by Amy Lawson, MBA, CDFA®
A few months ago, I noticed the ends of my hair, along with a skinny streak around my face, had turned brassy – brassy hair, in my opinion, is never a good look. Being one to take the proverbial bull by the horns, I reached out to my hairstylist of 20 years, making her aware of the situation, inquiring as to whether there was some type of treatment that she would provide that would take away the brassiness. Her reply was an enthusiastic “Yes, ma’ma!”
I lack the words to express how excited I was to hear this news because unlike many of my peers who try to stave off the gray, I LOVE my gray hair, but I didn’t want to see a hint of yellow.
When I arrived at her shop for my appointment, I, again, expressed my excitement knowing that she could, and would, help me, “You know I LOVE my gray hair, but I don’t want to see a hint of yellow!”
Assuring me that she could fix me right up, I turned my hair over to her hands. As she worked the magic I had trusted for so long, I smiled to myself, envisioning my long locks gray again, from roots to ends.
Need I say that things did not go as I had planned and as she had promised? Probably not, but I’ll say it anyway: Things did not go as I had planned and as she had promised!
Nothing Went As Planned
After the treating and the washing and the conditioning and the cutting and the styling – all done with my back to the mirror – she spun me around in the chair to face my reflection. I.WAS.SHOCKED! My once-gray hair was the color of champagne. It wasn’t ugly hair, mind you. As a matter of fact, it would have been beautiful hair on someone else, or even on me IF champagne-colored hair was what I had asked for. But champagne-colored hair wasn’t what I had asked for. I had asked my hairstylist of 20 years to take out the brassiness, I had asked to NOT see a hint of yellow and the last time I popped the cork on a bottle of bubbly, that bubbly was a shade of yellow.
Because this wizard with scissors had given me 20 years of what I coined “Magazine Hair,” I bit back the “What the F*CK?” dying to leave my lips and instead bewilderedly stated the obvious, “It’s the color of champagne.”
“I think it looks GOOD!” she said with conviction.
“But I didn’t want to see a hint of yellow and champagne is yellow,” I replied, again stating the obvious.
“It’ll wash out,” she promised.
“Really?” I asked, trying to hide my upsettedness.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Are you sure?!” I asked, unable to hide my doubt.
“I’m sure,” she said, with total confidence.
I left her shop that day confused and angry, but trying to talk myself out of my feelings, trying my best to give her the benefit of the doubt. She’d given me 20 years of Magazine Hair after all.
I Tried My Best
I drove the one hour and fifteen minutes back home, still confused, and angry, yet still trying my best to give her the benefit of the doubt. I went to bed that night trying my best and woke up the next morning trying to do the same.
My efforts continued every day for two weeks, but no matter how many times I’d remind myself of the 20 years of Magazine Hair, EVERY SINGLE TIME I saw my reflection, I was sorely reminded that she had done EXACTLY the opposite of what I’d asked her to do, the EXACT opposite of what she had agreed to do.
One morning as I was drying my once-gray hair, staring at what had once been hair I LOVED and hadn’t asked to give up, hair that – despite the multiple shampooings – was just as champagne-colored as it was the day I left my hairstylist’s shop, clarity hit me hard: Why am I still trying to be OK with this? Afterall, I had been crystal clear in my request, both in written word via text and spoken word while sitting in her chair. Not to mention the YEARS of proclamations of gratitude for my God-given gray hair during the countless cuts and deep conditionings since she fully transitioned me to gray.
I am not one of those women who try to look 20 years younger than I do by over-doing ANYTHING. My efforts to look as good as I can look at my age are funneled through a conservative lens. Any nip or tuck I may seek are done ever so slightly so that I may age with grace and not out of the desperation of clinging to the youth that left me years ago.
I grabbed my cell phone and texted my hairstylist of 20 years, choosing my words carefully, not wanting her to feel attacked because, well, we’ve had a sacred relationship for 20 years. Finding a good hairstylist is not easy and when you do find one, you form a sacred bond. After all, hair is not just hair, it’s a visual calling card of sorts, a reflection of how we want to visually show up in the world. You trust your hairstylist to not only help you take care of your hair but to help you show up the very best way you can. You don’t believe me?
