After More Than a Decade of Bleach and Dye, I'm Terrified to Change My Hair Color Again

I used to think people unwilling to try new hair colors were timid and spineless. Now I've joined them and I don't know what to think.
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Kathleen Braine
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I used to think people unwilling to try new hair colors were timid and spineless. Now I've joined them and I don't know what to think.

When I was 14 years old, I decided, during one relatively unremarkable sleepover, that I was going to dye my hair. I had spent that whole summer dousing my hair in the early-2000s Bath and Body Works version of Sun-In, and — much to my mother's chagrin — I ended up with decidedly yellow streaks in my dark blonde hair. I was thrilled with the efficacy of the Sun-In knockoff, but my youthfully precocious self still had a hankering for a more serious change. I was a freshman in high school, after all, and making rash hair color changes was extremely adult and sophisticated, obviously.

With a Kate Winslet–circa Titanic–auburn goal in mind, my friends and I paid a visit to our local Kroger and grabbed a semipermanent boxed hair dye in "Summer Strawberry Wine and Mahogany." (OK, fine, I don't remember what it was actually called, but I'm confident the actual color was something similarly loquacious.)

We returned to my friend's basement and immediately got to work coloring my sun-kissed (to put it tactfully) hair. Now, I have to clarify that I was an extremely gullible and naive teenager. I had a God-given belief that everyone was naturally honest, and my Midwestern upbringing had taught me to be polite and well-mannered even in the face of potential falsehoods.

This aspect of my personality was not lost on my high school friends. Once they began to mix the box color together and we collectively noticed that the dye in the bottle had a distinctly violet tint to it, they must have felt, along with their giddy excitement, at least a little apprehension.

It was what it was, I guess.

It was what it was, I guess.

Regardless, they powered through it and proceeded to convince me throughout the hair-dyeing process that my hair was actually inadvertently turning purple (I know, kids can be cruel!). By the time they had begun to blow-dry my freshly colored hair, I had completely come to terms with my anticipated violet lifestyle.

A not-quite–Kate Winslet shade of auburn. 

A not-quite–Kate Winslet shade of auburn. 

Of course, the second I finally looked into a mirror, they burst into fits of laughter. Honestly, I was pretty relieved to see an unremarkable dark red instead of the vibrant violet I was envisioning, but something had stuck in me in those difficult 30 minutes of turmoil; after that, I was never afraid of dyeing my hair.

Forgive me my teenage selfie poker face. 

Forgive me my teenage selfie poker face. 

Throughout my high school years, I oscillated among red, strawberry blonde, dark brown, light brown, and many, many shades in between. I never took any of the changes too seriously. Heck, I even added actual purple streaks to my hair at one point, and after I went on to college, I continued my dynamic hair color choices by going blonder and blonder until finally diving headfirst into platinum last summer. I knew that I was lucky to have hair hardy enough to withstand color changes, but I was so passionate about changing my hair color whenever I felt like it that I began to think that those who were unwilling to try new hair colors were inherently timid and spineless.

I've written before about the fact that I would very much prefer to stay faithful to my current colorist, Will Francis. I always thought that as long as my main man, Will at Sally Hershberger Downtown, was doing the coloring, I would be OK with trying anything new. In fact, I had spent so many years craving constant hair color changes that once I reached a one-year anniversary with my platinum hair, I was perplexed that I had happily kept the same hair color for so long. With that idea in mind, I approached Will recently with a new idea: I was going to dye my hair pink. I've dabbled in pink before, with pink ends or streaks in my more youthful days, but I'd never tried an overall pink color.

When I sat down in the chair, however, something very strange happened. After weeks of googling "pink hair" plus "celebrities" with abandon, I suddenly realized that I really, really didn't want to change my hair color. This may seem like a relatively small realization for most people, but for me — the girl who was able to easily reconcile herself to unintentional purple hair at age 14 — this was a shocking reaction. Why was I suddenly afraid to change my hair color?

To Will's credit, he handled my sudden change of heart with aplomb and immediately transitioned into asking me if I wanted to do a darker, piece-y look for a small change of pace. (Please note: "Darker" for me equals "just shy of Jennie Garth in 90210.") While he was fully immersed in hand-painting my hair, I began to think about why I was so determined to remain blonde. I've always clung to the platitude "change is good." But maybe constantly seeking out and instigating change in my own life wasn't always the best thing for me.

Ultimately, I feel like I'm in a more stable place in my life than I've been in many years. In addition to the hair color changes of yore, I'd had multiple boyfriends, roommates, jobs, pets, drinks, hairstyles, and hobbies over the past 10 years. The early days of my 20s were very fun, don't get me wrong, but at the end of the day I've recently realized that I love how I feel now that I'm sleeping more often, drinking less often, living in a clean and adult apartment, and taking careful care of my skin and hair

Sunny blonde, not Sun-In blonde. Photo Credit: Nick Wiesner

Sunny blonde, not Sun-In blonde. Photo Credit: Nick Wiesner

My platinum change last summer notably coincided with my last days living in my old, cramped, Lower East Side apartment that was perfect for a 23-year-old, but suffocating for a 27-year-old. With my new platinum hair, suddenly I was hustling at a new corporate job, living in Brooklyn in a clean, spacious apartment (without drunk investment-bank interns puking on my stoop every night), dating a guy I really liked (even when we're both sober) and spending Friday nights cooking dinner and watching Orange Is the New Black.

Now, let me clarify that I don't believe that dyeing my hair pink would mean the end of all of the "adulting" I've been doing as of late (because pink can easily look more professional and put-together than platinum blonde), but I do think that for me, right now, I'm not craving the emotional high of a big change. Rather than fighting that feeling or changing my hair "just because," I'm going to keep it the way it is (at least for now).

I left the salon still happily blonde (though I was instructed to baby my ends using Sally Hershberger 24K Golden Touch Nourishing Dry Oil for the next few weeks), and I didn't even feel bad about it.

Do you change your hair color often? Are you afraid of the change or do you embrace it?