Too bold! Too radical! Too wild! Many women have encountered judgement for the choices they make with their hair, particularly with colour. Women who dye their hair lime green or peacock purple are scrutinised to the point where their personal and professional worth is measured by this parameter.
And as if that wasn’t enough, culturally imposed dogmatic ideologies make it even worse. “This isn’t our culture.” “What will your in-laws say?” “It is frowned upon in our society.” “People will question your character.” “Only unstable people in our community do this.” Do any of those sound familiar?
While it’s one thing to have a personal preference for your own aesthetic appearance, it’s another to have your character questioned and to face stereotypes based on preconceived notions.
Whether it’s a professional setting or a personal one, women with wildly coloured hair have to face all kinds of judgments. We spoke with 18 bold and beautiful women who shared the absurd stereotypes they faced after colouring their hair. Hear them out.
Some interview subjects chose not to share their last name for privacy reasons.
“About four or so years ago, I dyed my (platinum at the time) hair pastel for Halloween. It was really cute and I loved it. Since I have coloured hair, tattoos and bright makeup, people think I must be a wild party girl. Nothing could be further from the truth! I don’t drink and will more likely be found sitting at home cross-stitching with my cats on a Friday night as opposed to being out on the town. Oh, and let’s not forget the nice elderly man who came up to me at the grocery ... only to hand me a religious pamphlet about drug rehab.”
“I’ve been dyeing my hair since 2015. I was looking for a change. In life, in appearance, in experiences! I’m also at an age at which my parents are looking to help me settle down. ‘What will these parents think?’ ‘Our family doesn’t do this.’ ‘Don’t call so much attention to yourself.’ India’s judgemental culture is not breaking news, but it still surprised me when I was assumed to be kooky and younger than I am in the workplace, ‘going through a phase’ among family and friends, and entirely unfit to be a potential wife and mother — all because I’d decided to dye my hair as a form of self-expression.”
“I started adding red in my late 30s, either as highlights or ombré. I felt like I was getting bolder in my personal and professional life, and I wanted my hair to be a reflection of that. I experienced a sense of, ‘Who does she think she is?’ I live in a pretty conservative community, and in a lot of ways I am a bit of a misfit.”
“I went pink and really haven’t ever looked back. I’ve always heard the whole ‘unnatural hair colour is unacceptable’ stereotype. Depending on where we are in the country, my look is received with more or less side eye. I’m from Texas and grew up in a super small, super conservative town. I have to overcome the ‘What kind of mum is this?’ hurdle, the ‘Holy crap, his wife is ... waaaaayyyyyyyy different from him’ hurdle, along with the one where people from more conservative parts aren’t sure if I’m a drug dealer, an addict, a prostitute or some combination of the three.”
“I coloured my hair because I was never good at doing my makeup and my fashion sense was nonexistent. The first thing about having vibrant hair is that people think you’re either a punk or a bad kid. Second, people think it’s unprofessional and don’t want to hire you. Third, it doesn’t help that I’m Asian, so of course [people who follow tradition] think it’s rude and weird. If I got a dollar for every stare at an Asian market or restaurants! Eventually, people will realise that having pink hair doesn’t stop you from saving lives as a doctor.”
“The moment I left my parents’ house at age 14, I bleached and dyed my hair red. As a young Hispanic woman, I got a lot of comments from being ‘ghetto’ to a drug addict. I had bright red hair then. As I got older and continued to have all types of colours, I realised in business and at the professional level it was still not accepted. I even had an employer threaten me that if I considered doing my hair purple, they would have to let me go, as it went against their professional policy. I quit and dyed my hair, of course.”
“I have always been pretty creative and artistic, and I see my hair as an extension of that. The downside to having coloured hair, in my experience, is that people can underestimate my intelligence and I sometimes feel disregarded because I may not be ‘serious’ enough. The stereotype of the manic pixie dream girl often comes up, with people expecting me to be a crazy, fun, chill person, but I am actually quite anxious, with frequent health issues that mean that partying is quite low on my radar.”