Ask any of your girlfriends and female colleagues, who’ve ever relocated to another city, how far they’ve driven to keep a hair appointment with their former hairstylist while desperately trying to find a new hairstylist in their new town. Me? I drove 4 hours, one way, for several years and only stopped after my hairstylist, Rodger Francis, passed away from AIDs. That sweet and funny man freed me from the false belief that I had been born with bad hair. Every.Single.Time he spun that chair around and I faced his mirror, he would say, “Women come in here and pay me hundreds of dollars to look like this and you just wake up with it! Take a walk, girl!” (Like Miss America.)
I Digress, Back To My Hair Hell…
What follows in bold is the exact exchange with my hairstylist of 20 years; the things I thought, and wanted to say, (or scream as it may be) but didn’t, are in parentheses.
Me: “… I was wondering how soon you can safely color my hair, I love the cut, but not the color.” (What I wanted to scream but didn’t: This is NOT what I asked for and YOU NEED TO FIX THIS!! What the F*CK were you thinking?!?)
Her: “Next week would be ok. What’s the color looking like?”
Me: “It looks like the color of champagne, I want no hint of yellow.” (What I wanted to scream but didn’t: It looks EXACTLY the same as it did two weeks ago when I left your shop on the verge of tears!! It’s F*CKING yellow because YOU turned it YELLOW!!)
Her: “Ah. I gotcha.” (What I wanted to scream but didn’t: “Ah. I gotcha.” Really??? You just NOW realize that I wanted the brassiness taken OUT of my hair?!?)
After a couple more exchanges, she convinced me she had the solution, that she had the fix – without taking any of the champagne-colored blame, I later noted – and because she’d given me Magazine Hair for 20 years, I went back to her chair.
Needless to say, I was extremely nervous as I sat down and I expressed my angst several times before, during, and after she draped her leopard cape over me, and each time, she reassured me: “This will bring back your gray hair… it’s similar to the purple shampoo you use now, only better.” And with that, I once again surrendered my once-gray, now champagne-colored hair, into the hands of the hairstylist who had given me Magazine Hair for 20 years, silently hoping and praying she was doing the right thing.
After all the treating and the washing and the conditioning, she carefully blow-dried my hair, all with my back to her mirror. When she spun me around, I was more than horrified! I could not believe what I saw! I knew it couldn’t be the lighting that cast the ghastly hue on my hair because she had spun me around in that chair for 20 years, each time with me finding a reflection I loved, so, I had to trust the reflection before me now: A 60+ year-old woman with a shoulder length head of purple and orangish-brown hair, albeit beautifully styled.
I Couldn’t Hold Back The Tears
“This is worse than before!” I literally cried, stating the obvious. The sections of hair around my face that had been naturally whiter were now a deep, brownish-purple – even my scalp was purple! The remainder of my hair was orangish-brown. Unbelievable. Purple and orangish-brown, a far cry from my once-gorgeous gray.
As I sat in her chair crying, she attempted to comfort me.
“I think it looks good,” she said confidently, with the emphasis on the “I.” (You know the tactic; it’s the same emphasis your BFF from college put on the “I” when she fixed you up with her McDreamy’s best buddy, McNightmare, so y’all could double date, when it was doubtful McNightmare’s own mother thought the same: “I think he’s cute.” Great, let’s trade.)
When I wasn’t cheered up by her opinion, she calmly added, “It WILL wash out.”
“Really?!” I asked, not even trying to hide my shock, “The yellow didn’t wash out at all, how can THIS wash out?!” (I’m still impressed I didn’t scream, “What the F*CK?!”)
“I promise,” she said sweetly, with what appeared to be empathy in her eyes, “I wouldn’t have used this treatment if I wasn’t 100% sure it would work.”
I wanted to believe her. I really did. She had given me 20 years of Magazine Hair. Hair so magazine-like that total strangers would approach me, often on a weekly basis, telling me, “I love your hair.”
But I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t.
