Back to blonde: A personal essay

Illustration of a person with abstracted hair dyed many different colours flowing across the image.
Amanda Tsang/Staff

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My hair is what you might call straw-like, over-bleached and basically dying. I started highlighting my hair in seventh grade out of a fear of losing my natural blond to my ever-encroaching brown roots. Since then, I’ve gotten highlights probably every three to six months — I’m 20 now, so you can do the math on the destruction my hair has endured. It is beyond repair, but despite it all — as long as it’s on my head — I don’t think I can stop destroying it. But this is not just about being a blonde. In between the steady boring days of blond hair, I’ve had chaotic breaks of bright-colored hair. I would even go as far to say that each of these “phases” has been an expression of my possibly unhinged mental state — as those who have dyed their hair a color far from its natural hue know, the question “are you okay?” is not an uncommon one. As our fashion statements often convey to the world the way we feel inside, anything other than conventionality sounds an alarm of instability — or at least that’s how it has felt for me. Let’s dive in. 

Blue tips

It was spirit week my junior year of high school and my grade’s color was royal blue. Unsurprisingly, I opted for temporary blue hair ends. However, as insignificant as this one might seem, it is in fact important because this was the beginning of my realizing that, with a simple excuse like a spirit week, I could dye my hair whatever color I wanted. The best part: It wouldn’t last. While this may not have been a direct representation of what was happening in my head, we can say it was a reflection of my depression (feeling blue, if you will) just because I live in a state of constant depression. But, I thought I looked like a mermaid and loved the attention. I quickly regretted it though as the blue-blond mixture turned my hair swamp green. 

Pink number one

More of a magenta, this one was my first full-head hair dye. Possibly the most directly tied to my mental state — mildly heartbroken, the pandemic had just canceled my senior year, and I was scarily skinny. Maybe a direct translation of “I want to die” to “I want to dye?” Looking back, I know it was concerning because while my beautician of a friend dyed my hair blue the year before, this time around, my friend got a fever that night. But I was so down and determined to change something about myself, I just did it frantically myself over my bathroom sink. Only an insane person would trust their non-artistic self with ruining their own hair. 

It was supposed to be bright pink, but came out more of a magenta because I didn’t bleach my hair first, so my dirty blond hair diluted the pink. But alas, it looked like something, and I was happy to feel like a different person for a moment — spunky and fun — able to ignore my mundane and sad reality. I went to a party that night to debut this new version of myself. But from there, quarantine ramped up, and I had a head of magenta and depressing isolation. And with my increasing Wellbutrin dose and decreasing happiness — so too disappeared the subtle pink strands. I graduated high school with my natural sand-colored hair, lamenting the fact that I couldn’t go to a hair salon and get my tri-monthly highlights. So that summer, before starting college, I dyed it pink again. 

Pink number two

This time, it wasn’t a faint magenta, but an in-your-face-I’m-really-going-through-it bright pink. The bottle said it was vegan so I immediately bought it — and it said it would only last for eight days. It did not. 

A different friend this time, one more seasoned in the self-hair-dye lifestyle, offered to do it for me. Instead of just simply going straight in with the pink, she bleached it, washed it, toned it, washed it, dried it and finally dyed it. The pink this time was very vibrant. I was skeptical at first — I looked like a walking highlighter — but once I got home and curled it, I loved it. The first thing I did was go to my friend’s 18th birthday party that night — seems to be a trend — and soaked up all of the compliments. But fast forward from July to August, the beginning of school, and my hair was still very much pink. I was a little frustrated, given it had been more than eight days, but also because I was no longer in the mindset I was in a month before.

You see, in July, my impulsive decision to go pink was likely a direct reflection of my anxiety to leave home and go to college, desire to change something, a wave of summer boredom or all of the above. Still not mentally thriving and barely eating, the extreme style decision made sense. A month later, however, happy to finally be going off to Berkeley, I was embarrassed to begin a new chapter of my life with literal remnants of the previous one on my head. In an effort to be the normal blond me again, I went to my hairdresser, but as much as she bleached it, there was no guarantee it would all come out, and while it helped immensely, I started school with peachy-colored hair. But considering how miserable and boring a year of Zoom school would be for me, that start ended up a rather fitting foretoken of what was to come. 

Lavender-ish

Last, and definitely least exciting, was my attempt at lavender hair. The most recent episode—about three days ago—came about after having a dream the week before that I had my pink hair again. This dream stuck with me as I remembered the fun of changing my hair, and also the fact that I was pretty bored. Without hesitation and complete confidence that I had stable relationships in Berkeley by now and no one would stop being my friend if I turned out to look like a horse girl — a valid fear — I decided to dye my hair light purple. 

However, it didn’t go quite as planned. My friends and I went to the store, bought a temporary lavender color, the ingredients for bleach and toner, and excitedly I let my friend do the dyeing. Though a little nervous about destroying my hair even more, I ignored the fact that it might never grow back to the length it once was. But after the whole two-hour ordeal of bleaching and toning and dyeing, by the time I went to wash the lavender dye out, no one had the energy to stay up and blow-dry it — including me, so I went to sleep hoping to wake up enveloped in my purple locks. 

To my surprise, I looked in the mirror the next morning to see nothing of the sort. It didn’t work. The lavender dye was, I guess, not good. So now I have blue highlights and slightly silver, but very blond hair. I contemplated trying again, but my friends reaffirmed what I was already quietly thinking—it kind of looked really good. The accidental muted blue strands make me feel like a toned-down aquamarine, and besides, I really do love nothing more than being as bleach-blond as my hair will allow. But more importantly, I took this as a sign that I’m simply not in the same sad hair-dyeing mindset I once was. 

While it may be nothing more than shitty hair dye, to me, I take comfort in knowing that I’m in a good place now. Because a depleting mental state may have been customary to my life throughout the years, with sporadic bursts of I’m-so-sad-I-will-dye-my-hair, it feels almost unhealthily safe to fall back into that feeling at times. The sentiment of not truly being myself unless I am intolerably depressed is one I can definitely get the urge to feed into. But that’s not the truth right now. I am myself, and I’m finally my happy self. I have amazing relationships in my life, I go to my dream school and study what I love, I eat when I want to and feel healthy, and I’m simply grateful. So alas, the hair dye didn’t fully develop — it wasn’t meant to — but I’m almost glad it didn’t. And just because it might be familiar — as hard as I might have subconsciously tried — at this point in time I just can’t bring myself to revert back to that feeling, or hair color. 

Outward appearances can be expressions of our innermost thoughts and emotions that we can’t always form into sentences — or it certainly has been for me — and unfortunately, they seem to have expressed themselves from my worst feelings. Dyeing my hair seemingly outrageous colors, now feel like reminders on my body — or in my worn-down hair — of the melancholic waves I have survived. And while the tides of life have highs and lows, I intend to ride this high out as long as I am on it — only bleach-blond and better than ever.

Contact Khristina Holterman at [email protected].