“I initially coloured my hair because I was in a deep depression and I was trying to force change out of my behaviour. Unfortunately, there seems to be a belief from society that people who have bright hair are carefree and less inclined to be professional. No one wants to take the brown-skinned girl with bright purple hair seriously. I started noticing how often my ideas were being dismissed. Comments from my coworkers about their assumptions on my life were often being made: ‘Julie doesn’t want to come in on the weekend, she’ll be too busy partying.’ Networking events started to turn into a chance to recite my résumé, because otherwise I was often being questioned about how I even made it into the field. I’ll admit to the fact that the comments were getting to me. There’s only so many times a comment like, ‘Reminder to be professional with this client’ can be made before you’ve had enough.”
“Being Puerto Rican, queer and always dressed colourfully, I can run into all kinds of stereotypes. In the last few years, my hair has been neon green because I’m really working on balancing my love chakra. One stereotype that’s hurtful is that some people will assume that because I have bright, colourful hair, that I am crazy. They’ll say, ‘I would never colour my hair a crazy colour like that, you’re crazy,’ and to hear someone put me in a ‘crazy’ category can be really hurtful and shameful. You just never know if someone has experienced trauma that has actually had to be admitted to a psych ward for help. Calling people ‘crazy’ can be very mean.”
“I initially coloured my hair for my engagement party, as I loved the look. When I first dyed my hair, I was met by some pushback from a new manager at work who stated that my hair wasn’t appropriate for the ‘high-end’ brand I worked for and suggested that I should be working for a more ‘immature’ or ‘younger’ brand and demographic.”
“I’ve always been a little bit different than everybody else, and I feel like it’s another way of expressing myself. I feel as though people with coloured hair are seen as ’80s punk rockers who are reckless and can’t hold down a job. I’ve definitely been viewed as unprofessional and incapable because of my choice of hair colour.”
“I’ve always wanted to colour since I was a child. I’m always stereotyped as either a rebel or a bad girl. People assume I must be doing bad things in life like drugs or lots of men, that I must definitely get a lot of shit from my family because they oppose this, or that I must be doing this to get attention and validation from others. And literally none of those things are true.”
“I coloured my hair because I have always loved the way it allows me to express myself. The most frustrating remark I’ve received was an acting colleague who told me it made me confusing, because the hair reads as dangerous/edgy while my face reads as ‘girl next door.’ And the older man who stared at me and asked if it was Christmas and tried to touch it — it made me feel like an animal in a zoo.”
“I just think coloured hair is gorgeous. People think they know all about your lifestyle if you have coloured hair. Women with coloured hair are viewed as ‘trying to get attention,’ ‘must be on drugs,’ ‘have to be flirts,’ ‘is a bloody feminist,’ etc. Colours like purple, blue or green are viewed as too radical, unwomanly or too ‘witchy’ to be accepted easily.”
“I started colouring my hair because it looked fun. People thought I could sell or find them drugs based on my hair colour and how I dress, and that was always annoying. I was straightedge for a long time, so it was pretty opposite of how I looked.”
“The thing is, outward appearances are how I express myself because of my introversion. I do think in the UK (where I’m from), there are assumptions made about people with brightly coloured hair. I was a paramedic and was told I could not have unusual hair colours if I was public-facing. I sometimes felt that I wasn’t taken seriously because of my hair colour, as if I couldn’t be very intelligent, perhaps.”
“I’d dreamt of colouring my hair blue since I wore a blue wig to a dress-up party. In Poland, on the rural fringe, a store owner abjectly refused to serve me and my cousin, thinking we were lesbians. The woman mumbled and waved us away. I had to deliberately dress ‘elegantly’ (not provocatively) when I had coloured hair.”
“When my hair was neon red and blue, some people would assume I was unable to pay for things in certain stores. Apparently women who shop at such places don’t ever make such bold hair statements. I just kept moving and paid for what I wanted when they thought I could not. I spoke the way an educated woman speaks, even when they thought I may be ‘ghetto’ because of my hair colour.”
Read more about the complicated relationships we have with our hair at My Hair, My Story.