My Life In Blue Hair

"You've got blue hair." It's the stunned reaction of cashiers and people I'm just meeting for the first time. As if I didn't know.
Publish date:
December 20, 2011
hair, hair dye, hair as expression of identity, crayon colors, self expression

The first time I dyed my hair blue was not the first time I ever dyed my hair. That first time, the color of choice was dark burgundy; the deed was done by my uncle’s freshly minted hairdresser girlfriend.(My mother is the oldest of five, that uncle the youngest -- his girlfriend was a senior while I was a freshman in high school so we actually had some common ground.)My natural color is very dark brown. It’s not quite black, which I know mostly because I have black lowlights in my hair right now. When I spend time in the sun, my hair bleaches out, especially if I’m in the water for any significant amount of time. When we lived abroad, I had two blond streaks, one at each temple, from the sun and the chlorine of the pool. I spent a lot of time in that pool, holding my breath underwater and letting my hair swish around my shoulders.The second time I dyed my hair, I chose a dark burgundy color once again -- Rubine by Manic Panic. I was 17 or 18, living in the dorms at the private women’s college I had chosen as an escape from home.

Because I entered as a junior (early entrance into college isn’t uncommon, after all), my friends were all older-than-me upperclass(wo)men. We were all juggling Issues and Baggage and Struggling With Identities. We went to the Little Five Points part of Atlanta and bought the dye, and then, after one friend was sufficiently drunk enough not to care that we hadn’t bought gloves, she dyed my hair.

Her hands were a glorious shade of wine-red-purple. My hair was also pretty awesome.What followed was a long series of years during which my hair was some shade of red or burgundy -- once it was a memorable shade of orange. I had a chunky streak at the front, before the chick from Lucious Jackson popularized it, and that would turn crayon color bright.Because I was a broke college student, I learned how to dye my hair myself. By and large, I left bleaching out of my regimen, convinced I would ruin my hair. But I dabbled with various streaks, always in pursuit of hair that made me feel like a rock star. Which, you know, is a lot of pressure to put on some keratin, right?

My hair is very thick. It's also curly. When I grow it out, there is a lot of it and it can be quite difficult to manage. Every time I asked a professional colorist about dyeing my hair, sticker shock set in; I kept dyeing my hair myself and with the help of friends.I only deviated from my red/burgundy/pink/orange obsession once: I was close to graduating, I worked in a music store, and I bleached the entire front section of my hair -- dyed it After Midnight, another classic Manic Panic color. And then discovered that, yes, Virginia, there may be a Santa Claus but even he cannot make blue hair dye that doesn't fade to green. It didn't last -- the upkeep was too intense. And I had to wear a hat to work because we were on Disney property.

In 2008, I was in an interesting place. I had a book coming out and was working at a place with a very serious nondiscrimation policy. My hair was hip-length, but very damaged after years of home dye jobs and no trims. My hair got shorter, and then shorter yet, aggressive cuts taking out all of the old damage and leaving me, for the first time since high school, with completely virgin hair.

And then... Then I walked into a hip little salon and asked them if they could dye my hair blue."You've got blue hair." It's the stunned reaction of cashiers and people I'm just meeting for the first time. As if I didn't know.

It renders me visible in an entirely different way than my fatness, than my overall flamboyance. And on one hand, I like that. And on the other, I just really like having blue hair. If I could make it grow out of my head this color, I would do it.

My hair has been blue in some fashion or another ever since that first foray into the local salon, for almost four years. I let it fade between dye jobs, in part because the fading process is fascinating to watch and in part because my stylist is a genius - but also she is expensive. We only bleach twice a year, so the damage is minimal. And we throw in other colors, emphasizing the purple shades or putting in an unexpected splash of magenta. Lately, I've been obsessed with adding green to my blue; my head looks like a cross between an evil mermaid and a peacock. A merpeacock, maybe?This weekend, I sat in my stylist's chair (a very fat woman in a very cool salon) (9am appointments the mornings after parties are never a great idea, by the way) and she painted my hair (she uses a product called Pravana Vivids, before anyone asks).

My hair is darker now, all intense color and lowlights. She blew it out straight for me as well. When I look in the mirror, it's like looking at a close blood relative I've never met (that would be, you know, any of them) -- almost my own reflection but someone entirely different.That sort of sideways step into another identity is irresistible to me. I'm mercurial. My interests tend toward short-term compulsion. My hair reflects that now, in a way that it could not when it was all one length, long and undyed. There's an element of vanity to it, certainly -- my freshly dyed hair contributes to an aesthetic I find attractive, speaks to my membership in some sort of culture that exists outside the mainstream.

That does sound vain, in a way that makes me uncomfortable with myself. It also sounds hella pretentious, but I was an English major, I can't help it sometimes!A few years ago, I was job hunting. And an acquaintance asked me what I was going to do about my hair -- it had not occurred to her that I might try to job hunt with blue hair.

I let it fade a bit, and when I interviewed for my current position, I did so with light pastel blue highlights. I think about that moment sometimes, about the compromises we have to make to survive in a corporate world. And I worry -- because I am genuinely and noticeably different as a person when I am able to express myself. What changes am I willing to make for a job? What self-expression will I give up?

I wish I had some answers; all I have in the meantime is my blue hair.