“OK, but what IF it doesn’t wash out?” I desperately asked, “What’s the fix?”
“I promise you THIS will wash out,” she replied, “but if it doesn’t, I’ll just highlight and lowlight you like I did when we transitioned you to gray.”
Whoa, I did not like that answer.
She’ll “just” highlight and lowlight my hair like she did when she transitioned me to gray?! As in, I’ll JUST file down my nails if the new gel tips are too long?! Or I JUST won’t buy this cheese again if it doesn’t pair well with my Meiomi Pinot Noir?!
Did she really reduce the tedious, time-consuming (every 6-8 weeks for 2+ years), EXPENSIVE ordeal of transitioning back to gray with the adverb that means “simply?”
Holy. Cow. There would be NOTHING simple about fixing the mess she had made of my hair.
I left her shop crying. I cried the one hour and 15-minute drive home. I cried when I got home. Then, I got angry. Not just a little angry but walk-through-the-house-dropping-the-FBomb-while-the-cats-scattered angry. And I only got angrier.
To Shorten This Long Hair Tale, I’ll Share The “correction”
I sought a second and a third opinion from two hairstylists who didn’t know me or my hairstylist of 20 years. I explained to each what I had asked for, shared which products were used on my hair, along with a photo of the disaster that had once been my gorgeous, gray hair. Both independent hairstylists told me the following four things:
- My request was a common one,
- Neither of those products should have never been used on my hair,
- The color would have never washed out, and,
- The correction would require my hair be stripped of all color and start over, i.e., 2+ years of highlights and low lights.
Through Instagram, I found a local hairstylist who specializes in color correction and nervously surrendered to the situation, again putting my hair into the hands of someone who presented herself has having the solution to my problem. She was very kind and compassionate and about 8 hours, a numb ass, $600 plus $150 in fancy hair products later, I could bear my reflection again.
However, sadly, due to no fault of the corrective colorist, the new hair color quickly faded to muddy brown, and the texture of my hair turned to that of straw from both the chemicals that were required to strip the purple and orangish brown from my locks and from the heat of the styling tools necessary to tame my naturally curling mass of hair.
Finding myself once again unable to bear my reflection, I put my big girl panties on and once again took the proverbial bull by the horns.
What Was MY Correction, You May Ask?
Well, first, I seriously considered sporting a wig. While I hadn’t considered wearing a wig prior to this Hair Hell – as I had had no need – I’d run into a colleague a month or so before, whose hair I KNEW was short, but who, literally, had a head of gorgeous long hair. When I naively asked how she grew her hair out so fast, she rolled her eyes and flatly replied, “It’s a wig, where have you been?” “Apparently under a hairy rock,” I quipped.
After that encounter, I started noticing women’s hair. Really noticing. In Trader Joe’s… in Target… in Hops (my favorite burger bar in Greensboro)… on my Zoom calls… in the airport… on an airplane… I became so obvious in my efforts, one woman on an airplane caught me staring so I quickly explained, “I’m so sorry, I’m in Hair Hell and I LOVE your hair.”
Because every woman intimately knows the pour-over effect of a bad hair day, every woman wants to avoid having bad hair in general. I’ve never met any woman, if given the choice, would choose to have a bad hair day, much less walk through life with hair she thinks is bad in general. A woman complimenting another woman’s hair is a universally recognized and welcomed gesture of sisterhood. It acknowledges the personal power our hair provides and the pain of not having hair we love. (Note: The compliment must be sincere. We know the difference.)
(It’s akin to asking a woman, any women in any country, “Excuse me, do you, by chance, have a tampon? She may only know one word of English, but that one word will be “tampon” and just hearing that one word creates an immediate bond, a kinship created by the universal dread of unexpectedly starting your period and not being prepared. The word “tampon” or a genuine hair compliment are the passwords to enter the sacred gates of The Universal Sisterhood.)
