You know your hair is an ugly colour when your mother (who in all other ways is the sweetest woman you know) rushes you home from your last day of matric and slaps on the hair dye. She never actually said my natural grey-brown-mouse was an ugly shade, but the eagerness with which she greeted my desire to dye it flaming red and her enthusiastic help in maintaining my various shades of scarlet in the dozen years since speaks volumes.
Funnily enough, the colour of my hair has never been a source of angst for me. It’s been dyed ever since I finished my Catholic all-girls high school education, and I’ve never felt anything but joy at the fact that I can choose its shade (I always choose red). In fact, I feel like I was born to be a redhead. My mom’s always dyed her hair red (a slightly more natural shade than mine). My gran dyed hers blonde till the day she died. As a friend commented, ‘dyed hair is genetic’. And now that I’ve married a fully-fledged ginger, I hope to one day have naturally red-headed children. If not, they’ll no doubt be following in my hennaed footsteps.
No, my real hair angst has always been because it’s very fine and very straight. Some might call it sleek and shiny, I call it limp and volumeless. I distinctly remember being on the dancefloor one night when my best friend (a guy, it figures) leaned over and said, “One day I’m going to invent a machine that fluffs your hair for you so you don’t have to do it every five minutes.” He wasn’t being spiteful – he authentically wanted to make my life easier.
Because I fluffed my hair constantly. All the time. I looked at women with naturally voluminous hair (or, even better, curls!) and longed for their natural bounce. I tried drying my hair upside down, towel-drying it violently, doing the casual head-banging-hair-flick before walking into a room – which is a pretty dangerous habit to get into if there are doorways in the vicinity, let me tell you! – but to no avail. My hair remained stubbornly sleek. Constantly flat. Stuck to my head.
And then, at the end of last year, after a few months of eating hair skin and nails vitamins like candy (which resulted in much longer hair than I’ve ever had before) I looked in the mirror one day and thought, ‘Huh. Maybe it’s not that bad.’ Yes, my hair lies flat against my head and there is no hint of volume in sight. But it is very shiny (thanks henna!) and doesn’t frizz or curl, which many women have to deal with. No, I may never be able to get used to looking at photos of myself without the urge to reach out my fingers and fluff my hair. But there comes a time, and perhaps nearing 30 is that time, when you have to admit that the hair you have is the hair you’re stuck with. It might not be what you would have chosen, but – just like family – it’s what you have to deal with.
And there’s something quite beautiful about that.
So these days I keep the hair fluffing to a minimum and have tried to accentuate the positives of the flat hair I have been blessed with. After all, I’m sure there are some curly-headed girls out there who would kill for what kills me.
Bridget McNulty is the author of Strang Nervous Laughter