For the past nine months I’ve been committing what feels like a subversive act: I’ve stopped dyeing my hair. There are some reasons behind my decision. The first is that while working as a high-school teacher my brain got programmed into thinking in short time compartments. When I lost three hours on a Saturday morning in the salon chair–the requisite small talk adding to my already heavy professional talking burden–and three hours of my Sunday afternoon lesson planning for the week ahead, not to mention ferrying my own children to their weekend activities and catching up on washing, there didn't seem to be enough time left over for a proper recharge. Second, early last year I watched an interesting show on Netflix called Unorthodox about a woman who escapes her cloistered community to go live in Berlin. Before she does there is a scene where, after her wedding, she engages in a ritual where the hair on her head is shaved off and replaced by a wig. Not previously having known about this orthodox practice and the reasons behind it, I found the concept fascinating yet personally un-relatable due to not having grown up in this environment. After a while I started to think about the social norms I do adhere to. In the context of living in a very different community, I realised I was actually engaging in a societal hair ritual after all.
Shortly after I turned thirty, at a barbeque a friend’s husband amusedly pointed out the three grey strands lurking behind my left ear. I felt annoyed, considering his own hair was smattered with silver. Call it vanity, but I started getting my hair professionally dyed from that point on. Whereas my teens and twenties were a time of colour experimentation and self-expression, mostly from a cheap supermarket box, going forward dyeing my hair became a self-imposed, expensive necessity… until March 2020, which brings me to my last reason. Booking ahead for my end of school term ‘treat’, the coronavirus pandemic had just reached Australian shores and many sectors were shutting down. However, like other ‘essential workers’, teachers and hairdressers were mandated to attend face-to-face work as usual. With this new health threat causing great anxiety I decided to cut my hairdresser a break–whether she wanted one or not–and cancelled my upcoming appointment.
At the same time a strange phenomenon began to take place around the world in other countries that had closed down their entire beauty industry. Celebrities began taking photos of their untinted roots and posting them online. Who knew so many women naturally had streaks of grey hair at their temples?
Currently, my own mane holds about 30% grey. Before making the decision to quit dyeing I’d begun plucking these interlopers out as soon as they appeared on my scalp. Crooked stalks quickly reappeared just as white as before. I was tired of feeling paranoid about them. Madly googling ‘grey hair woman’ to help me justify my stance had me stumble upon Instagram’s #grombre. The women pictured looked lovely and… normal. They spurred me to keep going.
My workplace the last few years has been a public secondary school. Students have always noticed when I've changed my hairstyle and colour, and gave their honest–if subjective–opinion about it. Only last term a Year 8 student wanted to know if I was aware I had hair growing out of the back of my neck, and if I had considered shaving it (I have a low neckline and my hair is cut above my shoulders. It doesn’t all fit up in a ponytail, ok?). I’ve also been complimented on my ombre colour and ever-shortening lengths as well by others. Strangely, not once in the past nine months has anyone pointed out my grey hairs to me. Maybe that’s because the transition has been and indeed continues to be slower than watching grass grow. Maybe they're just being polite!
I’m persevering with my mission, and reckon I have another twelve months to go before the dye is fully gone. The thing is, for all the little pieces of tinsel on top of my head, a whole lot of my natural–darker than I remember–hair colour is revealing itself like a dear friend I haven’t seen in, well, over a decade.
I had forgotten how much I liked it.
I kept meaning to post a few blogs in 2020 but… I just didn’t want to use the C-word.
In teaching, I have heard another C-word spoken often as part of ordinary teen vernacular. It pings back and forth around school like a tennis ball over a net. By the end of the first class of each week I have usually stopped being jolted by the sound of it and started to think about the term objectively, and then nonsensically. How is it that four letters arranged in a certain way have such capacity to shock? They sum up frustration and anger so succinctly, that’s why. You can use it as a noun, a verb and an adjective, and also as a teachable moment. Once, when an adolescent lobbed it across the classroom at their BFF during one of my lessons, I immediately stopped to address it.
‘Do you know what that word means?’
He didn’t, which was absolutely fantastic.