I was a shy and sensitive child. I survived two and a half decades with mousy brown hair in a five-foot-two frame. I was unremarkable, and felt that way. I was a chronic rule follower. Like any good New Englander, I picked out generic outfits at J. Crew with my dad’s voice reassuring me in my head: “Dress for the job you want.” I thought that meant blazers, neatly tailored trousers, and a completely forgettable hairdo tucked carefully off my face in a secure low bun.
By the time I turned 27, enough was becoming enough. I was bored with dressing the part, of playing it safe out of fear of what people might think about me. I never felt truly seen: When people got to know me, they’d often express surprise that I was funny or sassy or outspoken or opinionated. My banal appearance was actually misleading people to make assumptions about me—the very thing I had been trying to avoid by keeping myself in a box. I had always admired folks who took risks with artistic self-expression—watercolor tattoos, visible piercings, and outspoken hair and wardrobes—but for some reason I was convinced that could never be me. I felt I needed permission, and I’m not even sure from who, to express myself in that way.
One morning I awoke from a dream in which I’d been rocking pink hair and I told my partner about it. I gushed over how I’d lusted after pink hair—crushed on it on the likes of Natalie Portman in the movie Closer and on Kim Cattrall’s Samantha Jones in Sex and the City’s final season.
“You should get it,” he casually responded without hesitation. It caught me off guard. His confidence in the statement, the simple act of giving me permission to do what I wanted with my own body. I wondered aloud if I could actually pull it off. He assured me I could. And just like that, I started to question all the ideas about my appearance that had been holding me back from truly expressing myself to the world. “You really think I could?” I asked, unsure. “If anyone can, you can,” he assured me.
A few weeks later, I stepped out onto Boston’s Boylston Street with fresh pink locks. I could feel myself walking taller as I made my way home. That night, a bout of insecurity and remorse washed over me. Had I made a mistake? What would my parents think? What would the parents at the school where I worked think? Would anyone gossip or complain about me to the administration? No one did.
In the 8 years since I started having fun with my hair color and adjusting how I show up in the world to match how I feel on the inside, people have gravitated toward me much more than before. A new confidence actually grew inside of me almost overnight. My personal style evolved in a way that is authentically me, and I started caring a whole lot less about what people thought about me in the process. Today, when I wake up, I make decisions that will make me feel happy, whole, and in alignment with my truest, and highest self—purple hair, new tattoos, and all.