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What a hair-dye disaster taught me about feminism – The Canberra Times

Is it time to embrace our grey hair? Picture: Shutterstock
About once a year, the stress of life gets to me and I decide there is one simple solution: set to my hair violently with scissors. There is a direct inverse correlation to how stressed I am, to my length of hair. 2020 was the year of the micro-fringe. I’m at shoulder length now, so things are starting to look up.
It was November a few years ago when I decided the sleepless nights, the brain fog and constant tightness in my chest had nothing to do with too much work and an overzealousness for student societies. It was my hair, which frightened me whenever it brushed against my skin. It was too thick to wash properly, and the oil build-up on my scalp could have put BP out of business.

And so I found the cheapest salon near me and ordered an Uma Thurman. Blunt blonde bob with bangs, I snapped. Make me a Swedish Amélie. Effortlessly glam, easy to maintain, I need a wash-and-wear bob. It cost $40 and I ended up looking like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber.
However, it wasn’t the style that shocked me, but the colour. This wasn’t the light blonde I identified with. This was some kind of dirty, mousy brown and I did not like it.
I went straight to Woolies and picked up a packet called Nordic Artic Super White Hot Perfect Blonde.
Grandma rocking Nordic Artic Super White Hot Perfect Blonde. Picture: Shutterstock
At home I held my head over the bathtub and lathered the shampoo into my hair, ensuring every single strand was soaked in the blue chemical. I covered my head with glad wrap and walked around the house like a half-smurf.
The next morning I discovered the packet should really have been called Urine Highlighter Trashy Yellow. I told myself that if I swept my hair back, I looked like Tilda Swinton, minus the bone structure or talent.
Back to Woolies I went, and happily found a hair dye remover. Who knew you could just re-do a bad dye job with a simple shampoo? To be sure, I kept it in overnight rather than the recommended two hours. As it turns out, the dye remover was basically just a bleach – and if you double bleach light-coloured hair, it turns green.
It took years of haircuts and toners to graduate the colour out; there was nothing more satisfying than watching the last vestiges of yellow fall to the salon floor.
Many Australia hairdresses don’t know how to treat curly and Afro hair . Picture: Shutterstock
I decided not to dye my hair again. My once fair hair is darkening from a natural process of age, and I’d rather accept it than spend hundreds in the salon and worry about regrowth.
For women in particular, our hair is part of our identity. It naturally darkens and thins as we age, just as our perceived beauty also drops. Beauty has never been my currency, but for some the way age changes their appearance feels like a loss in value.
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Hair can hit a lot of nerves for something without any. Cultural and gender standards mean the pile atop of your head might say a lot more than you want it to.
Certain styles can represent gay pride. A lesbian might sport a butch buzz to announce to the world “I’m queer and I’m here”. She might also be saying “I’m gay and I’m single”. Non-binary people might embrace bright colours and asymmetrical cuts. While they can’t change a body they might feel uncomfortable in, hair will always grow out.
Always go to a professional for bottle-blonde hair. Picture: Shutterstock
Hair can be particularly complicated for women of non-white backgrounds. When we say we prefer lighter and straighter hair, what we mean is that we prefer whiter hair.
African and Caribbean hair can be more coiled, prone to frizziness or have multiple textures within it. In 2020, an Australian hairdresser petitioned TAFE to teach students how to treat Afro and curly hair. Women told horror stories of being turned away from salons and being burnt by hot tools. Curly hair can be considered “unprofessional” in the workplace, or be touched by strangers without consent.
Not every protest is loud or large. Embracing natural hair – which is not treated by relaxants – may be liberating. Eschew flowy locks for something jagged and bold. Keep your greys, let hair grow long past the age it’s considered acceptable, shave it all off. Just some subtle choices to send the patriarchy a message: F–k you and your standards.
Less effort, less money, fewer shits given and no green highlights. What a breath of fresh hair.
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