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December 28, 2012 at 4:43 PMComments: 6 Faves: 0

Dyeaholic: The Psychology Behind Frequent Hair Dying

From the Mindfull Blog Series

Right now, I’ve got to say, I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. I just recently cut my hair - and at a salon even! :O

Due to a few bad salon experiences - haircuts that went too short and hair care lectures reminiscent of the ones a doctor gives you about check-ups or a dentist gives you about flossing – I’ve avoided salons when at all possible, but I had a tricky hair cut in mind and I didn’t trust my own skills (which consist primarily of the ability to cut in a straight line) to execute it. I took the chance and, consequently, I’m glad I did. The choppy layers fit my dramatic tastes, the short cut makes me feel stronger or braver somehow, and despite a little worry I’d regret lopping it off, I’m really happy with the way it turned out. Other people’s reactions have been mixed though. While I have gotten a good amount of praise, I’ve also encountered a fair amount of people doing their best to not be seen even noticing my hair cut. But because I know what they’re thinking, it’s really been sort of funny to me.

I’ve watched them spot me then quickly turn away to check their fingernails, or pick lint off their clothing, or pretend fascination with any random thing they can find that is not my hair. They say “Hi!” or “How’s it going?” out of politeness without ever looking in my direction. I know they don’t intend to be rude. They just feel weird under the pressure of that unspoken rule - that when hair is changed, a compliment (that may or may not actually be sincerely felt) is required. I understand, because I honestly feel weird about that too.The thing is, these people aren’t mean or bad-natured. It’s just that I made another drastic hair change only 2 months ago… and about 2 months before that, and about 3 before that, and are they seriously supposed to say something about my hair that often? Does etiquette even have a rule for that?

Unfortunately, awkwardness and people not knowing exactly how they should deal with you, is just something you’ve got to live with when you’re a chronic hair-dyer like me.

Dyeaholics and Hair Crushing

Unlike most people who reserve drastic hair changes for special occasions after plenty of careful thought, I get comments from friends when I keep a hair style for more than a few months. I’m always changing my hair.

Oftentimes, it’s on a whim. I pass by the hair dye at the grocery store and a model with beautiful hair smiles out at me, beckoning 

"Don't you think it's time for a change, Erin?"

"I can see it in your eyes. You're tired of that color, aren't you?"

"I do think I see your roots showing..."

"...Yes! Yes, I think you're right, cardboard box ladies....!"

*disturbed passers-by stare at the lady talking to hair dye and thinking in the third person*

But a lot of times, I do also, like sports fans watching games or foodies watching cooking shows, find inspiration in movies or shows.

When I think about it, I can actually remember wanting screen-cool hair  as far back as 3rd grade when I asked the hair dresser for a Rachel cut. (HEY! That was a cool look at the time!) From there. it gets more embarrassing. In 7th grade, I styled my hair in a strange bun and pigtails combo in homage to Sailor Moon. The summer before my freshman year, I feel in love with Interview with a Vampire and had my hair permed to look like Claudia’s. I did the Rogue streaks my Junior year. I went Marilyn blonde in college and attempted Daenerys’ blonde this summer about 2 months after I had walked into a hair salon told them “I want hair as red as Christina Hendrick’s (Mad Men)!” My latest cut (to my currently dark ash brown (which sounds amusingly like "hashbrown") hair) was inspired by Ramona’s.

 (And yes, I am a dork. Thank you for noticing.)

The changes I make are not always based on a "hair-crush", but the decision to make it almost always comes the same way. One day, I love my hair and the next, something changes. I look in the mirror and the reflection seems false somehow. Something feels off and I just don’t look like ME.

I think “Underneath this, I’m really a [blonde… or red-headed… or raven haired… or brunette…] sort of girl.” It’s a strange feeling that pops up unpredictably, but about every 3 months the planets align, or the winds change, or some other mysterious force has me itching to escape and try on something new.

I haven’t been seen with my hair au natural since my parents first allowed me to dye it and since that time, I have rarely kept a look for more than 6 months. WHY exactly this is the case though, is difficult to explain succinctly. My best attempt is to say it comes down to exploration.

Hair and Identity

Whether you’re blonde, or red-headed, or brunette or raven-hared, hair colors subtly tell others something about where you come from and who you belong to. There is a strange, unspoken sort of kinship between people of the same hair color – blondes with blondes, brunettes with brunettes – and without actually knowing a single thing about them, before words are even exchanged, we subconsciously assume they are more like us than someone with another hair color. I mean, when you think about, if I were to ask you to describe your significant other to me, their hair would probably be one of the first things you'd mention, right?

