What I Learned From My 24 Hours Of Highlights

by Lela Casey
Originally Published: 

Sometimes I would feel a tinge of jealousy at how easily my friends flitted from one look to another while I remained rooted in the same old hairstyle. The thing is, after so many years, it became so much more than a hairstyle. It became my identity. My long, natural hair showed the world that I was low-maintenance yet feminine, traditional yet free-spirited. The kind of person who wouldn’t jump off a bridge even if all my friends did. A new hairstyle would mean a change in how people saw me—maybe even in how I saw myself. Just the idea of switching that up terrified me.

© Lela Casey

But I’m turning 40 this summer. There is something about that number that seems to turn all the old rules upside down. I’ve spent a lot of time questioning all aspects of my life. I came to realize that I have changed. In a million different ways. Maybe, just maybe, it was time for my hair to reflect that change. And so, after almost 40 years of $15 biannual trims, I went for my first real haircut.

I went into the salon with a very specific idea of what I wanted. One dark red streak by my face. It would feel bold and adventurous, a symbol of the break from tradition that I’d been feeling in my heart. A very sweet hair stylist considered my request and then gently suggested some alternatives. “Instead of just one streak, why not do several? And, “I’m not so sure about red, caramel seems like it would match your face much better.” Four hours and $120 later, I left the salon with my dark hair streaked with blonde highlights.

My kids were ecstatic. My husband was pleased. And I … I was miserable. I’d wanted my hair to reflect my changing self, and instead I’d ended up looking like someone completely different. Maybe I just needed to give it some time, hear some other opinions. I posted my picture on Facebook and waited for the response. Fifty likes and 20 nice comments within a few hours. It was flattering to receive all those compliments. Still, I was unsure. Maybe after a good night’s sleep I’d feel better about it.

© Lela Casey

That night I dreamed I was pregnant and my stomach was transparent. I looked inside and saw a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. I started to panic. There had to have been some mistake. This little girl couldn’t possibly have been mine, and yet everyone kept telling me how beautiful she was. I woke up in the morning with the dream fresh on my mind and the smell of hair dye all around me. I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom, still in a haze.

One look in the mirror and I knew. I knew. I booked an appointment for that very afternoon. The very sweet hair stylist wasn’t surprised to see me at all. “I had a feeling you’d be back. Your hair looks lovely, but it just isn’t you, is it?” She was right. It wasn’t me. For as much as I’d recently changed, it wasn’t in any of the ways my highlighted hair seemed to suggest. My new hair did make me feel grown up and polished, put together and well maintained. I looked like one of the stylish moms at the gym (the one where I’m not a member) or the cosmetics store (that I can’t afford). Lovely, but not me.

Thankfully, the stylist switched it back, free of charge. It’s dark again now. Just like it’s always been. But if I stand in the sun at just the right angle, you can see a rainbow of magenta and auburn streaks mixed in with the same straight brown hair I’ve always had. It feels simple, yet magical, grounded, yet bold. Just like I feel on the inside.

© Lela Casey

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