Thursday, 27 September 2007

Blue Hair

My daughter has blue hair. I blame myself.

She was born a brunette, in Wales. From day one, she had a full, thick head of dark hair that made the other mothers on the ward exclaim in amazement. For some reason, almost all the other babies were as bald as eagles; the only other babies born with hair were either Indian or Pakistani. "How come yours has all that hair?" one mother asked me. "That's rare, isn't it?" All I could do was shrug. "I'm American," I told her, and she gave me a look that said Well, that explains it.

When she was four months old, my daughter's hair began to change color. One day I looked at her and got the shock of my life: her hair seemed to be turning grey. Grey hair at four months! I asked her pediatrician about this and he laughed. "Can't you tell? She's a blonde. Her hair color is changing, that's all." Looking closely, I saw that he was right. I have brown hair; my husband's hair used to be black. His father was a blonde and so were most of the members of my family, but they weren't with us to explain to people who inquired "Where does that blonde hair come from?" I never got up the courage to joke about the milkman, but I was often tempted.

When our daughter was nine months old, we moved back to Japan, by which time her hair was completely blonde. One of the things I learned to say upon arriving back was recessive trait -- kakusei iden in Japanese. Whenever a conversation started about my daughter's blonde hair, I trotted out kakusei iden and hoped that would explain it. I'm not sure whether anyone believed me, but I felt I'd done my bit. I can't tell you how many times I heard strangers remarking on my daughter's hair and mine and how different we were from each other. Few people realized I would understand.

People make a big fuss over blondes. I ought to know: I'm the only brunette child in a family of blondes. Just look at your beautiful blonde daughters! people would exclaim to my mother. I knew from her frozen smile that she was aware of the subtext I was getting: Brunettes aren't exciting.

If I'd had my way, though, I'd have had black hair. Hair the color of a crow's wing, coal black, India ink. Brown is blah, and blondes may have more fun, but black hair always seemed to me to be the epitome of style and crispness, a whole rainbow of colors in one. So on that fateful day when my daughter was five and asked me what color of hair I preferred, she caught me off guard. Stupidly I did not realize that what she asked me was the child's equivalent of Does my butt look big in these trousers? I blew it.

"Mommy," she began, "which do you want, blonde hair or black hair?" I was cooking dinner and absorbed in what I was doing, and I didn't stop to think about her underlying question. Do you love me the way I am, or do you want me to look like everyone else? "Personally, I'd like black," I said, testing the soup. She ran crying from the room.

I tried to make it up to her. I told her how beautiful her hair was, how good it looked on her. How I'd grown up the odd one out in my family, how I'd always wished my hair was a different color, and wasn't that silly? No dice. Everyone else in her class had black hair, and I'd just confirmed my own preference.

For the past ten-plus years, my daughter has been longing to dye her hair. Not black, but blue. The other day she went into the bathroom and did this. When she came out, her hair was blue all right, but not a pretty blue. It was more the blue of a crayon that has spent a lot of time rattling around in the box with its fellow crayons. A rather dirty, dingy blue. I could weep.

She says she's thrilled. She swears that the only reason she has blue hair is because she wanted to see what it would look like.

I blame myself.


Katie Alender said...

Oh, tell the next daughter I'll Photoshop it up for her and she can see it that way!

Poor Mary.

A Paperback Writer said...

It's hair, not a tattoo. It can be changed easily. It's not addicting or mind-altering or illegal. She will not get STDs (or STIs in Scotland) from blue hair. Blue hair will not slow down her reaction time behind the wheel of a car. I've often wanted to dye my own hair blue, but I lack the courage. (Plus, as my hair's well over 3 feet long, it would be expensive.)
Stop doing the mother guilt thing. It's not your fault.
I have lots of students who've dyed their hair weird colors, and it's rare that they don't get over it within a few months or a year. The less fuss their parents make, the sooner they tend to get over it (with one exception that I can recall). I've seen hot pink, Ronal McDonald red, bright yellow, neon blue, camo-colored, goth black, sickly green, and purple -- all on "nice" kids who didn't do drugs or sleep around at 13. Many of them have been honor students.
My brother grew up in the hippy era and grew his hair out long and straight. The neighbors told my folks they should make him cut it, but my mom said that if they let him rebel with his hair he might not feel the need to try drugs. Mom was right. He cut his hair of his own accord at 17, later went off to college, and today is a CEO for an international company and interviewed in business magazines.
Blue hair is okay. Really. She'll probably get over it.
And think of the stories you can tell to embarrass her later when she brings home guys and wants to look mature.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Purple is nicer than blue, in my opinion, but I'd still be proud of a daughter who dyed her hair blue. It shows she's not afraid of being different.

