I suppose I should be writing about Craft or Career or something like that, but today I think I’ll talk about hair dye. When you Google “feminism hair dye” the top three hits are:
The Simpsons and Gray Hair as a Feminist Statement (atdoublerdiner.com)
Should a Christian feminist color her hair? (catholicmoraltheology.com)
Feminism – SILVER: A State of Mind (womenonaging.com)
One website said 75% of American women color their hair, while in 1950 only 7% did. I could probably write seventeen different blogs about what those statistics mean to me (ageism, sexism, racism, feminism, ism-ism…all as they relate to hair dye), but I won’t force either of us to suffer through that. Suffice it to say, the men at Clairol probably had a little something to do with encouraging women to believe it was a sign of their freedom and independence to become hooked on a product that requires frequent re-application over many years.
To me, hair dye is the tip of the iceberg.
My grandmother had a story she used to tell to illustrate the slippery slope into moral turpitude, about a frog swimming in a glass bowl (for some reason I always pictured it swimming in this vintage Pyrex Flameware double-boiler):
In any case, the ignorant frog swims in happy oblivion as the evil forces around him turn the water temperature up one degree at a time (candy! billiards! alcohol! drugs! SEX!). By the time the frog realizes what has happened, he’s in boiling water. In my grandmother’s version of things, then, if I start dyeing my hair, the next thing you know I will have Maori tattoos running up the entire right side of my face, a bull-ring through my nose, vaginoplasty, and augmented double-D breasts.
She was right in a way. If everything is acceptable, then what? Chaos! (I am not ruling out the boob job, for example.)
These thoughts on shifting moral compasses remind me of this interview that Mike Wallace had with Bennett Cerf 11/30/57:
(NB: I highly recommend the entire Harry Ransom Center collection of Wallace interviews…especially if you have many hours to spare and like to watch people smoke.) Anyway, the fascinating thing about the video is how certain behaviors are culturally taken for granted: some things are masculine and fabulous (smoking, for one) and other things are vile trash (sexually explicit books). My grandmother was a big opponent of moral relativism. Hence the frog metaphor. It is a very clear-cut way to live. Right. Wrong. End of discussion.
But this silly hair-dye-decision now has a lifetime of my conflicting morals pressing in on me from every direction:
-DON’T MESS WITH MOTHER NATURE: I want to be “natural,” whatever the fuck that means. I want to be hairy and crazy like Janis Joplin. But then I think, “I drive a Prius, isn’t that enough?” (I had been led to believe that driving a Prius would cover a multitude of sins.) Why is my natural state no longer “good enough” for me? Who am I trying to please?
-CHEMICALS ARE EVIL: I don’t want nasty chemicals seeping into my scalp…right there by my brain…that just can’t be good for me. I live on planet earth, who am I kidding? I probably inhale more carcinogens when I clean the bathroom.
-VANITY VANITY ALL IS VANITY: I don’t want to care what other people think, but let’s not be ridiculous, I don’t want to look like an old bag either.
I spend very little time contemplating my appearance (despite what you might think), so when I am jarred into doing so, I am not very good at it. Everything about getting my hair dyed feels fraught with meaning. I just want to get the gray hair off the top of my head, damn it. It makes me feel old. And I guess now that I put it that way, this IS where I am going with this. Whether I am 25 or 85 I don’t ever have to FEEL old. I don’t care what it looks like to other people, but when I look in the mirror? Seeing those springs of lifeless, colorless hair (they’re not even the same texture! they are harbingers of death!) I feel my own mortality pressing down on me and that is not a reminder I need every time I wash my hands or brush my teeth.
But wait! Maybe I do need that reminder. The truth is, I AM getting closer to death every day, so maybe those gray hairs are there to say, “Hurry the fuck up!” Maybe that’s why I should leave them?
Fuck that. I want to beat death back with a stick.