The first time I tried to change the colour of my hair, my high school friend and I, at 14, cut up a lemon and rubbed it all over our heads. We spent the afternoon in the sun hoping our brown hair would lighten and have lovely blond streaks through it by the end of the day. It didn't. We just ended up smelling like lemon (not so bad) and having to wash out lemon pulp and stickiness from our heads. When that didn't work we tried Peroxide; 0 - 100, no mucking around. We poured the entire contents of the bottle into the bathroom sink at my mum's place, filled the rest with water and tried combing it through. We didn't get the instant gratification we wanted as the results take at least a few minutes so we just dunked our heads in. We then filled our water spray bottles with Peroxide and water so that we would continue to lighten our hair each morning when we sprayed it wet to style it. I think mum inadvertently used it a couple of times too....oops!
The result? We both became gingers. Gingers with black roots. We told our school teachers and our parents that the lemon juice had been a success and that the wonderful sunshine we had exposed ourselves to over the school holidays, had done the trick, turning our once brown hair orange. I don't think they bought it. They were always telling us to get outside and enjoy the fresh air when all we wanted to do in summer in those days was to wear black and sit in our rooms reading, listening to music, writing in our diaries and sulking. This is me with my little sister around that time. Black t shirt, black shorts, orange hair. It was 1989.
When my peroxided hair started to grow out, I decided to put a rinse through it to even it up. I chose burgundy, a deep reddish tint, instead of reverting back to my natural brown. It was the beginning of many years of dying my hair to change my look. When I discovered the permanent colours, I tried them all. I dyed it black when I felt melancholic and dark. Red mahogany or aubergine when I felt outrageous and adventurous. I tried every shade, although to be honest, those packet jobs don't really provide a wide spectrum of colour. They always end up looking like one of two colours, black or red. My mum used to say to me that I would regret dying my hair so young because some day I would have to do it to cover up grey hair and it won't seem like so much fun anymore. She was right. That's where I'm at now.
The permanent colours you used to get back then had tons of ammonia in them. They stunk up the entire house and made my eyes water. They stained my neck and my forehead and my hands and the towel and everything the toxic goo touched, but I still did it, regularly. It became a habit, part of my routine that I topped up every 4 -8 weeks to blend in my roots and update my look.
These days the packet stuff is so much more pleasant. Many of them do not contain ammonia anymore, they develop in under 15 minutes, they have lots of lovely natural ingredients in them and aren't as difficult to scrub off your face when you accidentally scratch your nose with a gloved hand full of dye by mistake. They don't take too long to work and smell pleasant. They comb through your hair easier and leave your hair so soft and luscious they count almost as a treatment. In fact that is why I have continued to use them and have never had my hair dyed at the hairdresser, choosing instead to DIY it at home myself. Except for the time, way back in the early days, when I decided to get a red streak in the front of my hair. I went to the hairdresser and she bleached the front and then dyed it bright red. It DID NOT turn out the way I wanted and if I ever dig up the photo that mum took of me so that she could taunt me with it in the future and prove her point about how ridiculous I looked, I will not post it here at all. I will burn it in the kitchen sink like I used to do with photos of old boyfriends.
I noticed grey hairs very early on. I think the first was in high school in my final year. I put it down to the stress of exams and didn't really care too much about it because I was colouring my hair regularly anyway so no body would even notice. This continued for decades. It is only really in the last 5 years or so that the greys have started to become increasingly abundant and stubborn and noticeable. They are so much harder to cover, because there are so many of them and let's face it, doing a hair dye job at home is not the best way to achieve total, even coverage. In fact, tie dyed is more of an apt description. I just make sure the top and front are covered, what happens underneath is another story. It's all about blending it in. These days the grey roots make an appearance a lot sooner than the 4 - 8 weeks. They start rearing their short, puby little ugly heads by the first wash and it's down hill from there.
I refuse to go to the hairdresser to get my hair dyed to this day. I'm lucky if I go twice a year for a haircut let alone going every few weeks to get my roots done. It is one of my absolute pet hates. I hate the chit chat, I hate the powerlessness and the vulnerability of sitting in front of the mirror after they've washed your hair, dripping wet and looking like a drowned rat. The lighting is shit and hideously unflattering. I hate how they never scrub the underneath part of your scalp. I hate having water trickle down the back of my neck when I'm fully clothed. In fact when I do go to the hairdresser, I wash my hair at home and make them just cut it. I also style it myself, unless I have a very rare important occasion, like my wedding day and even then I never understand what the hell they're thinking when I see the finished product. Three hours of blow drying and straightening and curling so that I can look like anyone but myself. I hate the product pushing and the barrage of questions. I always feel like I'm at a job interview at the hairdresser's. They quiz you about your life like it's their business. They give you the impression that they want to get to know you, but that's bullshit because they never remember you the next time or they get someone else to do your hair. They never want to divulge anything about themselves either. I could pretend I'm on a talk show. I also hate the judgement. So what if I tried to give myself a fringe and it turned out crooked; so what if I sit on the couch and split my ends to my scalp sometimes when I watch tv; so what if I can't get the hair dye in the bits behind my ears. Who else, other than the hairdresser, is looking that closely at my head?
I can count on one hand how many times I've come back happy from the hairdresser. It's always an ordeal. The best experiences I've had have been when I've gone in for a simple trim or a simple, but dramatic change. Long hair to a short straight bob is one of my favourites; can't go wrong. Trimming long layers is pretty straight forward too, although a few have fucked even that up because I always ask for a V shape, but it always ends up looking like a U shape.