My observational efforts paid off. I noticed that LOTS of women now wear wigs, but a LOT of wigs do not look like wigs – these are NOT your grandmother’s wigs. I saw wigs so good I wondered if they were wigs. So, I researched wigs, what makes them good, what makes them bad…
Then, I researched wig shops as I KNEW I wasn’t going to buy a wig online (but more power to my sisters with the guts to do that). As I live and breathe the mantra, “Everything is always working out for me,” I discovered an excellent wig shop, A Special Place, within 10 minutes of my home. I was moved by the fact that they care for women who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy and I immediately made an appointment. I went into the shop, and with the help of Merinda Wilkinson, tried on several styles in various qualities of construction and materials and ultimately chose a gorgeous gray wig made of 70% natural hair and 30% synthetic fiber, in a style that was just a bit longer than my pre-Hair Hell hair – then I got a pixie cut!
No joke. I’m sporting a pixie as I type, and I mean a SHORT pixie. It’s so pixie, it borders on a crew cut.
Just in case you are wondering, I didn’t go back to my hairstylist of 20 years, nor did I use the colorist to shear off what had once been my lovely locks of gray. Instead, I reached out to Merinda Wilkerson, a hairstylist with Seahorse Salon and Spa who had helped educate me on wigs and ultimately helped me choose one, and asked her if she would be willing to help me take back control of a situation that made me feel SOOO out of control. Merinda happily agreed, we made an appointment, I showed up, and in no time, what had quickly become the bane of my existence laid in a heap on the floor around Merinda’s chair.
It was incredibly cathartic to watch Merinda sweep up that heap of hair and even more cathartic when all that pain in the form of hair was swept into this standing vacuum device that sucked that hair (and my pain) out of sight. With Merinda’s help, I took back my power!
As with most bad situations, a hint of good will show itself if we allow it. In this short hair case, the post-menopausal “personal summers” I had experienced year around for the past 20 years have pretty much disappeared. It’s nice to sit on my sofa in the evenings poised for the latest episode of The Handmaid’s Tale or Yellowstone with a glass of red wine and need to reach for a snuggly pashmina. I chuckle each time I realize that this is what it feels like to not be hot all the time.
Other benefits of short hair include not clogging the shower drain with hair and conditioner, as I now only need a butter bean-size portion of both shampoo and conditioner… not needing hot styling tools that damage my hair… looking good in vintage-styled cloche hats… and actually seeing my dangle earrings when I wear them…
While I can’t say I LOVE the short hair, I can say that I like it – and that is huge. More importantly, I can say that I don’t HATE it. I REALLY hated the purple, orangish-brown, muddy brown straw that had become my hair. But I can live with short, gray hair that is growing out healthy and strong. I can rock this pixie for now and look forward to the ever-changing styles that will emerge with Merinda’s help as my hair grows back out to a length I love. Between now and then, when I feel like having long hair for a meeting, or for a day, all I have to do is pop on my gorgeous wig and I’m good to go.
So, What Does All This Hair Hell Have To Do With Divorce, You May Ask?
The answer is simple: EVERYTHING.
Despite the well-intended words of those you love and those whom you pay for counsel, there are some betrayals that are SO big that you simply can’t forget them. You may forgive the betrayer over time as you struggle to process and let go of the pain, but you’ll never forget the betrayal because it’s so freaking big!!
It can be sad to realize that you can be married for 20, 30, 40, or even 50+ years and have had a mostly harmonious existence and BAM, just like that, all the years of the Magazine Hair marriage are outweighed by the ONE, gargantuan betrayal. If only those who make sacred agreements with us would realize the seismic impact of their betrayal – but they won’t. It’s far too easy to minimize bad behavior while basking in the bright light of years of good. Chances are they’ll rally the troops of family and friends who – in an attempt to minimize their own pain at the thought of their loved ones parting – will shine a spotlight on the pleasant and the comfortable, unwittingly reducing your pain to a mere shadow on a timeline.
Hopefully, friend, it’s freeing to know that a happy history need not tie you what would be an unhappy future; a future permanently stained by betrayal.
Hopefully, it’s freeing to know that YOU, dear friend, and ONLY you are allowed to label the size of that betrayal.
Wishing you peace & plenty of Magazine Hair, married or not!
Your gray girlfriend,