Does Coloring My Hair Make Me A Bad Feminist?

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ClairolI started coloring my hair when I was 15 by using Summer Blonde. It gave my hair that “sun-kissed” look which was de rigueur among teens in the ’60s. But the main reason I used it was because the blonde hair I was born with was darkening and I just didn’t feel like myself with brown hair.

However, at the same time that I was lending nature a helping hand, feminists were proclaiming that women should stop altering their looks just so they would be considered desirable by men. As I grew into the feminist mindset in my late teens, I became conflicted about coloring my hair and I let it grow out to its natural color for a while. I couldn’t stand it. I went back to lightening my hair.

Was I coloring my hair for myself or for men? And is there a difference?

What I mean by that last question is that women may find it so important for men to think of them as beautiful that it actually becomes a psychological need. Their self-image is not based solely on what they personally like but what they think men will like.

I’ve seen this need push women into changing their hair color with unfortunate results. Brittany Murphy (God rest her soul) is a case in point. She apparently believed the old advertising slogan that “Gentlemen prefer blondes” and set out to make herself over as one. But she was much more attractive as a brunette, which was her natural coloring.

Of course, it’s not true that all gentlemen prefer blondes. I’m not sure that men even care all that much about a woman’s hair, judging by the way most men don’t even notice when their wives or girl-friends get something done to theirs. (Unless it’s drastic.) So if men aren’t paying attention, for whom are women getting their hair done?

The answer might be “for other women.” I think this is the main reason why women try to lose weight and spend thousands of dollars on clothes, makeup, hair and skin care. Let’s face it: men don’t really care about the details. In fact, they’re astonished when they find out how much a woman spends in time and money to make herself look her best. Men aren’t that picky. It’s other women who pick apart every little detail of a woman’s appearance. And all women know that.

I’m just as guilty as the next woman. I wonder why a woman has let herself go or doesn’t make the most of what she’s got. I devour fashion pages in magazines and tabloids and  critique the looks of celebrities (like I just did with Brittany Murphy). Why should I care what a woman wears or does with her hair? It’s because I’m imagining myself in competition with that woman and I want to come out ahead.

One nice thing about getting older is that I’m being taken out of the running. I can’t compete with younger women anymore. But then there’s always Susan Sarandon (63) to make me feel inferior. Of course I just tell myself that she has plenty of money and skillful photographers to make her look fabulous.

As a feminist, I shouldn’t care what I look like or how I compare to other women. But maybe that shows my Second Wave roots. Apparently, younger feminists delight in fashion and makeup and don’t think there’s a thing wrong with wanting to look your best–as long as you’re doing it for yourself and not for others. But are we ever free from our desire to look good for others? If you lived by yourself on a desert island would you care how you look? Really?

Or maybe you’d try to keep yourself up (assuming you had access to beauty products) just in case you’re rescued. After all, you don’t want to look like you’ve been on a desert island. You’d want to look your best.

Published by

Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

2 thoughts on “Does Coloring My Hair Make Me A Bad Feminist?”

  1. I am a guy, I was born in the eighties and like many guys of my generation, not only I support the femnist movement but I beleive in it as another basic life fact.
    I started loosing my hair in my mid twenties and for a while I was afraid of the fact because untill then I still saw my self as a long haired fellow untill one day it just came to me I wanted to get hair implants so people wouldn’t see me as bold, And i asked my self the quetsion is for me or for others, if its for me I should gladly do it if it’s for others, I should absolutelly not, I also thought how annoying facial and head hair was and how easy it is to live life hairless and from that day forward, I’ve been wearing my hair fully shaved.

    I just beleive that one should go through life the way they feel confortable with how they look and what they wear and definitelly how the other sex or other people beleive is sexier or better looking, my motto is look your best the way you feel confortable, it’s not the look but how good you make your own look appear in society is what matters at the end

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and your support of feminism. I realize that men struggle with these issues as well and I applaud your decision to not let yourself be controlled by the expectations of others.

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