What Happened When I Let Men Dictate My Beauty Look

Photographed by Tory Rust.
I've developed a reputation at the Refinery29 offices as the beauty team's "try girl." Meaning, I've tossed my lone hat into the ring so many times to cover strange trends or procedures that I'm now basically the team guinea pig. I've changed my diet for a month for better skin, gotten my bikini-wax strips read by a fortune teller, floated naked in darkness for an hour, and test-driven insane Instagram trends.

My willingness to offer myself up may lead you to believe that I'm fairly adventurous in terms of beauty, but it's all a pretty spectacular sham. While I'll happily volunteer for a bite massage (stay tuned!), until recently I'd always shied away from hair-dyeing, dramatic haircuts, and obscure lipstick shades for one silly reason. I'm still single.

In my mind, no guy would want to get serious with a girl with bright-orange hair. Is your inner feminist cringing right now? Mine does, too, every single time I avoid a look I'd otherwise love to experiment with. If I'm being perfectly honest with myself (and with you, audience of millions of strangers on the internet), the way I think men may perceive me as a cisgender, straight female has always played into the way I present myself to the world.
I am the girl who used to believe that a relationship would fix her problems. So I did everything I could to catch a dude with my looks. In middle school, a boy I liked told me my bushy unibrow looked like caterpillars on my face, so I asked my mother to take me to get my brows waxed. In high school, I decided to show people I didn't care whether I was alone (even though I did), so I gravitated toward hairstyles I thought were man-repellent. In college, I curled my hair and tanned myself bronze, because I thought it made me look sexier.

None of this ever worked. I never found myself suddenly surrounded by guys based on my new look. Because no matter what I changed on the outside, I was still Maria on the inside. And Maria had a major lack of self-confidence. (Obviously.) But I kept on changing and adapting like a chameleon, trying to figure out the secret that would finally land me a relationship.

Once I graduated college, I finally began to adopt a style that was more about me and less about what I assumed men wanted — though that mindset didn't completely fade away. I'd still tweak things based on my dates. I didn't wear my go-to red lip for a full year because I read somewhere that men see the shade as a sign of a woman who is high-maintenance. This dating anxiety eventually overwhelmed me, and I finally broke down and put myself in therapy.

Over the course of a year, my therapist and I worked through my issues. I realized that I was looking to men to validate me, and my beauty routine was wrapped up in that. So I started to untangle that mess. I got a haircut that would accentuate, not hide, my frizzy curls. I started experimenting with my makeup. I even changed all the pictures on my dating-app profiles to snaps of me in red lipstick for two weeks — high-maintenance judgment be damned!
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I realized that I was looking to men to validate me, and my beauty routine was wrapped up in that.

But I still kept things fairly safe. When my coworkers started dyeing their hair bright shades — like pink and blue — I'd look on with awe and envy. I could never do that, I'd think. I'm on all these dating apps. Every time I sat down in my colorist's chair (an amazing woman named Lucille Javier from Sally Hershberger Downtown who once saved me from a tragic ombré situation and has been my go-to girl ever since), she would beg me to let her go a little crazy.

"Creative color would look incredible on you," she'd coo, showing me photos of the lavender-haired cool girls on her Instagram. But even though I was so tempted, I never went for it. A year ago, I let her dye the ends of my hair a pretty rose-gold, but I felt uncomfortable the entire few weeks I had it. Again, what guy would want to go out with a girl with rose-gold hair?

Nine months later, I'm in a much better place emotionally and have unpacked most of the baggage of my dating life. I'm still single, but I'm not scared of it anymore. I don't wear it like a scarlet letter. Instead, I see it as a huge opportunity for growth — and a ton of fun. And after discussing it with my therapist, I decided I was ready to stop seeing her.

Not so coincidentally, a few weeks after my last therapy appointment, I started obsessing over the idea of platinum hair. I blame Zosia Mamet's Shoshanna on this past season of Girls. Those platinum strands with dark roots and a ghostly wash of pink became lodged in my brain, and I haven't been able to shake it. I look in the mirror and imagine myself with blond strands. I've googled images of ladies with blond hair, dark brows, and a half-inch of root growth. This is what I want to do. I feel it in my gut.

So I texted Lucille, "I've been tossing around the idea of going blond..." I couldn't have gotten a more enthusiastic response. She was stoked, but wanted us to sit down face-to-face and talk about it first. Her question? Why, suddenly, I wanted to make such a change. "I don't know," I said. "It's just something I feel like I should do right now."

And that was the truth at that moment, but after thinking about it for a few days, I finally have a better answer. I've grown confident enough in myself to realize that I don't give a fuck whether a guy would date me based on my hair color. If I want to go platinum, I'm going to go platinum. I shouldn't base my look on my relationship status. The type of guy I hope to end up with won't care if I have magenta strands or a shaved head when we meet. He'll be interested in me because I'm smart, I'm talented, and I'm confident enough to wear my hair however I choose.

My appointment is set for May 18, and I couldn't be more jazzed. It will be a thrilling experience to finally take my look into my own hands. Of course, I'm curious to see how being platinum will affect my dating life, but the fear is not there anymore. It's been replaced with the knowledge that no matter what I look like, I am worthy of all kinds of love — self-love, especially.

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