In the last 30 years as hair dyes have become available to the nonprofessionals, we’ve learned to color or bleach our own hair. In the first stages it seems so innocent. We can go to the drugstore or Wal-mart and select just about any color we like! It started simply enough for me. I was fourteen with drab, brown hair and I wanted to jazz up my hair a little. So, I bought a package of Flaming Red dye. When I un-capped the bottle and got my first whiff of peroxide, I was hooked.
The fun didn’t stop there! I tried every shade of red, before my addiction progressed to blonde. As a teenager, the reds seemed to satisfy my thirst for color. However, as I hit my twenties, I began to roam the streets searching for a beauty operator who would bleach my hair blonde. I begged and I pleaded. I told them, “I know you can do it!” Hairdressers just turned me away. They told me to go home and accept that my hair was dark brown and could never be lightened to blonde. I didn’t believe any of them.
Well, that’s when the real heartaches began. I decided to lighten it myself. I progressed from tints and dyes to the hard stuff. That’s right. Bleach. It nearly broke my mother’s heart. “Jeanne,” she’d say, “I gave you your natural hair color and it’s so pretty. Why do you abuse your hair with those harsh bleaches?” I would hang my head, unable to answer. I will never forget my first attempt to use bleach. It was such a disaster. Oh, my hair turned blonde, all right. Very blonde! However, it was scattered all over the floor. As I looked at the hair on the floor, I cried. Most people would learn from an experience like that. I, on the other hand, did not. My compulsion to be fair-haired ruled my life. My husband began to plead with me, “Jeanne, please don’t burn your hair again!” He didn’t understand that I just couldn’t stop using.
My obsession has led me down some multicolored roads. I’ve turned my hair green twice and melted it to cotton-candy texture more than once. Occasionally, I’d go back to my natural color. I wanted to see if I could dry out, go cold turkey. It never lasted long. I’d go into a blackout and suddenly come to, walking out of a beauty supply store, a brown bag in my hand. I wouldn’t even remember driving there! I spent the grocery money on bleach; I spent the bill money on conditioners and shampoos that promised to repair the damage I’d done. I knew my habit was out of control.
Frantically, I searched the phone book for Hair Dyer’s Anonymous. Surely, I couldn’t be the only person hooked on hair dye? There wasn’t a group listed, and without help, my illness progressed. I found a new chemical–permanent wave solution.
I began by having hairdressers give me my perms because I thought I could control my new habit that way. It didn’t work. I went back for more, over and over. After the cosmetologist would look at my hair and pronounce it healthy enough to handle a perm, I’d climb into her chair. As the black, plastic cape went around my shoulders, I would shiver with sweet anticipation. The odor of the perm solution would send a warm flush through my veins, comparable to a shot of Jack Daniels. Sitting in her chair praying for a miracle, somehow I knew–she would burn my hair. Still, I couldn’t stop asking to be permed, and since I had money, the hairdressers never turned me away without my fix.
I guess you want to know where I stand with this hair-threatening addiction now. I wish I could say I’ve been cured. The truth is, I don’t want to give the stuff up. I want to keep my blonde hair. My grandsons wouldn’t recognize me with brown hair. Friends would pass me on the street, no recognition in their eyes. But with age comes wisdom and so as I enter my 40’s, I limit my use of hair dye. It’s strictly for medicinal purposes. I would need to be medicated, if I had to look at those streaks of silver!
Deep inside my brain, this illness waits, not cured, simply in remission. I tremble as I walk through the mall; my husband pulls me past the delightful aromas that emerge from the open doorway of J.C. Penney’s styling salon. Just for today, I won’t go in. I won’t ask to be permed and I won’t ask to be bleached–just for today.
by Jeanne Marie
P.S. I wrote this story 20 years ago. Today, at age 61, as my hair thins…I am thrilled to have gray hair or any hair!