For those of you not keeping track, I dyed my hair a dark auburn red around February of 2011 while I was studying abroad and went from this
Why, you ask, should you give a crap? Well, you probably shouldn't; it's my business. But the real question is: "Why is this such an emotional thing for you, Rachel?"
To quote one of my college professors, "Well, I'll tell you."
See, I dyed my hair at a time when I had just undergone complete emotional upheaval. My heart had been through the mill the preceding fall, and I was only just starting to recover. I know it's a cliché in the extreme to change your hair drastically after a "breakup," but in my defense, it wasn't a breakup. You'd have to actually be with somebody to have a breakup.
I, however, was alone. As per usual. Only I had finally woken up to the realization that I was alone by choice. I was constantly choosing the hope of being with someone who didn't want me over the possibility of being with someone who did. Not that Mr. Right had come along. It was more about the fact that if he did, I was running the very real risk that I would turn him down in favor of this person who very decidedly did not want to be with me.
He broke my heart for the last time in the late fall, and it was nearing the end of winter before I finally realized I didn't want him to come sweeping in on a white horse after all. It was a miraculous revelation, finally knowing that I had reached a point that even if he showed up on my doorstep and declared his love for me, I would absolutely say "Thanks, but no thanks." Because I deserve to be someone's first choice, not their backup plan.
So here I was, in England for a semester, totally on my own, having just released myself from the emotional ball and chain I had been trailing around for years. I was like Christian finally relieved of the boulder in Pilgrim's Progress. I was free, unburdened. What, oh what, was a girl to do?
It was like being a phoenix, reborn from my own destruction. I soared. I decided to be whoever the hell I wanted to be. Who was this new Rachel? Was she still as conservative and shy and (occasionally) prudish as the old one? I decided not. I decided that I could be a lady but still laugh at dirty jokes now and again.
Did the new Rachel do shots and go out to clubs and dance with whoever she wanted? Absolutely. The new Rachel even got out on the dance floor when no one was dancing yet. But the new Rachel was also free to stay in and read a book and not feel guilty about it.
What about schoolwork? The old Rachel obsessed over it, was determined to come first in everything. The new Rachel cared, but not enough to stop her from living her life. Sometimes, the new Rachel realized, "done is good." The new Rachel also realized that her sorority, the bonds between her and other women labeled her 'sisters,' was really important to her.
The new Rachel was a force to be reckoned with. She was confident, she was carefree, and she didn't waste time on anyone who didn't make her feel worthwhile.
And she had red hair.
I had wanted red hair for as long as I could remember, most notably after my grandmother took me to see the play Anne of Green Gables when I was eleven. All the best characters, I knew, had red hair. Anne Shirley, Mary Jane Watson, Pepper Potts, Ginny Weasley, Lily Evans-Potter…they were all fictional women I admired and adored. The list has only grown as I've gotten older and my fiction-intake has expanded, now including Dana Scully, Lydia Martin, and Natasha Romanoff, just to name a few.
(Can I tell you how ecstatic part of me was when another of my fictional female heroes became canonically ginger when they cast Amy Adams as Lois Lane in Man of Steel?)
So the new Rachel flipped through a magazine until she found the perfect shade, took herself downstairs from her apartment, and stopped to ask the girl working the front desk, "Your hair is cute—where do you get it done?"
And then new Rachel followed that woman's directions to a salon a five minute walk around the corner. A few hours later, new Rachel's outsides now matched her insides, and she was damned happy about it.
So why the return to my ordinary blonde locks? A number of reasons. Dying my hair (especially as thick as it is) has gotten tedious and expensive. It was worth every last penny in my humble opinion, but I can't afford to keep up with it. One of the reasons I did so for as long as I did is because as an actor, I was more marketable as a ginger. Blonde actresses in their 20s are a dime a dozen. But gingers? Gingers are in style. Everybody loves a ginger. And I was more likely to get interesting roles as a red-head, rather than just the cheerleader (if that!).
So again, why stop? Because when I went to work for American Airlines, I stopped acting. There was no longer a justification for spending that much money on my hair. Especially not when I live paycheck-to-paycheck.
The problem? I hate myself again. I hate that I gave up on one of the only dreams I had left, walked away from it for a job because I thought I wanted stability and health care. I despise myself for being the actual definition of a sell-out. It's been over a year since I accepted the job and I still have days where I cry because I remember that if I ever get out of this, I'm already too old to play Juliet. I cry because I remember that I walked away from multiple acting opportunities to be here. I weep because I know that in this industry I am quickly leaving my most valuable acting years behind. There is a very short window of marketability for an actress who wants to be the ingenues and it doesn't extend very far beyond the late twenties. Sexist and wrong? Sure. But it's still true.
So here I am, every day finding new reasons to support my self-loathing, and my hair is getting blonder. I'm fully aware that it's a coincidence. Rationally, I know that the color of my hair has nothing to do with my personality or self-worth. But it also reminds me of who I was before I dyed my hair, another version of me I have grown to despise completely and utterly. I'm finding it more and more difficult to look in the mirror because it's like my hair has become this absurd symbol for who I am, and I hate blonde Rachel. Blonde Rachel let herself be used. She let herself be scared of everything. It's all I can do not to run to the store and buy a box of hair dye and hope that magically, by coloring my hair, I will turn myself into someone I can respect again.
Again, rationally, I know that this is not the root of my problem. I know that the only way I will find happiness and self-worth again is by pursuing my dreams. So why not get off my lazy ass, quit my job, and start auditioning again?
"Well, I'll tell you."