Freak flag

Battling sophistication at the hairline

Barbarella's freak streaks
  • Barbarella's freak streaks

I inspected myself in the mirror over my sink in the bedroom. David was still in bed, skimming through news headlines on his iPhone. When he glanced up, I caught his eye in the reflection. “What do you think? Keep the red?”

“Yeah, I like the red,” David said.

“The upkeep is a bitch, but with all this sophistication showing, more upkeep in general probably isn’t a bad thing,” I said. By “sophistication,” David knew I meant the increasing number of silver hairs emerging along my hairline. “Silver’s super trendy right now, but I’m more of a red-and-black girl,” I added.

More often than not, over the past dozen years I’ve brandished at least one shock of ruby-red in my otherwise brunette locks. Just a few weeks ago, shortly before David and I left for our annual summer sojourn to Martha’s Vineyard, I got my red streaks brightened, my natural brown darkened, and the sophistication around my hairline suppressed.

One afternoon, while taking the scenic route to Edgartown for dinner, I asked David why he liked the red so much. “I think it’s pretty,” he said. I waited patiently for him to continue, because I know my man — aesthetics are the smallest part of how he measures a person. “It’s not boring, you don’t have ‘Mom hair,’” he said. “The red is funky.”

“You’d think it would be more prevalent,” I said. “I mean, think about all the seriously alternative people we know and how few of them have weird hair. Why is that?”

“I think there’s this fear about it,” David said. “I mean, when I decided to shave my head — that took years of building up courage. Which is ridiculous, because it would have grown back in a matter of weeks.”

“What is there to be afraid of?”

“I don’t know...afraid you’ll look bad? In hindsight, it’s a very absurd fear to have, but when you’re in it, it’s... When you’re facing that for the first time, say you’re not a habitual hair coloring/shaving person, and you’ve looked that way for 20 years, you’re kind of changing your identity. And that can be scary, especially if someone is not a particularly adventurous type or a risk-taker. Then it makes it even more daunting. You err on the side of caution — and to change your whole identity, well that’s pretty much the opposite of caution.”

“So, basically, my red says — what, that I’m bold?” I stared out the window for a moment at the green of the woods. “Women often tell me, ‘I love your red lipstick, I wish I could pull that off,’” I said. “And all I can think is, Why can’t you? Here, it’s easy, you take red lipstick, you put it on, and there — you’re pulling it off. They use words like ‘confidence,’ but I don’t see how wearing red lipstick has anything to do with confidence. You choose the blouse you wear, you choose accessories. It’s just another choice.”

“Maybe they’re afraid of being judged,” David said.

“Yeah. People are judgy,” I said. Just the night before, at a social event, I overheard a group of old ladies gossiping about one man’s longer hair. “What’s with that ponytail?” One said, with a tsk-y tone, “Is he trying to relive his childhood or something?”

I reminded David about that, as he’d heard it, too, and then said, “I like to think that when people belittle others because of some non-cookie-cutter aspect of their appearance, it’s because they want to express themselves in some way, but are too afraid to do it. You know, like how the most vocal anti-gay dudes turn out to be closeted homosexuals. They long to be that free, and they feel that if they can’t, then nobody should.”

“Anyway,” I continued with a wry smile, “So you like it that I let my freak flag fly. Might as well let people know in advance what they’re dealing with so they can either step forward or turn away, right? But, seriously, what is it about having bright colors in your hair that...I don’t know...makes someone seem immediately more interesting? I’m not talking about me, I mean other people, like that guy at the Rep.”

David knew which guy I meant. It seems every time we catch a show at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, we notice this cool older dude, a lanky fellow with a relaxed disposition. We know he’s cool because amid his straight, shoulder-length milky white hair (perpetually pulled back into a neat queue) is one stripe of electric blue. Of all the proverbial “blue hairs” we encounter, this man — with his alluring azure — is the one I’d pick out of the crowd to sit beside. What is it about that blue strip of hair, I wondered. What message did it convey?

