Why I Let My Kids Dye Their Hair
If you see my kids, or see pictures of them at any point in their lives, they may have brightly colored hair. This started when my daughters were 3 and 5. Why would I let them color their hair at such an early age? Well, why not? It’s hair, it grows back. When we lived in the southern part of the United States, I’d often receive back-handed compliments from older, more conservative women. “Why, girls, your Momma is nicer than I am. Why, I don’t think I’d have let my children color their hair at your age.”
I would almost always explain it like this: Bright colored hair is an opportunity for my kids to experiment with long-term decisions, with very little risk. Life is filled with opportunities to make bad choices that can stick. Hair regrows, hair gives you new opportunities. In fact, “permanent” bright hair color creates a judgment opportunity in others that comes with many life lessons. I know, and they know, that if we have bright colored hair, we have to work a little harder to make a good impression.
When we moved to Oregon, we all had our natural colored hair. We developed ties in the community, made friends, volunteered at events, and my kids more or less charmed everyone they encountered - at school, at church, in the grocery store, at the artisan’s market. After we had been here for a few months, they all decided to color their hair. My daughters had fall colors in a rainbow throughout their heads, my sons were bright orange and bright turquoise. My hair was a combination of little glimpses of all the colors, representing the choices my children had made for their heads. Instantly, the way strangers interacted with us changed. Mind you, this was 7 years ago, and although social norms and assumptions around hair color are changing, much like tattoos, many people still view it as a sign or rebellion or a symbol of “troubled youth.” I talked directly with my kids about how other people may judge us - not everyone, but enough of them will. If we are going to be rainbow-headed when we go places, we have to try extra hard to be polite and helpful. It is our opportunity to teach other people about judging folks by how they look. This is our opportunity to prove assumptions wrong.
When we show up, all brightly colored, somewhere that others do not already know us, we have to use our best manners to prove to others who we are, because many have already dismissed us as that “wild family with the colored hair.” Although I love the brightly colored locks as a form of self expression, I find the ability to learn from these long term choices much more compelling.
I would explain to the judgy women who “aren’t sure if they’d let their children color their hair at that age” that my children are learning not just about long term choices and living with their choices, they are learning about judgment and discrimination in a very small, but important way. WIthout exception, the women in question would furrow their brows and say something to the effect of “why, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” and then make some comment approving my parenting choices. It never fails to amaze me how quickly I go from an unthinking mother making poor choices for her children to a thoughtful mom who is looking out for my children’s future, once I explain my reasoning. The why behind people’s choices can often change the judgment we attach to such choices.
So why did I color my hair? Because the wild child I once was is still here, defiantly raising her voice from behind sweatpants, soccer mom shoes, and 8:30 bedtime, daring others to judge me before they get the chance to learn who I am, and bending the perceptions of those who know me already and didn't think I was THAT type of girl. I kept some of my natural color, too, because at a distance, all the colors blend together and just read as “brown,” but when you get up close, you see the rainbow and the complexity - kind of like with me in real life. At a distance I may seem typical, but when you get to know me, you realize I am anything but. Hidden in the “dull brown” or “dishwater blonde” is a rainbow yet to be explored. Also, I wanted people to be able to tell I'm their mom, and I LOVE the way it looks.