“You look like you need a guitar,” my brother told me when he spotted my newly dyed red hair. “And leather pants.”
My hair wasn’t that red. Not Johnny Rotten red. Not “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do” red. But still quite different from my usual drab postpartum brown with blond highlights. And that was the point. I wanted to be somebody else – or at least look like somebody else – so I dyed my hair red for the first time. Soon, however, I’d realize it would be the last.
My hairstylist said I’d stop traffic with my new hair color. And I did. When I left the salon, a van full of construction workers stopped to let me cross the street. When I got home, my neighbor pulled her car over to ogle. “Wow! Cool hair!” she shouted. I smiled nervously: She had spotted my new ‘do from as far as 500 yards away. Oh no. What had I done?
I simply wanted to feel like somebody else for a while. Not a predictable suburban mom with a mini-van full of kids making fart noises with their armpits. Not one of a dozen moms in worn-out Keds waiting for Kiddie Kamp to let out. Not the woman extracting Silly Putty from the door locks. Not me.
So when my hair stylist suggested I “go red,” I thought about it for a month, and, when I returned to the salon, it still seemed like a good idea. But my family didn’t agree.
“Mommy? Why is your hair orange?” my four-year-old asked. “Does my hair look funny?” I replied. My six-year-old answered, “If it was funny, I’d be laughing.”
My mother-in-law said, “Somehow, red hair just doesn’t go with blue eyes.” I let the comment slide, grateful we weren’t in an Irish bar when she said it.
My father asked, “What the hell did you do that for?” I took this to be a rhetorical question, and didn’t answer it.
Most men I knew averted their eyes, as though looking directly into my hair would burn their corneas. Men I didn’t know flirted with me like frat boys at spring break.
Women loved it. “Hey, Red!” friends shouted. Soon, I became a veritable celebrity at the community lake. “I wouldn’t have the guts to do it,” women admitted. “Good for you.”
But it wasn’t good for my wardrobe. My hair clashed with my pink shirts, teal bathing suits and red jackets. I had to switch from “Rambling Rose” lipstick to “Coffee Bean.” A friend commiserated, “Oh, I went copper once, too. You can only wear black, brown and copper with it.” But I don’t wear brown. If I liked brown, I’d have left my hair brown. And “Coffee Bean” is brown.
Every now and then, I’d forget I had red hair, only to be jolted back into reality by passing in front of a mirror. It was like finishing an engrossing conversation at a Halloween party, then remembering, “Oh, yeah, I’m Princess Leah.”
Then at the beach one day, I spotted a woman with coppery red hair like mine. She was wearing a classy black bathing suit, which she accessorized with ample gold jewelry. She sat in her beach chair, thumbing through a copy of Vogue with manicured fingers, ignoring her kids’ plea to join them in the water.
Suddenly, a woman with “dirty blond” hair bopped by in her sky blue tankini. Now there’s someone I could play beach volleyball with, I thought. There’s someone like me. The redhead reading about Manolo Blahniks was not me, even if she looked like me.
And that’s when I realized I didn’t like having my hair red, either. It was somewhat sophisticated and maybe a little wild — and I’m not. I had gotten my wish: I looked like somebody else. But I missed me.
After a while, the red started to wash out of my hair. Women stopped congratulating me. Men stopped flirting with me. And my mother-in-law seemed relieved when my blond highlights starting showing through.
I took a risk and, for a little while, it paid off (unless, of course, you ask my father). But it wasn’t my hair color that broke me from my suburban housewife mold. It was the act of trying to be different, to shake things up a bit, to do what no one expected me to do. And while I won’t dye my hair red again, I won’t go back to my old drab brown, either. But I wouldn’t mind stopping traffic once in a while.
Have you made any bad hair mistakes?