Brian said...

If it is a gunky blue and in your eye unattractive why not offer in an enthusiastic manner to help her do it a more vivid blue ?
So many blues to choose from !


Christy said...

Paperback writer is a smart cookie. It's hair and it's fun to dye it, even if the results are sometimes less than the original. If you're set on blaming yourself, then blame yourself for raising a confident, vibrant girl who can wear dingy blue hair with pride.

Carole said...

Christy stole my thunder. I was going to say the exact same thing. I think it is your fault in the fact that you raised two girls who are individual thinkers and are courageous enough to try blue hair (and the dirty drab sort). Perhaps blue would hide all the gray in my hair. I must go an make an appointment now.

Mary Witzl said...

Katie -- She claims that she rather likes green. That'll be fun to find clogging up the drain...

But Photoshopping it is a great idea and might save my youngest a really awful hair experience.

APW -- Three feet? Bloody hell, that's longer than mine! Here is a question you probably get too often: Are you planning on donating yours? I am doing this, and the sooner I get rid of it the happier I will be. It's like a built-on burqua and I'm good and sick of it.

Really, I didn't make so much of a fuss. At least I turned my head when I wept.

You've lessened my maternal guilt (somewhat) and I like the idea of trotting out the blue hair photographs at some future point when the kid is hyper-dignified and planning a CEO career move herself.

GB -- You are absolutely right, both about purple and the issue of individuality. I was a meek little schnook of a teenager, never dyed my hair or dared let on how different I was. Thus my need to rebel soon assumed the volatility of rocket fuel. Thank you for reminding me that a little self expression is a good thing.

Brian -- I am finding all of these comments greatly cheering! What a good idea, too, the idea of choosing a deeper, more awful shade of blue. Turquoise perhaps, with peacock highlights.

Christy -- Oh, it was pretty vibrant when she first did it. So was the shower stall. In fact, the shower basin is arguably a nicer shade of blue than her hair. But I do take your point, and thank you.

Carole -- You've too have cheered me up. If you want to cover grey, I'd say go for henna. The grey comes out a wild, Day-glo shade of orange which clashes horrifically with blue...But at least henna isn't carcinogenic.

DaviMack said...

Personally I liked the subtle shade of light-blue / ash that it was when I saw her last. Please let her know?

Kim Ayres said...

I remember when my very dark haired stepdaughter decided she was going to bleach it blonde from a home kit. All it succeeded in doing was create a head full of varying shades of bright orange. She had to find a dark dye to take it back to what it was.

A Paperback Writer said...

I like my hair long or I wouldn't wear it this way. It once hung 4 inches below my knees (I am 5'8"), but this got in the way. It now hangs mid-thigh length, which is my favorite.
If you dislike yours, change it, by all means.
Oh, and I donate to many charities, but I will NEVER donate to Locks of Love and such because I am so sick of having people DEMAND (not ask, as you did) that I donate it.
I get it all the time, and it angers me. I mean, no one walks up to a total stranger on the street and demands that they sign up for organ donation or give money to a telathon, but stranger will walk up to me and announce that I need to donate my hair.
Hey, maybe if I did dye it blue, people would stop asking me! There's an idea.
Oh, and if you want to see my hair, there's a very old post in my archives called something like "look! it's me!" which shows my hair from the back before a trim several years ago. Have a look if you want, but if you truly despise long hair, this might not be a good idea.

debra said...

My youngest daughter has beautiful strawberry blonde hair--thick with a bit of curl. One day she told me she wanted to dip-dye it pink-------hot pink. I suggested she wait a week, then if she still wanted to do it, we'd talk. So a week later, we talked. Then we went to the beauty supply store and she bought a bottle of an absolutely a--m-a-z-i-n-g shade of pink. I helped her apply it to the
ends and we used the hair dryer to set the color----at least we thought it was set. My daughter is a swimmer. Three or 4 days later, she took her cap off after she swam an event at a swim meet. Pink water streamed down her arms. We used a now-pink towel to mop up the drips. At least we both laughed.
And she's never wanted to use a "special" color again.

