I like hair. Back when I was a teenager in the dark ages of layered polo shirts and multiple Swatch watches, we did hair like Texans…big and expressive. But it wasn’t until I hit my 40s that I really started pondering hair and it’s implications.
Because trust me, hair has major implications.
Religion is primarily the reason for that, but like most things grounded in religious textual interpretations, it is firmly woven into the fabric of our lives. Think about the initial reaction you have to someone based on their hair. It’s pretty amazing all the stuff we think based on a collection of dead cells.
Blondes have more fun. Business in the front, party in the back. Wealthy. Dirty. High-maintainance. Hippy. Conservative. Military. Punk. Redneck. New Jersey native. Smart versus not smart. Classic. Old.
So many judgements that we don’t even know we make, based on what a person’s hair looks like.
As I’ve written before, because my natural hair color is now about 75% gray, I feel like folks make lots of assumptions about me based on my hair. But there’s feeling and then there’s knowing.
Last spring, Mister Soandso and I went back to Jamaica for our third time. Unlike the previous 2 trips, I decided to have a “wild hair” and I asked my stylist to color my hair just before I went on holiday. That was last spring and I’ve been intermittently coloring my hair since then. Two things quickly became apparently to me based on my five-ish years of not coloring my hair and these six months of coloring it.
- When my hair is gray, I am “invisible” to men but more “attractive” to women. I use these words intentionally, but let me explain. When my hair is it’s natural color, men my age and younger don’t notice me – you know when you can feel people’s eyes slide over you the same way we notice which isle we are in at the grocery store or which jacket is ours on the rack? I can tell that while men see me, they aren’t drawn to make eye contact with me or smile, etc. Women, on the other hand, stop and talk to me all the time. They say things like, “I love your hair!” or “I wish I were brave enough to let my gray show.” Women go out of their way to talk to me, connect with me, smile. BUT, when my hair is colored (or youthified, as I like to call it), men of lots of ages make eye contact with me. Many even go out of their way to say niceties like, “Have a nice day” or “Crappy weather we’re having today.” And women? That’s where I experience invisibility. I’m not going to draw any conclusions about gender and agism here. But I do think those conclusions are probably very real and very present in our lives. Am I doing a little social experiment with hair color and people’s reactions to me at the grocery store? Maybe yes, maybe no. But you can be sure my brain files away how folks react to me and I ponder over stuff like that while I’m waiting for the coffee to perk.
- The other thing I noticed is about myself. Back when I found that first gray hair in 1989, I was suddenly faced with my preconceived notions regarding how I felt about aging, mortality, and “beauty” whatever the hell that is. From ages 26 – 42, I colored my hair to keep people from guessing how gray my hair was and assuming I was old. But then I stopped coloring my hair. There is a moment of owning your life and mortality when you let your hair be its natural color. And now when I color my hair, I don’t care if I have grow-out or if people think it’s my natural color or what have you. I just don’t care. Because now that I’m 46, my hair is finally FULLY mine to do with as I see fit. Sure, my wacky pixie cuts all these years may have led folks to believe that I was a free-thinker all along. And to some extent, I have been. But now I have unearthed a side of myself that shouts something along the lines of, “If you can’t play with your hair in middle age, what is the purpose of life?”
And that’s probably what is really on my mind the most these days. Living.
My brother-in-law was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Those are some scary words to type: pancreatic cancer. But what scares me even more is that it is one of the most poorly funded areas of cancer research. (Please read this document by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.)
Cancer, no matter what form, sucks. And what sucks the most is not being able to really help. Sure, we can make casseroles and hold charity auctions and fundraisers. We can buy pink toasters and run fun runs. But in the end, it is between a body and the science fighting the cancer cells into submission.
And I hate that so fucking much.
This major control freak hates that there is nothing I can do to help Jim.
But I still need to try. So, I decided to do something. Even if it won’t be as powerful as the medical science that is being delivered via port into his body this very morning.
This is me these days. I’m not really the sort of person to sport purple hair and the truth of the matter is that my hair won’t stay looking like this for that long. Purple fades pretty quickly and my hair grows freakishly fast. But for the next 6 weeks or so, the exact same window of time that Jim will be having his first round of chemotherapy, my hair will be varying shades of purple. For those of you who don’t know this, the support color for pancreatic cancer is purple.
I posted a photo of myself on Wednesday after I had it done. I told folks that I would be making a donation to pancreatic cancer research based on the number of likes and comments I got. I’m also tracking on my phone comments that I get when I’m out and about.
For someone who doesn’t have lots of Facebook friends, I’ve been wracking up the reactions on social media. As of last night, I was over 215.
My pledge might take me a few paychecks to make good on, but I hate cancer and the only way we will ever see it stop is by helping scientists figure out how to cure it.
Some folks pray, others walk or meditate. I’m more of a light a candle and concentrate on sending my positive energies in the direction of the person I feel needs them. But I’m also going to be using my purple hair as a way of visualizing the cancer loosing it’s grip on Jim. Visualizing it fading away until it can be removed, much like how my next hair cut will probably remove any purple that remains on my hair.
I never thought I’d be the sort of person to do something like this. But we are just one conversation away from everything changing. Just one phone call, one test, one moment. And when it happens to a person, then they have to act. There’s way too damn much cancer in my family and I’m tired of feeling sad about it. Now it’s time for me to do something. Even if it is a little something like thanking the barista on her compliment and then telling her about pancreatic cancer and why it is so important that we fund medical research.
If you comment on this post, I’ll add you to my pledge. Because hair’s the thing. (See what I did there?) It might hurt to write a check. But it hurts way more to watch a loved one be sick.
ps. I will be sending my money to the Lustgarten Foundation which is able to use 100% of donations for pancreatic cancer research due to a wonderful underwriting by Cablevision Systems Corporation. Please read more about them. They are doing great things.