Why I Hit the (Dye) Bottle

Under the hair dryer, in Covid times

My last post received a comment from Esther Newton, who said she was surprised to hear that I had ever dyed my hair. Today I will explain how that came to be.

When I met Sylvia in 1997, she was working as a tech writer. It’s a young field. In order to get jobs you have to look like a kid, at least age 14 but no older than 35. Sylvia was 44 and in her family people tend to get gray early, so she colored her hair. I was 53 and hadn’t considered hitting the dye bottle.

We got married in 1998. Some time within the next year or so, Sylvia had some minor surgery. We were hanging out in one of the hospital hallways, her in a wheelchair because they were required to transport her that way, and me standing by her side. A middle-aged woman came by and addressed her: “Isn’t it nice that your mother is here with you!”

That woman really needs new glasses,I thought. But then another woman came down the hall and said the same thing. Hey, I’m only nine and a half years older than Sylvia! I sure didn’t get pregnant at eight and a half. “That does it!” I declared. “The minute we get out of here, it’s Miss Clairol for me.”

And so it was. I had the hairdresser match the dark brown I was born with, since my job involved doing research for an expert witness on personal injury cases, and I wanted to look respectable, even conservative, for the times I had to testify in court. After we moved to Oregon and I was sure I wouldn’t have to appear in a California courtroom again (the attorneys wouldn’t want to pay my air fare), I added a streak of dark purple. Nobody objected—until my sister invited me to her son’s bar mitzvah. She was quite distressed when she picked me up at Newark airport and insisted that I re-dye it before the event. We did that in her bathroom. Once again I had to look respectable. Sigh. Perhaps she should have been grateful that I am really conservative when it comes to my body, and didn’t show up with tattoos or piercings.

7 Responses to Why I Hit the (Dye) Bottle

  1. Miriam Frank April 25, 2022 at 9:52 pm #

    Our hearts were young and gay even as our hairdos were turning gray……I was lucky to find a natural shampoo that highlighted the gray into silvery white….it still works

  2. Connie Byrne April 25, 2022 at 10:23 pm #

    I routinely dyed my hair, but not to my natural color after awhile…I wanted to follow a long repressed wild streak my brain was entertaining. Enter my granddaughter and her assistance. Fuchsia was my primary color of choice for several years, with a dash of orangeish-red. Then came June of 2015 and the throwing down if the gauntlet by said granddaughter. I had told her I really loved her current color combination and begged her not to dye it all red. She said “then go dye your own…”. I said I thought I had gotten to old and she said “since when has that stopped you?!?” Off I went to gather up my favorite colors and we set to work… fuchsia if course, and turquoise and purple… I spent that summer with long hair twisted up in the back, showing off all the colors, plus one she snuck in on the back (Kelly green). I finally found someone to give me a decent cut that Fall, leaving it mostly auburn with fuchsia highlights.
    Since then, as the grey on my temples has taken over, I’ve pretty much left it alone…it faded to a strawberry blonde with lots of underlying grey and I now wear it really short on the sides and back…just easier when I’m working in my gardens…besides I’ve gotten lazier over the years. It is nice, however, to know I had the guts for a good long spell to defy the ageism norms of being a “good grandma” and not being as outrageous as I wanted to be.

  3. Martha Shelley April 25, 2022 at 11:09 pm #

    Ah, the follicle follies! Looks like many of us have been dealing with the hairy problems of aging. Then there are the unwanted strands that sprout on the chin, and the thinning pubes…

  4. Mary Ann April 26, 2022 at 10:35 am #

    Love this.

  5. Esther Newton April 26, 2022 at 4:14 pm #

    Interesting. My partner is 14 years younger than me and she colors her hair, though just this year she’s starting to let it be partially gray. I know there is pressure on many working women to be younger looking, though at this point I look so old that hair dye wouldn’t help.

  6. Lorraine April 27, 2022 at 5:38 am #

    I have been dyeing my roots for oh, 10 years or so? I will continue to do so until I don’t want to any more.

  7. Paulette Gino April 28, 2022 at 4:08 pm #

    Great story! I’ve been coloring my hair for the last 15 years or so, usually in various brown shades. I worked in a dental office in downtown Portland as the office manager and was required to look “respectable”. I began to see more and more patients coming into the office who were donning very colorful streaks into their hair. Even though I was in my late 50’s, I felt left out of all that fun. So, unbeknownst to my boss, I dyed a 5 ” wide patch of hair in a deep blue and teal combination on the underside near my ear and neck. It only showed when I moved my head in certain directions. I felt so decadent! Eventually my boss saw it but he said I could keep it that way. Just knowing it was there gave me such a feeling of freedom and a little recapturing of my youth.

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