For almost 25 years, I’ve been a redhead, a blonde and bit of a patchwork quilt. Here’s my brave tale about finally getting back to my roots. Warning: some images may cause unexpected gasps, night terrors and/or laughter.
Growing up with Lemons
My grandmother once sat at the table with both elbows perched inside two lemon halves, treating that often neglected body part to a zingy dose of acidic cleansing fun. In the kitchen, my mom drizzled lemon juice on chicken, while the nearby television blurted the latest info about which new cars were leaving consumers with a sour taste in their mouths.
As for me, at the ripe ‘ole age of eight, lemons were for one thing and one thing only. My hair. I would frantically squeeze every last bit of citric acid on my head until the juices trickled down my scalp like sweat. Sure, I may have been in the third grade, but what a sunkissed little third grader I would be! My hair alone would proclaim that “fun in the sun” had indeed been had. And into the fall, it would be a reminder of all the fun that I did have. Leaves might be changing, but summer memories would linger forever in between every dark brown strand.
Sunshine on my Shoulder makes me Happy
Around this time, subsequent summers were often spent with a longtime friend at her family’s vacation home. Eat. Sleep. Swim. While applying SPF 2 on our skin, we decided to bid adieu to lemon and step it up a notch. Sun-in. Spray it on our hair and leave it there. Let the sun deepen the effects and voila. It was wonderful.
Yes, we were growing up in the world, fourth graders going from beauty in the grocery aisle to beauty in the vacation isle.
Rebel with a Cream
Flash-forward to my high school years. I was serious about the world now. Taking Algebra AND going to my first rock concert serious. And boy, did I know Pizzazz when I saw it.
It came in cream form and boasted exciting colors like blueberry and copper. I choose copper. Shiny, fresh- from-the-mint copper pennies for every strand. Blue, I reasoned, would just not be natural.
As Algebra segued into French classes, I decided my hair should have that certain je ne sais quois. I was a girl-no, woman-who took French AND lived to see the Scorpions in concert. At this point, copper cream in a tube would be ridiculous. I was fully capable of blending creams and bleach powders together, and downright enjoyed applying the concoction to my copper kaleidoscope using a mini plastic comb.
Sunsets and Boxing Matches
The copper color stayed with me, although by the time I reached my senior year of high school, I was ready for the real deal. Boxes. No quasi-mixtures. Just lovely boxes with brand names, all boasting images of hair that was as flawless as the complexions below them. And my favorite box of all time had this color inside: Sunset Flame.
The name exuded a natural, yet fierce energy that I wanted to radiate from atop my head. If it were a cloudy day, no worries. I would step outside, my massive hydrogen mane an explosion of happiness.
Who was I kidding? Frankly, I looked like Lucille Ball in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera the day I got my license. It was horrific.
College was full of changes. I snatched up a box of dark ash brown and decided that maybe I should get back to my roots. Or not.
Foiled Again. And again. And . . .
The rest of the time is a blur. Seriously.
All I know is for several years there were so many iterations of professional body waves and perms followed by home straightening kits only months later to undo what had been done. There were foils. Ruined bathroom towels. Forgotten globs of dye that sat nestled in my ear for hours . . . in public.
This went on for so long, I can’t even remember what series of chaotic events happened before the other.
I’ve seen the Light. Sort of.
However, perhaps my worst moment came when I tried to go light. Not subtle streaks of light peeping through, but “light” as in telling the stylist to, “make me light brown . . . ok, make me . . . dark . . . dark blonde.”
I had tried just about every shade on the other side of it, so why not try to live in Goldilocks’ shoes? I did, and I did it for less than a week. Say what you will: stylist shoulda been fired, I shoulda told him what I really thought, on and on we could go. But I lived with it for three embarrassing days until I went back and requested a fix to the follicle fiasco.
Quitting Cold Turkey
Twenty-five years of post-3rd grade peroxide had done it to me. My once silky dark hair had seen more colors than Renoir might have. It was damaged. Hot oil treatments, leave-in goop, smoothing lotions, and gels. I had to quit the addiction. The chemicals. Those smells. I was dependant on a box whose only warning was to patch-test a strand prior to embarking on a headfull of hell.
I let go. February 2007. Only the likes of scissors and shampoos have touched my hair. A1 or B7 might as well be bingo card designations. Vibrant Sunset Flames are only morning sunrises and any lemon juice I know is the kind I put on my salads.
For two long years, I braved 2-inch, then 6-inch roots, often feeling like a two-legged calico at a computer during work. An almost indescribable fusion of dry, dead reddish blonde crept away to reveal deep, dark, shine. Friends urged me to seek help, yet I refused treatment. No more dye! No more ammonia smells! No, no, no!
Then something amazing happened: I saw healthy, dark color that up until now had only been peeking from my temples and nape. I was thrilled!
Jennifer Lilley, 34, says the joke is on her. Finally able to see her real hair color for the first time in over two decades, a new color is rearing its head. Gray. Five strands have been seen to-date. Oh, the irony.