Answering my inner voice aloud, I said to David, “That guy’s blue tells me he’s not traditional, not uptight; that he enjoys a little color in his life. That he’s not afraid of a little attention. That he’s not boring. In fact, he calls it to himself. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there may be dozens of people around him with the same attitude, who are just as cool, but I wouldn’t know that at a glance. That blue streak is a beacon.”

We found a parking spot in the center of Edgartown, which is the preppiest town on the island. Here, men wear pink pants and whale-printed belts, and women wear white shirts and black capris. Just before we got out of the car, a 40-something woman and a boy of around 10 walked by us. Her hair was dirty blond from her crown to her chin, but when it reached her shoulders, it transitioned into dark streaks of blue, green, and purple. We turned our heads as she passed and stared after her until she and the boy disappeared around a corner.

“Now you see what I mean,” David said. “Of all the people on this street, she’s the one who is immediately interesting to me.” Thinking of my own hair, I couldn’t help but agree.

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I've been rocking reddish brown hair for years. It suits me. Reddish brown instead of flat out red because I don't want to pay for the more frequent upkeep. I've decided in celebration of my upcoming 60th birthday in a few years I'm adding a streak of color. Or feathers or both.

A flash of color (or bright feathers) sounds like a great way to celebrate such a milestone. :)

Younger folks may not even know where that phrase was popularized. It's from "Almost Cut My Hair" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; from the album "Déjà Vu" (1970): "I feel like letting my freak flag fly." And I sure did back then.

Oops, forgot the photo (from 1969).


by dwbat

Super cool, I didn't know that, and I dig their music. Thanks for the bit of trivia. :)

That's not grey hair you're seeing, it's Silver! I should know as my Silver is sprinkled with some brown hairs from decades ago..

Sorry, but there's no such thing as "Silver" hair. We sure pretend that it is. But It's simply plain ol' WHITE! ;-) I know because I've inspected them with a magnifying glass.

When you’re facing that for the first time, say you’re not a habitual hair coloring/shaving person, and you’ve looked that way for 20 years, you’re kind of changing your identity.

I try to change my Identity when who I am no longer makes sense to me. Most of the time that is when I finally realize I've been clinging to a past that I don't belong to anymore. It was actually freeing 20 years ago to accept that I was going to be "bald" and loose the comb-over! (Shout out to Mr. Trump) My most recent change was to loose 55 pounds, and I did it the old-fashioned way. It was extremely hard work, and I totally agree about the upkeep. But it's the upkeep that shows the world that you care about who you are.

After reading this piece in the The Reader, I was irked enough to come here to comment. This is called Diary of a "Diva", after all, but I was surprised at how navel-gazing and self-congratulatory this piece came off to me. I want to share how someone could have a completely different outlook on the things you wrote about in this piece.

People say, "I wish I could pull off red lipstick" not because they are scared, for goodness' sake. It's simply because red lipstick looks bad on them. It's not necessarily a reflection of their deep-rooted fears. I just looks bad on them. I have thin lips and most lipstick--especially bright red--looks terrible on me. If I saw someone rocking awesome red lips I might also wish I could pull that off. Don't tell yourself you can pull it off because you are more confident or not afraid of being judged. It simply looks good on you and not on others. That's it.

Also, some people aren't that into their appearance. I don't think about my hair color enough to consider whether a streak would look good. Doesn't mean I am afraid of change, afraid of being judged, less confident, or uninteresting.

And buying a box of hair color doesn't make you interesting. What I do find interesting is that people can have such opposite opinions on this topic--you and I. :) You say seeing someone with bright colored hair instantly makes them the most interesting person in the room to you. For me, it's the opposite. IMO, that person is trying to say to the world, "look at me! I want you to think I am interesting so I tried to reflect it in my appearance." I'm being a bit overly cynical here--just trying to get my point across. If someone likes the way their hair looks with the colors, that's cool. Whatever makes people happy. But where I disagree is this: don't try to reflect it back to how it makes you more interesting and bold than others. I think your red streak and red lipstick look great on you. But it doesn't mean anything about you as a person, other than that you found a look that works for you.

Maybe you really are super interesting...or maybe you just have a streak in your hair.

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