by Rachel Mascord, Australia
Make-over aged 15
The first time I coloured my hair, I was fifteen years of age. It was in no way a gesture of teenage rebellion as my Mum took me to get it done. My naturally blonde hair had darkened to a colour that she called “mousey”. What an awful description for a colour! It was a word that said “drab”, “dull” and “plain”. In my desperation to be anything other than “drab, dull and plain” I readily agreed to the process, having recently been dismayed by my appearance in my Year 10 school photo. I thought myself too ugly for words. My hair was the focus of critical attention, and so willingly I surrendered to the offer for transformation via a hair makeover!
Hooked Transformation – from mousey to blond
So I was introduced to the wonderful world of hair colouring, and the medieval torture implement known as the streaking cap. For those who are unfamiliar with this device, it is a thick rubber cap that is pulled down over your head. You feel like every hair is being pulled out… slowly. It clenches on to your head for the entire period of the colouring process… about 40 minutes (feels like 4 hours). To add insult to injury, a fine crochet hook is used to gouge into the scalp to fish out strands of hair for bleaching. You sit, coated in blue peroxide, looking like a reject alien extra for Star Wars, but the result is a lovely, natural blonde effect.
That first appointment had me hooked. The pain and suffering were forgotten when my hair was revealed, all gleaming, blow-dried and sparkling. Ah! I was beautiful, blonde, not mousey, not drab and plain. Mum was delighted too, for her blonde daughter had been restored!
My mum’s relationship with her own hair was nothing short of tortured. She deeply hated her hair, was always dissatisfied with the colour, and I never recall her being happy with a cut. There was always something wrong, and she was always wishing her hair were different… straighter, blonder…. something else. She would tear the brush through her hair in self-loathing and fury, and it was truly awful to witness. I could never understand her self-hatred: why did she not just look in the mirror and see how lovely she was? She was a stunningly beautiful woman, but all she saw was hair that didn’t fit her picture of how hair should be.
Changing Hairstyles – to Change Myself
That first colouring experience marked the start of a 28 year relationship of misery and dissatisfaction with my own hair. At hairdressing appointments I would describe my natural hair colour as “ugly” or “drab”, and then hand over all power to the hairdresser. Whatever they wanted to do, I would go with. The result of handing over to the experts was years of streaks, foils, organic colours, dark brown chunks, with blonde bits… and then attempts at red. So many hairdressers I met loved red. I got into a funny pattern of saying “yes”, and instantly regretting it. I would vow never again, then 2 years later I would forget, say yes to red, only to recall as the towel came off… oh no!… I look dreadful with red hair…. never again!
I also experimented with cuts, styles etc. I would walk into the salon, clutching a picture of the look I wanted, somehow imagining that that woman’s hair would give me her face, and somehow this hairdresser would give me the hair of my dreams. Unsurprisingly, it never happened.
Magazine Looks that Hook
For most of the late 80’s and early 90’s, the chin length pageboy bob was my hairstyle of choice. Every morning I would wrestle with the blow dryer, styling products (that never ever helped), getting a result that was never it. I hated my hair….. loathed it. I looked at pictures of perfect bobs, all smooth and glossy and I would look with frustration at my ‘stupid hair’ that just did not do what it was meant to do!
After that I changed my hair a multitude of times, sometimes super short crops, mid length styles, all of them super high maintenance, and requiring a type of hair I just did not have. I continued this struggle with salons and products… always dissatisfied, always changing hairdressers, always asking their opinion, getting cranky when it didn’t work out. What an exhausting cycle! Just writing it out makes me feel weary!
Bad Hair Day – Enough!
In 2010, I had one particularly bad hair experience. My current hairdresser was having an argument with her husband and business partner. Her rage and frustration rained down on the heads of all her customers that day. I was too timid to walk out in those days, but was unhappy enough to never ever walk back in – my hair was burned, with a tragic little tuft, so chemically tortured that it poked out at right angles from my head.
That was the last time I coloured my hair.
Enough! Enough of the disempowering cycle of
- “What do you think I should do?” Or
- “Can you make me look like this?”
Growing out the colour – towards the natural ME
And I wondered “what is the actual colour of my own hair?” Years of insults about it had passed my lips, but in fact, I could not recall. So I started the slow process of growing the colour out.
This is tough, because your hair looks awful – all the time. I had some support from a skilled haircutter, but it’s very easy to give up when you have inch long roots. Half coloured hair seems to scream “I don’t care!!” Thankfully, my resolve was strong and I did not give up.
Yet I learned something very interesting as my hair grew out. The natural hair colour always looks plain against that awful horizontal line of colour. The grey hairs stand out dramatically. No wonder we keep going back to deal with regrowth…. all is exaggerated, and for the worse.
Finally, the day came when a very short cut eliminated all colour.
What a beautiful moment. I was fascinated by what I saw. The colour was a dark blonde, with many little grey/silver highlights. My skin glowed, and my eye colour “popped”. Wow!
Those years of struggle, complaint, and disempowerment were placed under a spotlight. And I understood it was never about the hair dressers…. always it had been about me, and my willingness to give power to others. I always believed and lived as though others knew better than me. When it came to my hair, I let fashion and other people’s taste take precedence.
Until that moment, I had not recognised that the dissatisfaction I was directing at my hair actually revealed the deep-seated dissatisfaction within me.
My Hair – the perfect mirror of self-relationship
My relationship with my hair was a perfect mirror of my relationship with
- My Body
- My Personality
- My Whole way of being
I didn’t like my body, so I was constantly trying to change it with exercise, body toning, aerobics, weights, sport, yoga. It resolutely stayed the same, and boy I hated it! I engaged in all sorts of self-improvement bids, courses and workshops and the like, to fix myself, and make myself into the person I thought I should be…. yes… just like I took that photo into the hairdresser to ask for “this style please”…..
‘Au Naturel’ – Oh so wonderful!
Today, my hair is shoulder length, still its natural colour, with its lovely greys. It curls around the ends, sometimes forming ringlets that I love. I play with it… putting it up in different ways. I don’t try to make it into what it isn’t, but I do love it for what it is.
This blog is in no way “anti-hair-colour”.
And when a woman colours her hair in celebration of her beauty, it is a beautiful thing. The day may come when I choose to colour my hair again…. maybe even red! But if and when that day comes, I will walk into that salon absolutely loving the hair I already have, where the colour will be chosen for fun and to express me, and not to cover up a perceived deficiency, or to make up for an ill-thought lack of beauty.
My choice to stop colouring and revert back to my natural colour allowed me to access a deeper appreciation and love for myself as I naturally am. It opened my eyes to patterns of self-loathing and reaction that had been running the show my whole life. Now, when I look at that Year 10 school photo I do not see “plain, drab and mousey”. What I do see is a young woman who did not appreciate and express the beauty that was already there….
But today, through the self-loving choice to be all of me, free of outer influences and pressures, I know that beauty, and live it with absolute certainty.