The Surprising Impact of Changing My Hair from Blonde to Red After 10 Years
For pretty much all of my 20s, I identified as a blonde.
Sure, the natural hair that sprung out of my scalp was more on the dishwater brown side of things, but in terms of my blonde vs brunette allegiance, I had firmly picked my side. I truly believed that blondes had more fun, and there wasn’t much anyone could say to persuade me otherwise.
But then, when I hit 30 this summer, something changed. I no longer saw my blocky blonde highlights as fun and cool, rather boring and tired. I needed a change – and as soon as I’d made the decision, that change couldn’t come fast enough.
I did some perfunctory research, purchased a box dye online, and roped in my long-suffering boyfriend to ensure a more professional application. Within days, I was sporting L’Oreal’s Electric Mango and feeling (sorry for the cliche) like a whole new woman.
Since then, not a day has gone by when I’ve regretted my major hair transformation. I love the way it looks, it makes getting dressed easier (even boring outfits are elevated by red hair) and now, when I look back on photos of my blonde era, I can barely recognise myself.
But these oddly poignant and far-reaching emotional responses I’d felt to simply whacking some chemicals onto my scalp had gotten me thinking about the deeper psychology behind a major hair change.
There certainly seems to be more to dyeing your hair than the simple and superficial ramifications, and so I spoke to both psychologists and hair stylists to get their takes.
Making a change
Your hair is one of the defining features of your physical appearance.
Not only is it one of the major descriptors given to identify you to a stranger, but it also tends to be one of the first things people see when they meet you. More so than getting your nails done or even buying some new shoes, changing your hair can have a major impact on the very essence of your appearance.
And, even though it might sound a bit silly, making a big hair change can actually become a big deal.
And licensed counsellor Pierce Biglefthand agrees with me, explaining that “our hair is something that is a very important part of our personality how we perceive ourselves and how we want others to perceive us.”
Hairstylist Jalia Pettis adds that “making a major hair change is an opportunity to recreate oneself.” Because our hair is so essential to our identity, these outward changes can also reflect a period of inner turmoil. “Most hair changes that I have experienced have been during a significant period in my life whether it was love, loss or personal growth,” Pettis continues.
Biglefthand also points out that “There’s also a phrase, ‘hair holds memories.’ This phrase is used because we associate a certain hairstyle with a certain period in our life. When we want to change that specific part of ourselves, we usually change our hair.”
Amanda Marks, a counsellor at Resilient Counseling says: “I’ve noticed a correlation between significant life changes and wanting to change the way we look. I believe it has something to do with expressing ourselves with our appearance when we aren’t quite sure how to express what we are internally experiencing.”
But hairdresser Drew Noreen also identifies some slightly less deep and meaningful motives behind a big change, including “life changes and often inspiration from a magazine, celebrity or past styles of their own. Additionally, there is usually something about their hair they do not like and have reached a breaking point and are ready to embrace the change.”
A bad idea?
It’s worth remembering that not all major hair transformations go off as successfully as my own.
Sometimes, rushing into a big cut or dye job can lead to a horrible regret that can take months to rectify. So, how can you know when is the right time to take the plunge?
Pettis explains that “when working with my clients I encourage any change to be positive and an independent decision without influence from another party.” She adds that a “sign to avoid a major change would be if you are overthinking the decision surrounding the change. A major change should be exciting and joyful and not come as a burden.”
Noreen agrees that a warning sign he looks out for “is major procrastination. When a client seems super unsure of what they’re asking for, I will encourage them to think on it a little longer or to come up with a compromise that will suit the client better.”
Biglefthand adds that “change usually works well for people who have accepted the fact that they want to move on from a part of their life.”
It’s also worth bearing in mind that any major and sudden change in our appearance is something that can take time to get used to. After I dyed my hair, I kept seeing red strands out of the corners of my eyes that literally gave me a fright.
Knowing that a new hair look can have a major impact on our self-perception is something to consider before making a change – although it shouldn’t necessarily put us off. Gwenda Harmon, a hairstylist at Power Your Curls, explains that “sudden appearance changes can lead to a temporary identity crisis but also excitement and renewal.”
Pettis agrees that “a beauty persona is in part how we present ourselves to society so when that is altered it is absolutely something that you must get used to.”
You should also consider the fact you will elicit unwanted comments from others about your hair change, be they positive or otherwise.
“It comes with comments from others whether their opinions are wanted or not,” Pettis adds. Biglefthand also points out that “people may criticise them for this drastic and sometimes almost impulsive change.”
Noreen confirms that this change in personal perceptions can be what attracts many of us to hair transformation. “Some clients are so sure and so ready that they literally ‘eek’ with excitement when you’re finished,” he enthuses. “
The psychological effect can be truly euphoric, like emerging as an entirely new person. But if you’re unhappy, it can be completely the opposite; that’s where truly understanding the client’s needs comes in.”
So, should you do it?
When considering a major hair change, it’s important to think about the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what.’ Harmon questions “Are they based off impulsive or rash decisions? Are you in some form of distress? If so, then you need to reevaluate your decision.” Essentially, you need to try to examine the motives behind your desires to try to help you understand whether there’s a chance it’ll end in regret.
Biglefthand points out that a big hair transformation is a double-sided coin, claiming that “a major change always invites trouble but it can also serve as a great feeling to the person adopting this change.”
Drew also identifies some more logistical concerns when undertaking a new hairstyle. Changing your colour too frequently can leave your hair feeling dry and/or damaged, so regular cuts will be more necessary,” he asserts.
But if you do feel confident that you’ll be happy with your new look (or at least have considered that there may be some feeling of regret you’ll have to contend with) then I (and the experts) say, go for it.
As Marks puts it: “Remember it is just hair, it will grow back and you can always change the colour back if you just aren’t feeling it anymore!”
Meet the experts
Jalia Pettis is a hairstylist, makeup artist, and educator from Phoenix, Arizona.
Pierce Biglefthand is a Licensed Counselor (LAC/LCSW) with the State of Montana.
Drew Noreen is a hairstylist and colourist from Scottsdale, Arizona.
Gwenda Harmon is a hair stylist at Power Your Curls.
Amanda Marks is the founder and owner of Resilient Counseling.