On Saturday before Easter, I did this:
People either love it or hate it. I can tell the ones who hate it because they either won’t look at me, or they say things like, “Well, we certainly won’t lose you now.”
One friend posted a comment on my new Facebook profile picture: “Lose the magenta. Your natural hair color is beautiful.” I thought it was hilarious, because he has no idea what my natural hair color is – nor do I – no one has seen it in over ten years.
The ones who love it smile or laugh with me when we make eye contact. Some tell me they love it, even people I don’t know well.
It’s been an interesting social experiment to find out how people react to this drastic change in my appearance. Charlie said, “I thought you were going to be more subtle than that?” What? Me? Subtle?
When we went to my Mom’s for the family Easter brunch, things did not play out exactly as expected. One of my reasons for coloring my hair just before Easter was to get my stepfather Bruce, who can be a bit of a sourpuss, to laugh at our family gathering, so when his initial reaction was tightlipped, I wasn’t sure if it would happen.
Amelie, who arrived in a bad mood because she woke up too early and ate a bunch of Easter candy first thing in the morning, seemed miffed about it. When Charlie asked her how she liked my pink hair, she declared, “I don’t like it.” It took her a while to warm up to me, but once she got used to it, she forgot all about it.
My stepbrother Doug, stoic as his father, said nothing. His girlfriend Robin didn’t recognize me. She had only met me once before. Once she realized she had met me before, she was enthusiastically complimentary, saying, “I think it’s totally appropriate for Easter.” Alyssa, my step-niece, loved it.
My brother Derek and sister-in-law Felicia were fairly low key about it. Derek smiled, and Felicia asked Amelie if she’d like to get her hair done like mine. (There was no response to that question because Amelie was too busy hunting Easter eggs.)
It was Mom’s reaction I was most unprepared for. After the initial shock of being confronted with my new look, she exclaimed, “That had better be temporary!” She then stammered and stuttered for a while before she asked a question that had an obvious answer, “What have you done?”
But I couldn’t answer that question because she had a barrage of others. “How did you do that? Why? What did you use? Where did you get it? Is there a special brand you buy? What’s it called?”
When I replied, “Splat!” to her question about the brand name of the product, Bruce finally burst into laughter. And Splat is really the brand name. Mission accomplished.
But Mom was upset. She couldn’t contain her apprehension about how it would affect me professionally. “Are you sure this is acceptable at work?”
“The worst thing that can happen is that they tell me I need to make it go away. Then I’d have to re-color it and maybe have it cut,” I said matter-of-factly.
Mom thought she’d have an ally in my friend Chris Paige, who’s in her sixties. “So what do you think about Amy’s hair, Chris?”
But Chris derailed her attempt to discredit my judgment when she enthusiastically responded, “I love it!”
“It’s just…you’re too old for this!” Mom cried, almost desperate for me to repent of my social sin.
I didn’t let on how much it bothers me that she was so upset. It makes me realize how much my mom and others like her are still bound by social conventions that tell us “good girls” should blend in, not stand out; that we should “know better” than to draw attention to ourselves; that we must play small and safe to survive; and that to let our light shine is to attract danger, rather than love and joy. Her fear for my job overpowered all the love she has for me and brought out a deep-seated ambivalence which was expressed to me as rejection.
That’s okay. Her programming is much deeper than mine, and I forgive her for it. The ambivalent mother is a powerful archetype in our culture, but one I have recently confronted. The true source of my new attitude is the recognition that I don’t have to play the rejection script to myself, even if my mother does. I can choose to accept and nurture myself for who I am, not only for being who someone else wants me to be.
The best part about my social experiment (so far) has been the reaction of my coworkers. They love my new look and see it for the joyful expression it’s meant to be. Both my supervisor and The Boss laughed, affirming my look is fun and okay with them.
Maybe when I tell Mom I get to keep my job, she’ll feel better.