I once went to a hairdresser who I specifically told NOT, I repeat, NOT to razor my hair; a technique where they run a blade up and down the hair shaft to thin it out. I explained that my hair is quite coarse and razoring tends to aggravate the frizz. It looks great in the moments after it is done, but as soon as it starts to grow again, it goes hay wire. He proceeded to razor my hair with sharp scissors and when I screamed at him to STOP (he didn't hear my initial whimpering) he explained that he wasn't using a razor, but scissors. It didn't occur to him that THE TECHNIQUE WAS THE SAME! I lost my shit that day. I was 8 weeks pregnant, nauseous and emotional and my brother's wedding was that weekend. Luckily I had a birthday voucher from my brother to go to another salon and have it styled for the occasion. They curled the bejesus out of my hair while I sipped on ginger beer and sweated and held back spew and by the middle of the day when the festivities began, the curls had settled and it didn't look half bad. One of the success stories. I also recall a time when I walked out of a salon without paying because after letting me wait an hour beyond my appointment and then spending another hour cutting air so that there was no hair on the ground AND THEN having the audacity to ask for $60, I decided that I would rather have them chase me through Town Hall station (I don't think that particular salon is under the same management anymore) than give them a penny of my hard earned cash. I'm sure the girl that cut (and I use that term loosely) my hair was sedated or recovering from a lobotomy.
I've had some pretty good experiences too, don't get me wrong. It's just that the bad ones out weigh the good. I once went to a salon where the hair washing chairs were massage chairs and to top it off the hairdresser washed my hair thoroughly and massaged my scalp with a choc peppermint oil that left me euphoric. I vibrated into oblivion. I don't remember the rest of the experience because I was off with the pixies, but I do remember leaving the place looking like a celebrity because she did an amazing blow dry. I told her I would have to go out that night just because I looked instantly dressed up with that hair. I didn't; I got a bottle of wine and watched TV all night, getting up to look at myself in the mirror once in a while to admire my head. By the time I needed another hair cut, I'd moved house and haven't been back since. I wonder if the salon and the same hairdresser is still there? They often aren't.
The whole front of my head, especially my right side is now pretty much white when the hair colour fades. If I part my hair anywhere along my scalp, the roots are grey. I can keep putting colour through and enjoying those first few days of soft, luscious, even coloured hair or I can find another solution.
Ombre or ballyage hair is all the rage at the moment. Basically it is the look bottle blonds get when their dark roots grow out. Like this.
Hang on a minute! I was way ahead of my time! If only it was fashionable when the Peroxide was growing out. Unfortunately at the moment, my hair is doing this in reverse.
I could go for this look instead.
It's an option, but I don't think a blonde head near my face would suit me.
If I was 20 years younger I would totally do this! Complete with the tattoos and blue contacts. This is what I tried to do and failed when I was 17, but with red instead of blue - it ended up being more orange than red. I might still do it one day. I can always wear a beanie if it fails. I crochet you know.
So what are my options? I would like to work with my head instead of against it. It's possible. I wanna be like Helen Mirren and go grey and then dye it pink. Like this. Totally foxy.
Heaps of women rock grey hair. Why is it only considered distinguished on a man?
What does this make you think when you look at it? She needs to touch up her hair right? Why?
But this doesn't make you think twice, right?
On a woman, grey hair apparently makes her look haggard not honorable. It's the old maiden, mother, crone scenario. Women are bundled into one of these three categories. Maiden is young, flawless, beautiful, relevant; everything we see in advertising, everything we are indoctrinated to value as a society. This can also be divided into two sub categories. Virgin or whore. You can thank the Abrahamic religions for that one. Is the beautiful young woman a Mary the Madonna or Mary the Magdalene? Thanks again religion!
Mother is the next stage, so if you have moved beyond the maiden 'age' and still haven't procreated, people start to pity you or assume you're a ruthless career woman who is completely self centered and self absorbed. You must be a spinster because what woman in her right mind would decide not to have children consciously? Or maybe you can't for medical reasons, at which stage you'll just cop the pity. Mothers on the other hand are excused for looking a little disheveled because they're so busy sacrificing themselves to rear their children. Well actually no, that isn't acceptable these days either. There are no excuses for not looking like a yummy mummy while frazzled and on no sleep. Comfy clothes and no makeup although understandable are seen as the result of selflessness and martyrdom not a conscious choice made by a woman who wants to focus on something other than her own vanity.
The final stage is the crone. Yes you can have grey hair and be a nanna (which of course means you have procreated already and your children have now procreated too), but don't expect to be taken seriously unless you're Helen Mirren. You're just the nut bag buying Depends and chuckling to herself at Aldi.
A man can move smoothly from his wild teen years, into fatherhood or bachelorhood (it's not really questioned when men decide not to have children) and grey old age without anyone batting a judgey eye.
Well I reckon I can too. I reckon I'm all three of the categories imposed on me by society and everything in between. I'm a maiden; I'm young at heart, I'm relevant, I'm fit and healthy, I can be sexy and desirable. I'm not a virgin or a whore (not that being either is shameful in any way), but I'm a sexual being. I'm a mother - obviously. I'm a crone; wise, grey, jaded, experienced. Up yours society. Heaps of women are reclaiming their right to go grey gracefully.
I'm tired of colouring my hair right now. That is not to say that I'll never do it again or won't experiment with wild colours again, but right now I want to own and love my grey hair. Mind you I have a packet dye in the bathroom waiting for me and I have a wedding coming up, which is usually the type of occasion that I use as a marker for when to touch up my hair colour. I am strongly fighting the urge to give in this time.