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Tamara Miller: Don’t take away my hair dye

Tamara Miller
Vail CO, Colorado

When I was 15 years old, I traded in my Pepe jeans and Guess logo T-shirts for the standard goth uniform of black pants, black shirts and, on most days, an equally black expression on my face.

I had cheered up a bit by the time I hit college, but after a nasty break-up with the Worst Boyfriend Ever I bought a box of crimson hair dye from Wal-Mart and colored my normally blondish locks a garish shade of red.

My mother was horrified.

I couldn’t have been happier.

My hairstyle and wardrobe has evolved over the years into somewhat professional and acceptable choices by mainstream society’s standards. But I can still relate to the teens with the body piercings, the little girl who wears sundresses when it’s 20 degrees out and the Eagle Valley Elementary School boy who recently got in trouble for coming to school with a green mohawk.

It’s utterly liberating being able to change how you look in a matter of hours, especially when you’re a kid and are just trying to figure out who you want to be. There’s something about a new haircut, a new style, a new wardrobe that says it all ” “I decide who I am.”

Truth is, adults probably would love to get away with sporting a green mohawk every now and then. Can’t stand your boss? Sick of being tied down by your mortgage? Feel like you’ve lost your identity to the spouse and kids? It’s probably not a good idea to quit your job, skip the house payments and leave the family on a moment’s notice. So wouldn’t it be nice to show who’s boss with a punk-rocker do?

Because we aren’t kids anymore, and most of us don’t have such understanding spouses and employers, we adults have to find other ways to reinvent ourselves when a little change is due. We look to self-help books, trendy diets, career counselors. We try on new clothes, new relationships, new religions. That need to evolve, to break out of the mold, to get over the past and assert independence just seems as natural to me as freedom itself.

For my mom, who spent almost two years caring for my terminally ill father, and then was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma two months after his death, that need for change has been vital. Now, almost three months since she completed her radiation treatment, she finally has the stamina to tackle the house. She’s ripping down wallpaper, putting up new light fixtures and replacing moldy, old carpet. I get periodic updates on the house, which she says she’s remodeling to eventually sell. But I think we both now that her home makeover is just as much about her taking control over a life that has battered her around over the past three years.

I spent much of my teen and college years trying on identities in hopes of finding the one that fit. I changed my hair, my clothes and my boyfriends about as often as some of my friends changed majors. I made some bad choice ” the holey jeans and oversized flannel shirts may have looked good on Eddie Vedder, but they didn’t do much for me ” but somehow I think I’ve emerged as a decent, law-abiding citizen. I hold down a job, pay my taxes and signal to change lanes. My hair color is almost natural, too.

I’m not so much concerned that the boy got in trouble, or that a teacher felt a student’s hairstyle was too distracting. I don’t know if school teachers should discipline elementary school kids for sporting unusual hairstyles and I don’t know if Eagle Valley Elementary School needs to have stated policies banning wild hairdos before allowing a teacher to do what’s necessary to control his or her class.

All I know is that I’m not sure I could have survived adolescence without a box of Clairol, some bad poetry and Cure albums.

And I’m personally thankful that experimenting with hair dye still is the most satisfying way for me to change things up when I need to. There are a lot of other ways to rebel that don’t go away after a few shampoos.

And somehow, I think the little boy with the green mohawk will turn out just fine, too. Chances are, he’ll grow up and get a job, pay his taxes and signal to change lanes.

He may even eventually grow to appreciate his natural hair color, too.

Opinion/Projects Editor Tamara Miller can be reached at 748-2936, or tmiller@vaildaily.com.


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