Color Me What? (#199)

My mother was blonde when I was a little girl – courtesy of Clairol. She had been white-blonde as a child, but her hair darkened as she aged. I don’t know whether she was dirty blonde or chestnut, though, underneath her cheap, brassy dye. Everyone assumed blonde was her natural color, however, since she was always surrounded by a horde of screaming towheaded children. We were the perfect camouflage for her unnatural hair.

I hated her dye job. I harangued her about being a natural brunette incessantly. She ignored me. I swore I would never, ever color my own hair, even though my own locks were brown by Junior High.

You know what’s coming, right?

Hellloooo, irony.

When I was sixteen, a friend French-braiding my hair stopped mid-plait. “No way,” she breathed. “Autumn, you’re not going to believe this.”

“It’s not lice, is it?!” I shrieked. “Tell me it’s not lice!” Lice in a household with five daughters and ten feet of hair is a goddamned nightmare, and one my family went through at least four times. If I brought home lice, I was toast.

“No, no, nothing like that. It’s just…I think you have a grey hair.”

“What? No. Can’t be. It’s a leftover blonde one from my childhood.”

“Nope, it’s definitely not blonde. It’s kinda silvery, actually. Catches the light—”


She did, handing it to me immediately. Sure enough, it was a silvery grey hair.

I shared my news at the dinner table that night. “Can you believe this? Who gets grey hair at sixteen?”

Future Doctor Sister snickered. “Too bad. Grey will really show up with your hair being so dark.” She smugly patted her own golden locks.

Stepmother #1 tried to be comforting, saying, “I’m sure it’s just an aberration. You probably won’t get anymore until you’re forty.”

My dad cleared his throat. “Well, actually, she will. It’s genetic.”

“Is this why Mom dyed her hair?” Mom had died two years earlier, or I’d have run howling to her first.

Dad shook his head. “Much as I’d like to blame your mother for this,” which was true, Dad blamed his first ex-wife for everything from crap contraception to crap car selection, “it’s not her genes. My mom was completely grey by the time she was forty.” And then Dad smiled, like he was all proud of those prematurely old genes.

For the next several years, my mischievous baby siblings taunted me mercilessly about going grey.

When I turned twenty-one, my OCD boyfriend pulled out fifty silvery hairs before I insisted he stop.

When I was twenty-five, guys I met on the dance floor were guessing I was at least thirty.

After a particularly bad breakup, I decided to dye my hair. The stylist said, “What color? You’ve got some red highlights naturally, but blonde would be perfect– ”

I said, “Not blonde!”

Courtesy of Maryah Lily’s amazing updos/ before & after Instagram — SweetnDandyHair. (Yes, this is a “before” picture!)

“Then red,” the stylist told me. “It’ll be stunning with your green eyes.”

I became a redhead, which turned out to trickier than the stylist thought. Grey hair likes to grab the orange in most dyes, but orange highlights are only attractive on clowns (and even that’s kind of dubious). My original stylist had to hand me and my orange hair over to a master colorist. It took the master colorist several attempts to turn the orange into a more sedate auburn.

My red hair must have been a pretty good fit, because everyone I met as a redhead assumed it was my natural color.

As my hair got greyer, though, it got harder to keep the orange out. So I went brunette. My grey hair still tried to grab the orange, but my long-suffering stylist eventually tamed my hair to a nice light brown.

But as the grey won the scalp domination war, I wound up with stripe of silver roots between colorings — expensive colorings.

So I gritted my teeth and took the stylist’s suggestion.

I went blonde, which hides my silvery roots better, longer, and cheaper.

I’m an atheist, but you know what?

I still think Mom is laughing her brassy blonde head off somewhere.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

30 thoughts on “Color Me What? (#199)”

  1. Never knew it was that hard to actually hide grey hairs if you’re not going for a dark brown or black hair colour. Sure genetics can play a factor in why your hair turned grey so early on, but perhaps it could also be due to some kind of vitamin deficiency. Just a thought.

