In Rosalind Wiseman’s book Queen Bees and Wannabees, Wiseman talks about the empowerment seminars that she often holds for young women. In those seminars she asks the young women to write down a physical feature that they like–and then adds this stipulation: No listing hair or eyes. Those two features, she argues, are the easy way out–they’re relatively neutral, culturally speaking, and so it’s easy (and culturally acceptable) to admit to liking them. There’s a lot to be said about this idea, about why we find it so hard to embrace various aspects of our physical appearance. But I’m not going to say it. At least, not today.
When I read Wiseman’s description of these seminars, my first reaction was a sense of guilt–and recognition. Hair and eyes: those are the two features that first pop into my mind when people ask what I like about myself. I’m certainly not going to say anything about my good birthing hips, or the CRT (charging rhino thighs) that I inherited from my mother and passed onto my own daughter.
But I’m particularly attached to my hair. I didn’t always love it–up until age five or so I desperately wanted blonde hair because all the princesses in fairy tales had blonde hair. But then my mother found a gorgeously illustrated version of Sleeping Beauty where the heroine had long, red, curly hair and I was won over. (I loved Kel’s recent reflection on her own red locks). My hair has garnered me a lot of effortless attention over the years: when I was a baby, people would stop my mom in the grocery store and ask to touch my hair (this may be why–to this day–I don’t particularly like people to touch my hair). In grade school, one of my teachers asked me to pose next to the green chalkboard while she took my picture because she was so struck by the contrast of red on green. In ninth grade, my English teacher introduced the idea of archetypes by talking about the red-headed heroine as an archetypally strong woman. (And despite the fact that I had the worst hair cut of my life at that point, I felt stronger just hearing him). My hair was one of the first things my husband noticed about me. And to this day, I have people ask me what kind of dye I use . . .
I don’t think I realized how much of my identity I had invested in my hair until recently, when I started to discover my first gray hairs. And they seem to proliferate like rabbits: every few days, I discover more of them. I’m in my mid-thirties; I’m not nearly ready to relinquish my identity as a red-head and give in gracefully to the gray. My parents didn’t go gray until their late 40s–this isn’t something I expected to think about for another decade at least.
But, here’s the thing. I’ve never dyed my hair. Part of me is afraid to: what if I never get the natural color back? But what are my alternatives? Gray isn’t a color that I look particularly good in.
I realize that, in the grand scheme of things, the color of my hair is a really minor thing to worry about. It won’t change my relationships with other people. (I hope!) It won’t change my responsibility to act with faith and charity. But I think it does–even if it shouldn’t–change the way I think about myself.
There’s always a lot of collective wisdom in the Segullah hive-mind. I’m curious about your experiences with your hair as you began to go gray. Did you give in gracefully? Do you dye it with confidence? Or do you do something else altogether? (And please tell me I’m not the only woman out there who worries about this . . .)