Three weeks ago after much anticipation and encouragement (and inspiration from my idol, Jenji Kohan), I plopped a tub of Ultra Violet Manic Panic hair dye on my head, fell asleep in a very cute polka dot shower cap, and woke up with lavender hair. Let me tell you, I was so excited. I had already planned out a weeks worth of outfits and make up looks and purple hair puns (“How am I? I’m doing grape, and you?”) Not to mention I had gotten over 100 likes on my “New head” Facebook picture (and as a social media manager, yes I do care about Facebook likes).
So when I settled on the subway for my forty minute commute, I was not prepared. People stared. They gawked. They whispered. They shook their heads disapprovingly. And so I learned my first lesson: People do not like different.
Now, I’m not new to this world. I’m a queer woman who’s held hands with a woman in public; I know people don’t like different. But all I did was change the color of my hair and suddenly people felt it was appropriate to openly criticize how I expressed myself. I thought purple hair would make me feel fierce, but instead it made me feel incredibly alone.
The next thing I learned is that people (especially men) often equate different with promiscuous or stupid or both. As a woman in New York City, I’ve been catcalled; I know it happens. But never in my life have I ever been catcalled so regularly or aggressively and it was all centered on my hair. I’m sorry, last I checked having purple hair does not mean I’m down to “get underneath your body,” but thanks for asking.
And when I wasn’t being catcalled, I was being looked down upon as a young and stupid. I happened to have a lot of industry holiday parties to attend the week I dyed my hair and I was looking forward to the networking opportunities. Every time I met somebody new, they took one look at my head and immediately their tone changed from friendly and interested to condescending. It was straight up disappointing to not be taken seriously because of the color of my hair.
And finally, I learned that being different is even worse for women. On one of my many uncomfortable subway rides I sat across from an older man who took a long look at my hair, frowned, shook his head, and whispered something to the woman next to him who in turn looked at me and giggled. Hey, I’m right here. I see you. At that point I was pretty used to it, so I was about to brush it off when a man with flowing green hair got on and sat next to me. The same man from before looked at him for a moment and went back to his conversation. No frown, no shake of the head, no sly comment. My feminist rage bubbled inside of me. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t find the right words. So, guy from the subway, if you’re reading this, next time you want to make a snide remark about a woman’s appearance ask yourself if you would say that same thing about a man. Why is it that it’s okay for a man to express himself, but not for a woman? Why can’t I dye my hair purple without feeling like I’ve suddenly been marked as a floozy? Sexism, that’s why.
So, world, you win this time. After three weeks, the constant judgment got to be too much. My hair is back to blonde (with a little purple streak, I am a rebel after all) and I no longer get stared at on the subway. Maybe one day I’ll re-channel my inner Jenji, but for now I’m back to boring. But let’s work on this. Let’s question beauty standards and expectations. Let’s push boundaries. Let’s stop judging people for expressing who they are and instead celebrate people for living their truth.
Do you have fun dyed hair? Does this happen to you? Let me know your experiences in the comments!
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.