Mary Witzl said...

David -- You are very kind to say this. Just now it looks as though she's spent the last month in a swimming pool. She does have some interesting streaks where the dye has obviously soaked in well, and I don't mind those so much.

Kim -- Seeing black hair get bleached just breaks my heart. Young Japanese of both sexes tend to do this a lot and I just don't get it. Seeing blonde hair get dyed black doesn't bother me quite as much.

APW -- The only reason I sometimes feel I'd like to keep my hair long is because, as a middle-aged woman, I am often told that it is 'not trendy.' If long hair ever becomes trendy, I swear I'll shave it right off. I resent the notion that there is one way to behave, particularly when one gets older. There is also the assumption that a middle-aged woman wouldn't want to do anything to please herself but would eagerly make herself available to others. Women get this far more than men do, and older women get it all the time.

Finally, people often warn me that since my hair has a little grey in it, it will most likely be used to make wigs for women my age. As though that's going to dissuade me. As though I'd happily give up my hair for a child, but not for a woman my own age. Whoever needs it can have it, as far as I'm concerned, and if it happens to be a woman my own age, my heart goes out to her too.

Debra -- Your daughter's story is hilarious, and I can really feel for her! My daughters would be so envious: I can French-braid hair, but I've never offered to help them dye it. On the other hand, I've certainly cleaned dye out of a shower basin or two...I'm a swimmer too, and that is one of the reasons I can't wait to get shorn! You can't zip through the water with a great long braid swishing about in the water next to you.

Eryl Shields said...

Young women/girls invariably express themselves with their appaearance whether it's clothes, hair, make-up or all three. One of the points of doing so is to push boundaries and challenge parents and authority. I have had every concievable colour of hair including a rather unfortunate green. I even shaved my head once. My mother got so used to my hair experiments she stopped commenting at all.

I was the same with clothes and make-up, always experimenting. My sisters still think of me as a rather challenging dresser and a friend, a couple of years ago, told me I was my own walking work of art! I didn't know whether to take this as a compliment or be insulted.

I try and keep it toned down these days but sometimes I'm really tempted to wear a ball gown to the supermarket or a lampshade on my head.

Dirty blue hair does sound a bit grim but think of it as your daughter discovering her inner artist. She will learn from her mistakes. And at least she is not imitating the WAGs.

Carolie said...

What a lovely(and non-permanent!) way to express her creativity with her own body. She almost certainly will change her mind about blue hair in time. I always want to wail to newly-tattooed 18-year-olds "Why? WHY?? Are you really going to want a Garfield cat on your shoulder when you're twenty five and want to wear a strapless wedding gown? Or a nude 'Goth' fairy peeking out of your cleavage when you're interviewing for a job with a prestigious law firm?" (To tattooed adult readers of this comment, I'm sure YOUR tattoo is tasteful and stylish.)

I am a blonde, but not a honey or golden or platinum blonde. I have hair that's sort of no color at all...a dark ash blonde. It's not rich chestnut, it's not glossy black, it's not any of the many other colors I wished for (yes, I wanted to have glossy raven hair too, Mary!)

I wanted to be different, interesting, for some unremembered reason, I thought two vivid fucshia streaks, one on each side of my face, would do that for me. I was so proud, even in the face of my parents' disapproval. great grandmother saw me. She didn't say anything, but her smile began to tremble and her eyes filled with tears. She turned away, as if to hide her sorrow, and said in a trembling voice "I'm sure it's the new fashion, and it's just fine. I'm just being silly because your hair was just like mine when I was a girl..."

Yes, I fell apart. Yes, the fucshia was gone the next day. Now, looking back, I realize there were many times when Granny trotted out the tears and the tremulous smile, always to great effect. It certainly worked on me!

Merry Jelinek said...


First, don't worry about your daughter - I echo the wonderful sentiments peppering your comments section, blue hair isn't a commentary on your parenting, it's a rather safe way for her to explore her own independence and individuality..

I do have raven hair (it's actually the darkest brown, but people have always said black - which seems to be a talking point as my skin is as light as you can get) I wanted it lighter. I wanted the brown that looks like caramel with blonde highlights... or, I would've been perfectly content with meditteranean skin like everyone else in my family, instead I got the features and hair without the melanin in my complexion.

