I don’t think I’ve mentioned in this space that I dyed my hair purple about six months ago. I hadn’t ever dyed my hair before, and I thought it would be fun. So away I went! Bleach first, then a luscious dark purple. The purple is in a crown around my hairline – the majority of my hair is still brown. But when I pull my hair back, it looks like it’s all purple. The most surprising part of this hair dying experiment is that it starts out this crazy-dark, almost black color that you can’t see unless I’m in direct sunlight and fades to this bright, multi-hued fuschia. I re-dye it every three weeks so I don’t drift dangerously into the pink-hair category.
So why, dear readers, would you care what color my hair is?
Well, six months ago I didn’t really think you would, which is why I didn’t post about it. But it has come to my attention that people do care what color my hair is. My hair color has been interpreted as a statement of my political leanings, my age, my sexual promiscuity, my seriousness, and my educational attainment, among other things. Apparently I still look straight, but that’s about the only thing that strangers assume that purple-haired-Karen has in common with brown-haired-Karen.
I work at a college, and I admit I was concerned that my students wouldn’t handle it well. When I dyed my hair my students at the time loved it. My students who have since met me with purple hair were a bit surprised, but took it in stride. Working as I do in the deepest bowels of adjunct-professor-hood, I don’t really have colleagues to comment on it one way or another – except for other adjuncts who I meet in the elevator.
Here’s a common elevator conversation between me and another professor:
Me: “Hi, how’s your day going?”
Them: (Looks surprised that I am beginning a conversation.) “Fine.” (Blinks a few times.)
Them: (clears throat, and then in a condescending tone) “So, what are you majoring in?”
And here I have a choice. I can either take the high road and answer in kindness, pretending that my colleague had asked about my field of study:
“I teach Human Sexuality. What about you?” (Heavy emphasis on the “teach.”)
Or I can be snotty about it:
“Well, I received my Ph.D. in Educational Psychology in 2007. Were you asking about that or making incorrect assumptions based on my physical appearance?”
This is a particularly callous thing to say at my college because many of the professors have M.A.s or M.S.s rather than Ph.D.s, and there’s something of a pecking order based on educational attainment.
I tend to go with the first one, in order to maintain an internal air of superiority that I’ve taken the high road while they’ve put their foot in their mouth. Besides, my colleagues generally recognize that they’ve made a poor choice of awkward elevator conversation anyway, and try to cover it up by going on and on about how “youthful” I look.
I know that my purple hair makes a statement about me to people. I keep it purple because I think it’s really pretty, and I like colorful things, not because I adhere to – or don’t adhere to – the statement it makes. I know that parents are surprised when they meet me and are considering having me teach their middle or high school students. I suspect that some of them are hesitant to have me teach their children because of my hair color, and that saddens me.
But common, people. Purple hair is fun. Seriously fun! So let’s not get bent out of shape about it anymore, okay?