    I’ve had a few grey hairs since my teens, and as I’ve aged they have become more and more. They are mainly underneath, but I think it’s a matter of time before I have to start dyeing my hair on a regular basis. The horror of spending so much at a hairstylist on hair colouring….

      1. Dyeing hair has never appealed to me. I imagine hair dyes aren’t that all good for you, and they probably make your hair shed even more.

        Yes, science please help and discover something that stops our hair changing colour.

  2. My family is split between natural blondes and brunettes. My parents both had beautiful dark chestnut hair. One brother has that but the other brother and I have the sandy blonde hair. I only did occasional highlights until there was too much silvery stuff (which does not look good in sandy blonde hair). At that point I had to color the whole head. It’s a pain. Most of the gray surrounds the face and I’m pretty sure I have a streak (but we’ll never see that!). Other than around the face, I have very little gray in my hair. If only it were in the back and underneath. I did spend 3 years as a redhead in my youth. I enjoyed every moment of it.

  3. I do remember having one high school friend who was going gray by 16. That much have been very traumatizing. It’s kinda like my dad, who was pretty much bald by 21.

    I never dyed my hair until two years ago, when I started with the crazy half-red. No I can’t believe I spent more than 40 years being a plain brunette. Coloring is so much more fun. (Too bad about the expense though.)

    1. I think a lot more people are having fun with dyes now, compared to when we grew up. There’s not a stigma. Except maybe for going grey early!

      Bald is worse. Baby Brother had to deal with that at 21, too.

  4. Oh no! I wonder why you were the only one in the family to get it? I also get white hair, but it was only a strand here or there… until last year. I don’t know if it’s old age or the stress of grad school + wedding, but I started looking like rogue from x-men with a big chunk of white in my hair. I started dying it my natural hair color but it’s such a hassle…

    Blonde is a brilliant idea, haha. I applaud your mother, that is sheer genius. I wonder if I could pull it off though…

    I bet you looked super pretty with red hair 🙂 My best friend always dyes her hair red and everyone also thinks it’s natural–but actually, she’s a dirty dishwater blonde deep down, haha.

    1. I was the first one to go grey so early, about a decade before my sisters, I think. It’s clearly genetic, though, because my sisters half-sister through my mom has not a single grey hair, whereas all my sisters through my dad have plenty.

  5. My mom had blonde hair before I was born and when I was a baby. I think she did it herself with peroxide. It looked nice in that WWII way. When she let it go naturally brown, I didn’t like it. Maybe it was the haircut.

    My sister started getting gray hair in her thirties. I was the lucky one. Still in my seventies I have only about fifteen percent gray, so I just get a foil every six months. I know what you mean about red. I thought a little red would be nice, but, especially on top of gray, it turns pink or orange.

    My daughters all have dark brown hair, so every little white hair shows up. One daughter doesn’t care. The other two try to hide it.

    1. I think most of us think that a person’s natural color is the one they have when we first meet them, so it’s probably not surprising that you didn’t like the change in your mom. I met Andy when I had red hair, and once I went blonde, he always wanted my “real” color back. My brother, on the other hand, recently said, “Oh, thank God you got rid of that horrible, unnatural red!” after I was again the blonde he remember from his childhood. Even though I’d been a brunette for DECADES.

  6. I have grey hair, as well. Well, white. It is not grey. :O! I dye my hair back to my natural dark hair before the white problem. xD Somebody told me to dye my hair blonde, I told her to go fuck herself…cause no thanks. xD Proud of my dark roots. 😀 Well, if it weren’t for the ugly white hairs….still worth going back to that colour, though.

    A good read!

  7. It’s funny because the girls at work and I constantly or at least regularly talk about going grey, who has grey hair, denying it and then talking about why we do or don’t dye our hair. And then we talk about our students and how they have more grey hair than us. You are not alone, dear…*sigh*

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