I can't change the skin color, but I do highlight my hair caramel sometimes these days, it looks more natural than my actual hair color. My daughter, by the way, was born with a full head of black hair which fell out and turned.... blonde - Blonde hair and blue eyes, people often shrug and say, 'she looks like her father' - hair and eye color seem to be the deciding factor in inherited looks for most people.

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- I rather like the idea of shaving my head, but my children go wild whenever I mention this. Hmmm, you've just given me an idea... Why shouldn't middle-aged mothers take the chance to express themselves, after all? Question: was your head cold when you shaved it? My hair is so thick that I am nicely protected from drafts now. If I shaved my head, I'd lose that advantage...

I would love to run into you in the Co-op with a lampshade on your head! Maybe we should make a pact and meet up in town sometime in the wildest get-ups we can find. Do you still have that black leather mini skirt in your closet?

Carolie -- Last year, we stopped for tea in a cafe and were served by a really beautiful young woman -- just stunning. At some point when she was talking, I noticed that she'd had her tongue and an eyebrow pierced. She didn't need this; she could have saved the money for college or made a payment on a car, but she'd pierced herself instead. This isn't gilding the lily, it's sticking a needle through it. I felt like crying...

Tattooes also strike me as foolish and utterly superfluous, but I have tried to stay as noncommittal about them as possible in order not to excite my kids' interest. I do the same for boyfriends I feel are inappropriate: when I was young, my mother could kill any romantic feelings I had for a boy with the following sentence, uttered in an approving voice: 'He seems like a nice boy.' I use this often, to good effect.

I had an aunt like your great grandmother. She could turn on the tears like nobody's business -- and very quickly turn them off after they'd done their job.

Merry -- It is funny that your daughter also started out dark-haired, then ended up blonde. In Japan, I used to hear strangers speculating on my and my daughter's different hair color. Once, I heard a woman talking about us on the street, very confidently telling her friend that Caucasians started off with blonde hair (like my daughter's), then it got darker (like mine). I couldn't help myself: I turned around and set her straight. Boy, was she embarrassed, and I felt rather mean.

Despite my daughter's blonde hair and blue eyes, she looks exactly like her (once) dark-haired, brown-eyed father. But I still get people joking about how weird it is that she has blonde hair and blue eyes when he is so dark.

Eryl Shields said...

It was in the middle of summer so I don't remember it being cold and it wasn't long before it grew back and turned into quite an impish crop.

I have all sorts of things in my closet and you are more than welcome to raid it...

Funny how your kids feel it perfectly acceptable for them to experiment but not for you to do the same.

Anonymous said...

I loved my blue hair while it lasted. Now that it's gone, I don't miss it. Hopefully, with your daughter, it's also just a phase.

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- When it comes to double standards, my kids would lead Scotland. No one double-standards better than they do, especially when they are working out protocol and correct behavior for their parents. Which makes the idea of a shaved head all the more enticing.

ARU -- Glad to hear that yet another sensible yet fun-sounding person has been a member of the blue hair brigade. Here, it is mainly kids -- and the occasional little old lady who has enough courage to go for a blue rinse. The other day, though, I saw a woman my age with purple hair. I was filled with shock and respect.

Chocolatesa said...

I had blue hair once too! Ok, well a blue streak. But it was quite large, and I made absolutely sure it was shockingly, electric blue! The trick is to bleach it good and white BEFORE you put the dye in. I had to, otherwise it would have turned out green in my hair lol!

I'm half contemplating dying a blue streak again just for the fun of it, but I don't think I have the guts to show up in church like that lol.

Here are some pictures:


Chocolatesa said...

"The only reason I sometimes feel I'd like to keep my hair long is because, as a middle-aged woman, I am often told that it is 'not trendy.' If long hair ever becomes trendy, I swear I'll shave it right off. I resent the notion that there is one way to behave, particularly when one gets older."

This is exactly why I'm going to keep my hair as long as possible till I die, because all the older women I see always have it cut short! And I'll be perfectly content with my hair going grey, no dye for me when I get old. The others can keep their horrible grown-out-after-dyeing roots! Dark roots on a bleached blonde is bad, but white roots on a dyed brown head looks worse.