While it is obviously far from the only characteristic that makes up the big picture of who we are, our hair does identify us. Though there is a lot more to me than hair and the difference is, accordingly, a subtle one, when I cut or color my hair I feel different and I notice small changes in the way others treat me as well.

While a lot of people find this quirk of mine hard to understand, I enjoy trying new looks, I take pride in my hair bravery, and I believe, in a small way, my horse-of-another-color hair has given me a unique chance to learn about myself. I feel good about it! However, while researching for this blog, I found an intriguing article on psychology and identity that got me thinking:

“Our first sense of coherence comes from our unconscious identifications with the persons around us… Some things in the world appeal to us more than others; that’s because some things purport to show us something about what’s missing in our own lives and to offer us some knowledge of what seems to be hidden from us. So, from all the things that appeal to us in the world, we create images of how we want to see ourselves, and then we set about making ourselves “seen” in the world so our images can be reflected back to us through the desire of others…

… Although developing a social identity has a certain short-term value, whatever you “think” you are is, ultimately, nothing but a vague approximation of what you really are. And what you really are is revealed in discrete moments of genuine encounter with your inner life…

… Our cultures are full of ways we pretend that we can change our identities by changing our outward appearances… [But] as long as you derive your identity from the world around you, you have to be concerned about losing it.”

As I drove home last night this stuck with me.

Appearance Obsessed or Rejecting?

Though my changing hair was something I personally felt was good and if not good, at least fine, and just different, this wasn’t the only article I found indicating my unusual habit might be a sign of some unhealthy preoccupation. In fact, that seemed to be the majority opinion! :/

Before I stumbled across this jem, I had read several articles - mainly centered around dye-happy celebrities - complete with statements from psychologists who diagnosed "control issues" or warned readers their hair changes were some clear sign of inner turmoil - but then, these articles were easier to dismiss as paparazzi fluff. This one actually made a lot of sense and seemed to offer very sound and wise advice.

Were the authors of these articles right?

Is my habit really a sign of a needy and broken person?

I enjoy clothing and fashion as a form or creative expression. I don’t consider myself to be a superficial person or a weak one. At this thought, my attitude turned - I wondered why, despite the fact that who I am is clearly not my appearance; my hair changes couldn’t be a good thing for me.If we shouldn’t allow our appearance to change the way we identify ourselves, couldn’t it actually be better that we divorce ourselves from it, consistently changing it, never settling into a single look? Doesn’t it seem in that way, we’d be forced to identify more significantly with who we are inside? 

And on the other hand, studies show consistently that the way we dress and look affects the way we feel about ourselves and the way others judge us. Is it so wrong to acknowledge the reality that though it should be purely “what’s inside that matters” and that people shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover,” that it isn’t, and that they do? Is it wrong to take the fact that, regardless of whether they should or shouldn’t, prejudice, and social norms, and judgments exist, and to use that to our advantage?

To me, the truth of who we are is an evolving thing. It’s a story we tell ourselves. In the end, finishing the story, you'd hope its bare bones, characters and events, would come together to form a message that positively affects the writer (us) and reader (others). If “hair” or some similarly superficial thing is the main takeaway, you’ve obviously got a pretty flimsy story, but while I sincerely hope my own story, who I am and what I mean, ends up being more than just my physical appearance, I would like to think the searching, exploration, and courage my hair changes are a symptom of would be part of it!

(I'm thinking red next.) ;)


Photo Credit: quicheisinsane

More from Erin Froehlich Others Are Reading


  • you shud go with full on orange!

  • Hmm... maybe! Think I could get away with that in an office? I've done dark purple before, but it's more subtle than some other unnatural color options. I guess orange is pretty close to a natural color too though.... :)

  • Oranges are orange. Of course, they're usually dyed that color too (citrus red #2).

  • Are you seconding the orange dye vote, Sprouty?

  • "and the reflection seems false somehow. Something feels off and I just don’t look like ME."
    That phrase stuck with me, because I have this exact obsession. Every 3 months or so, I have to change my hair. It has cause a lot of grief with my husband to the point he yells at me now in frustration. Interesting article.

  • This article is everything I've always thought and never been able to put into words. After dying my hair last night to a Cinnamon Brunette from a really nice blonde that I spent months trying to obtain...I started to google WHY I do this. Exhaust my husband, my friends, myself with this impulsive and compulsive, NEED to change it up. You hit the nail on the head when you said you go from loving it and feeling like a new person to something switching and suddenly the love affair is over and you feel like an imposter. That is spot on! So glad you wrote this, because I identify with the whole damn thing!

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