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Why I dye my hair — and why you should too

| Wednesday, March 10, 2021

During season one of quarantine — also known as March and April 2020 — boys in my hometown started shaving their heads. It was an outbreak of its own, honestly. The process was gradual, but the effect was frightening — like children slowly and mysteriously disappearing from the cozy Maine town in a Stephen King novel.

Luckily, I didn’t succumb to the persuasion of the bald-headed cult (wake up, sheeple!), but truthfully, I didn’t exactly come out of April entirely unscathed: In a mid-month moment of unhinged, isolation-induced spontaneity, I drove to my local Walmart, bought a box of cheap red hair dye and with the help of my sisters — and to the disappointment of my mother — I joined the world’s small but powerful legion of gingers. They’ve been very accepting thus far.

So, to be honest, I don’t really blame the bald boys of my hometown. I basically did the same thing — same coping mechanism, different fonts! The idea that the hair dye comes out as a sort of “trauma response” is a popular one, especially in the age of quarantine. To quote my research adviser after she saw my new hair over Zoom, “A lot of kids have been doing, um, traumatic things to their hair during these times.”

I mean, I wouldn’t call it “traumatic” myself, but yeah — something’s happening here. At-home hair dye was — and is — flying off the shelves. Teens and adults alike — whether out of necessity or in response to TikTok trends — are turning en masse to colored hair. So, what’s happening here?

The average hair dye aficionado — and the rare psychologist — will theorize such appearance-altering impulses come from a desperate desire for control. That’s understandable, especially today — in the midst of a whirlwind of guidelines, a suffocating semester and a labyrinth of uncertain outcomes, one’s physical appearance might be their most reliable medium of control.

And as I’m coming up on the one-year anniversary of that fateful April day, the periodic ritual of dyeing my hair varied wild colors has paradoxically become a sort of constant. Since my initial foray into the ginger community, I’ve dyed my hair six times. I haven’t seen my natural brown hair for almost a year. So while the color of the dye changes often (maybe too often, honestly), the state of dyedness is a constant — a steady sameness within a world of harsh change.

Different dye, same state of dyedness. Different, but the same. Not to be an archetypal English major — always turning seemingly inconsequential anecdotes into metaphors — but I think this concept of simultaneous sameness and difference might resonate with a lot of people in the tri-campus community right now. Same dorms, different living environment. Same classes, different format. Same activities, different operations. Same campus, different campus life.

The idea definitely resonates with me, that’s for sure — this semester, like the one before, has been an uncanny amalgamation of sameness and difference. I still have the same set of fantastic friends, but our relationships operate in wildly different ways under current restrictions. I am still studying the same subjects, but now I’m beginning to think about my future in more concrete terms. I’m still working for the same wonderful publication that is The Observer, but this semester, I’m honored (and slightly afraid) to be serving the paper in a higher capacity.

Change in any capacity is terrifying — I think we’ve all come to recognize that over the past few years. Politics and pandemics aside, our lives have (and will continue to) change drastically. But I hope you and I both can continue to make it through — by learning to cherish what hasn’t changed, and what hopefully never will. In an eccentric, unstable world, recognize what’s steady. Not exactly a silver lining, just a small sliver of sameness to clutch on to.

So, as long as planet Earth continues to be the way it is, I will continue to dye my hair with a variety of obscene colors — and somewhere within that variation, I will feel a calming sense of sameness.

Sorry, Mom. Sorry, hair. Old habits dye hard, I guess.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a senior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently serving as the Managing Editor of The Observer, and believes in the immutable power of a well-placed em dash. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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