Looking in the mirror has not always been an easy thing for me. Growing up, my family (mostly my dad) have said things that have distorted the way I see myself (intended or otherwise). I have always struggled to have a healthy view of my appearance. I have always felt apologetic for my weight, my skin, and in dark times, my whole face. Somewhere between being a cute little girl and becoming a woman, everything went terribly wrong. It wasn’t one thing in particular, but as a teen I grew to feel like an outsider within my own family: like I had taken the basic ingredients they had given me, and then grown up wrong.
Perhaps to make the best of a bad situation – or perhaps just to embrace my difference – I started to dye my hair auburn. It started when I was a 14 or 15 and suffering with bad skin and oily hair: dying my hair dried it out, but it also made my hazel eyes look more green, my skin more porcelain than pale, as though turning up the colour and contrast somehow made me more animated, more feisty.
The auburn covered up my plain-Jane mousiness. People remember red heads: I could name every red head I’ve ever been to school with. They stand out, for good or for bad. As a brunette you’re one of many, and as a short, book smart girl, you’re practically invisible. I wanted to be noticed, even if sometimes that notoriety was for being that weird girl with the red hair. After some brief flirtations with blonde and then black in high school – and a shaved head at the start of university – I have been auburn half of my life.
Last year, many things in life took a back seat to my third pregnancy: hair included. Boy 3 was five months old before I finally managed to see my hairdresser. By that stage, my auburn hair had faded to dark bronze and my entire fringe had grown out to my natural colour. The greatest surprise was that it was not mousey brown, but a deep, rich, chocolate brown. It framed my face in a new light. At my age, I never expected to be surprised by my own reflection, but somehow that chocolate brown fringe brought me back to my roots. I wanted to see how I would look as the brunette I was made to be.
I went to the hairdresser and asked her to dye the rest to match my natural colour (ironic, yes). When we returned to the mirror after the shampoo, she began to cut and then dry. I watched myself come into view, snip by snip. My face grew red – this level of curiosity in my appearance felt a lot like vanity, only I assure you, this was not an exercise in beauty. I wanted to meet my true self, to look her in the eye. To confront the real me, pared back and exposed in the harsh fluorescent light of the hairdressers.
When she had finished, I didn’t look like the 14 year old, awkward me I had been trying to cover up: the one that hid under heavy jumpers so no-one could see her shape. My face was different. I had grown up. And I had never seen grown up me with dark brown hair before. Looking in the mirror, I could see me, but also my brothers, my mum, maybe even my dad. It felt like meeting myself for the first time. I was overcome by a feeling that I wasn’t plain or in need of covering up with auburn. I was just me. A mum and a girl and a woman. I saved the tears for the car trip on the way home.
I have been so comfortable in my brown hair: dark and shiny and silky. It’s tiring not being at peace with yourself, spending half a lifetime living under an auburn veil. I never imagined I could be so content as a brunette after a lifetime of holding up a strained reflection.
Last week amongst all that silky chocolate coloured hair, I found one grey hair. Just as my eldest boy was off to start pre-school, there it was, coarse and silver and not at all brown. Shit! I looked at my early morning face in the mirror, and it suddenly seemed more wrinkled than normal, the circles under my eyes darker and my cheeks hollowed. Am I ready to be old? I have only just come to terms with being a grown up, but now a grown up with grey hair?
This is what life does: it gets you when you’re peaceful. Just when you think the bay has calmed and the water is flat, there comes a ripple and all of a sudden you are in white wash and everything is displaced. The first thought that occurred to me was that I had spent the last half of my 20s pregnant or breastfeeding: that my three children had sucked the colour out of me. Whatever beauty I had left, they had devoured it along with my energy, my time, and my youth.
I had a shower and sobbed pathetic sobs into the drain. Then I got dressed and made breakfast for everyone. While buttering toast I decided rather than waste the rest of my lifetime worrying about grey hair – as I had wasted my youth worrying about my looks – I decided I would just get over it. That grey hair grew not because of kids: my kid-less friends have greys too. This is life. The grey hairs will come, but hopefully I will be too busy living my life to notice. But if I do spot one, I will pull it out, because deep down, I am still that feisty red head.
How do you feel about your hair? Do you chop and change? Do you keep it the same?