland. I cut it just above the shoulder, and then I used a sharp shaving razor on the outside of it to give myself “layers”. It was a terrible cut, I know that now, but my hair responded to it like a desert after a storm and bounced! oh how it bounced, with curls emerging and swirling around in joyous messy halo. I was elated.
When I moved to Ireland, I got a job, and money, and then eventually: a haircut. But this time I knew what I wanted, and was brave enough to ask. Layers. All the layers. To let the curls out.
I remember the first time I coloured my hair. It was shortly after the disappointment of the first hairdresser cut. I wanted better hair. I wanted it so much I went to the local shop, and with money I made selling my lunch to my cousin, I bought two sachets of cheapest temporary hair colour in mahogany.
Of course when your hair is long, thick, frizzy, and that ashy shade of brown that just doesn’t want to be coloured, no temporary hair colour will do. At the very best it gave my hair je-ne-sais-quoi sheen when viewed from a certain angle in a certain light.
I was hooked. Even the je-ne-sais-quoi was better than a decidedly cold, almost-gray brown I had been sporting all this time.
In high school I discovered auburn shades which, when applied liberally and for way longer than the package instructed, did have an effect in making me less stern-looking. Then I lied through my teeth that yes, I did want my hair to match my eyes.
I didn’t tell anyone that it didn’t matter what the colour was, so long as it wasn’t my own.
Each time I buy a new pack of dye, each time I apply it, with sure, practised moves in front of the bathroom mirror, mopping away any stray drips and drops, I ask myself: am I vain? Is it vanity to hate your own hair colour for so long, and so vehemently, that you can’t bring yourself to leave it alone?
Each time I book my expensive hair appointment at the fancy city center hairdresser with the one and only stylist who “gets” my hair I ask myself; have I gone too far? Is this too much money and time to spend on oneself?
Now that I’ve started going grey I tell myself there’s no going back, that the dye will go in no matter what colour it may be.
Now that I’m no longer a rumpled teen climbing down from a tree with a paperback under my arm it would be unprofessional to have my hair roughly chopped into a bathroom sink.
The cost of non-participation in the social dance of “taking pride in your look” is steep for a woman. To be well dressed, well made up or well groomed is a necessity. One ignores the rites of signalling at ones peril. It would be less of a statement to dye my hair purple, or the luminous red that I wear today, than to not dye my hair at all.
So am I vain? Would my own colour be just fine? Would trimming my own bangs, and clipping my own split ends be just fine? Or is my search for the perfect colour and cut combination that reflects me and my place in society just as much as a necessity as brushing my teeth?
The latter may be true but there’s something else that’s just as true.
In the dark recesses of my mind lives a woman whom I want to become: she looks at herself in the mirror and she knows she’s beautiful.