I Dyed My Hair Pink & Realized I'm A Judgmental Hypocrite

janepurplehair-1Photo: Courtesy of Jane Helpern.
Dyeing your hair is an addiction — like heroin, sex, picking your face until it bleeds, or not leaving your college dorm room for the entirety of winter because you’re holed up watching The OC. Also, like chips. I once tweeted (please hold while I search my Twitter history for the exact wording), “Don’t publicly protest things or else you’ll just wind up feeling really stupid when you do/eat/wear them.” Either I’ve never protested pink hair, or I’m just a huge hypocrite. Spoiler alert: It’s the latter.
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I’m certainly no stranger to drastic hair changes. When I was 20 (that’s almost eight years ago now), I shaved off my long, wavy, brown locks with clippers I had bought at CVS on my ex-best friend’s 21st birthday (actually, you can read all about that here). I didn’t cry when it fell to the floor in seemingly cinematic slow motion. Unlike the girlie-girls who shell out $200 for split-end trims at Frédéric Fekkai, and leave in shambles because they're “basically bald,” or "look like Ellen DeGeneres," I was an active pursuant of the non-hetero aesthetic.
“Fuck traditional standards of beauty,” I raged, as I enrolled in my first gender-studies class at USC and listened to Tegan and Sara with a vegan, Whole Foods checkout girl from the Valley, who introduced me to probiotics, cultured enzymes, and not shaving my armpits. Back then, I wanted to take myself out of the destructive beauty pageant that is being a young-adult female — to say with my hair, or lack thereof, what I couldn’t say with words (which was some convoluted manifesto about sexual orientation, feminism, rebellion, and my true, creative identity).
By physically ridding myself of all I deemed feminine and frivolous, I believed I was becoming more authentic. Shaving my head was a conversation with the world — which is how I’ve since justified most of my aesthetic choices. By framing them as acts of subversion rather than vanity, I successfully convinced myself that I was less preoccupied with appearance than the aforementioned swanky salon patrons.
And, that worked just fine — until I grew up, outgrew (most of) my angst and embraced the rest of it, made some big-girl money — and took the platinum plunge at the bleach club. After doing that, I found that my self-confidence skyrocketed, and that changing up my appearance could be fun and refreshing. Although it conflicted with all of my notions about embracing natural beauty, I was hooked — on the same vacuous ritual I’d protested.
1618397_10102165208152335_1593423541_nPhoto: Courtesy of Jane Helpern.
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Like Icarus, I flew too close to the sun. (In this analogy, my blindingly white hair was the sun; I realize it’s not a well-executed analogy if you have to explain it.) The very sight of emerging roots drove me to re-up on the white stuff — to seek out that good scalp burn, even though I should’ve been saving my money for rent, charity, and other deep, meaningful grown-up things that I knew were way more important than finding the perfect violet-ashy shade that so-and-so wore on the runway.
I used to judge people. A lot. Sometimes, I still do. But, I’m working on it. I judged those who sought out superficial solutions to fix internal issues that stem from a lack of self-confidence. I saw them as harmful role models for young women; as part of the problem.
I judged them for how much money they spent on getting their hair done, for acrylic manicures, and for tarantula eyelash extensions. I judged them for wearing full faces of contouring makeup on a Sunday, and for indulging in weekly facials and expensive massages at the spa. I judged women for getting Botox before age 30, and for investing in expensive laser surgeries to singe a few inches off already trim waists. I judged everyone except myself. I rationalized that since my modifications were “alternative” or “less mainstream,” they were less narcissistic and somehow more honorable.
As a questioning college student, shaving my head had life-altering implications that ran much deeper than a fashion statement. But, these days — whether I'm pink or white or intentionally gray — I've realized it's all part of the same quest to feel comfortable in your own skin (and hair).
So, where do we draw the line with altering our appearances? Is there such a thing as “too much” or “the right kind” of self-improvement? And, is it really my place to make that distinction? I’ve realized that it’s absolutely not. My pixie-pink hair makes me feel creative and a little like a My Little Pony figurine — but a triple-D rack, Zumba abs, and sweeping ombré layers help Jennifer (the co-worker I never spoke to until my toxic hair dye caused non-toxic self-reflection) feel like the best version of herself.
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How we present ourselves is a conversation with the world. We all have our own messages to convey, boxes to check off in online-dating profiles, and understandings of work-appropriate footwear. And, if I’m being honest, maintaining this pink, east-side coiff costs about as much as a visit to a fancy, west-side salon. For that, I blame gentrification.


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