— Lakshmi (@lakshgiri) January 13, 2020
It has been a day since I colored my hair. I pause every time I pass a mirror. I look critically noticing the grey along the sidebangs, the center of my parting. When I think no one is looking, I lean in, part the thin layer of hair on the top of head and look clinically.
“Not bad!” I mutter to myself as I move on. I take selfies. I send them to Amma and my sister.
This preoccupation with my hair color has been in the making over a decade now. When the first greys appeared to coincide with my turning thirty, I brushed it off with the arrogance of a woman in her prime. I blamed it on hormones. I blamed it on the stress. I blamed it on my faulty genes. I did little about it.
As my children started school and I stood milling around with other first time parents like me, the difference was stark. I looked like a woman with children in high school, not kindergarten. I colored tentatively at first, reveling in that deep black that artificial dyes provide. I’d let the roots grow in until I could no longer look at myself without revulsion.
The first few times, my scalp tingled. With each coloring, the tingling turned to an unbearable itch. Last year, it came to a head literally with rashes wherever the chemical dye had come in contact with my skin. My eyes swelled so much that they were slits and I felt like a cartoon with an oversized head. I promised myself I would let it go. I would embrace my greys and my advancing age.
All my life I have prided myself in not being vain about my looks (of course, it was because I thought I was not worth looking at). I eschewed makeup. The only cosmetic I own is an eyeliner pencil. It should have been easy for me to accept the outward markers of aging. Except, I struggled. The greys taunted me. I have a complicated relationship with my age. I love being in my forties. I love being an older mother. I own my age with the ferocity of someone who has seen something of life. Aging gracefully is something I want to do, to be. I want to be that person who can rock that grey hair but continually find myself googling non-irritant dyes.
Once I figured PPD was the culprit, I turned to non-PPD dyes. It worked until the third time I used it when the itching began.
Desperate, I gave in to what my younger sister had been telling me all along. Try henna and indigo she had exhorted each time I recounted my horror stories with artificial hair color. I caved and purchased pure henna and pure indigo. I googled the instructions. I set aside one whole day for the process. I lined the bathroom floor with a plastic sheet and prepared myself for what was bound to be a messy process.
The experiment has been relatively successful. My scalp seems to be tolerating the plant-based dyes. It is too early to declare it a winner. I keep going back to why I feel that I need to mask what I look like truly? Is it just how I look? Is it about how I feel inside? Is it about how others perceive me?
The answers will come. They usually do.
So, tell me, dear readers, what do you struggle with?