Ditching The Dye

I've been coloring my hair for years. Everyone does, right? It's what we've been taught we're supposed to do as soon as the first rogue grays become too many to pluck without creating a bald patch. My mother bleached her dark brown hair from the time I was a little girl. Her mother was my "crazy red-haired granny" until she died in her 80's. And my father's mother, who had unfortunate, wispy locks and lost a lot of hair as she aged, opted for a terrible brown wig that didn't suit her at all. Hair color seemed natural to me. Just something we do when we grow up.

I actually started dabbling in recreational color as a teenager. I went glowingly henna-red off and on, but I think henna is kind of a gateway hair color, that often leads to the harder stuff. The mess of plastering smelly green mud on one's head can become more trouble than it's worth. It did for me, and I eventually graduated to semi-permanent color from a box, to "brighten" my natural color. Later it was permanent dyes because I wanted bigger changes in my real color, and I wanted to really cover those pesky grays. I think there were about six of them at the time. Vanity is a funny thing.

One time I opted for what looked like a lovely dark auburn on the box, but ended up in a total panic over what turned out to be black hair with purple highlights. I called Miss Clairol herself, pleading for some kind of help, which led me to stripping the color out of my hair, and re-coloring it a nice normal shade of my original brown - which ended up actually being a flaming I-Love-Lucy-red. At this point I was afraid of frying my hair and having it all fall out, so I tried to live with the red, which was actually orange, and required me to race to Mervyn's to buy new clothes that didn't clash with my hair. Sigh... A few days later I succumbed to the dye bottle again, and finally got back to more or less the basic brunette shade I'd started with. My hair was not at all pleased with me.

I vowed never to color my hair again, but of course that didn't stick. A few years later the grays started showing up in earnest, and it was back to the bottle for me. It was fun for a while. I liked the home "spa time," and the fresh look I got with each touchup. And for years I never questioned my hair coloring habit. In fact, like my red-haired granny, I fully intended to color my hair until I dropped. But somewhere along the way, I just got tired of doing it. More than the actual doing, I grew tired of having to do it in order to look good. I eventually began to feel like a slave to the dye bottle, and began wondering if or how I'd ever get away from it.

I had my opening a few years ago when I had my hair cut super short, just for a change. I liked it for a while, but unruly curls like mine take more upkeep short than long, and after a few months I decided to grow it back out. While I was at it, I decided to stop coloring too, and see what color my hair really was at that point. Growing hair from short back to longish is never easy, but at least growing out the color was part of the deal, and pretty painless. I embraced it, and even liked it for a while, and then for some reason, in an "ugly" moment, I caved in and went back to coloring it. What a mistake!

While some people feel they look younger with dyed hair, I began to realize that I wasn't fooling anyone. My fake hair color didn't make me look younger. It merely made me look like I colored my hair. I even started to feel like the contrast between my "young" hair and my not-so-young 50-something face was something I was no longer comfortable with.

The word "authenticity" is used a lot in the going-gray movement (and it is a movement - just look around the internet). And yes, I do want to be as authentically me as I can be. But more than that, I'm just tired of the upkeep and the minimally effective results I get from home-coloring my hair. While professional color can be gorgeous, I can't afford to drop $100 every three weeks to keep up with my fast-growing roots. And when something that makes us feel pretty actually looks quite crappy every three weeks, it's time to reassess. So that's what I'm doing.

More than authenticity, what I want out of this is freedom. I want to travel without worrying about my roots showing and finding someone in a foreign country to keep me pretty. I'm not all gray, so this really won't be as shocking as it might be for some. And well, I just feel ready. I know it's going to be rough at times. I know there will be people who disapprove. I know I'm going to hate it from time to time. And maybe I'll go back to the red-haired-granny way of thinking - dye till you die - but honestly, I hope I don't. I hope there's more to me than that, and I hope I can give myself this gift of personal authenticity combined with freedom.

I plan to talk about it here as I go along. When I made my big announcement on Facebook this morning, there was an immediate flurry of conversation on the subject, from friends on both sides of the hair color fence. I mentioned there that if you get a group of women together for more than thirty minutes, the conversation will almost always turn to hair at some point. Our hair means a lot to us, whether we want it to or not, so we might as well just go ahead and talk about it. My list of blog post sub-subjects is growing faster than my roots, so I'm going to go ahead and document my Big Growout. It seems to be something a lot of us think about, and a lot of us want to do, but don't always feel that we can, for various reasons. Hair... wow... who cares? Well, most of us, in my experience.

So here goes. The start of a big, uncomfortable, life-changing project. Let's get growing.

Comments

janet vierra said…
I grew mine out - took 3 years to get my long hair dye free.
Kim Miles said…
Three years, wow! That's some kind of dedication! Mine's fairly short, so I'm hoping to do this in about a year. We'll see!
My solution has been low-lighting. Lasts for several months, no noticeable grow-out. But I doubt you even need that -- I don't think you have as much gray as I do. This was a fun read. :-)
Kim Miles said…
Your hair always looks great, Laurel! Bet you have a few new grays after the Boulder Incident... xoxo
Evelyn McGarry said…
The other day I was at the check-out at Lunardi's grocery store and the cashier asked me if I get the discount. I must have looked perplexed because she then informed me there is a discount for those 62 or older. I told her I wasn't there yet. I suppose my grey hair confused her. Oh well, I am what you see. Dye my hair, absolutely not!
Kim Miles said…
Sheesh! No WAY do you look anywhere near 62! She was just dumb. Anyway, you're one of the smart ones who never got started. It's so hard to kick the dye bottle! ;o)