I hadn't seen my parents in weeks. We've been staying away from each other since even before the COVID-19 lockdown as they are in the vulnerable age bracket. My mother texted me, insisting she come over. "That's not the greatest idea," I said, but she wanted to drop some things off. I approached her van and she gasped. "Meep! You have gray hairs! I can really see them in the sunlight!" I've had gray hair for a while, much to the shock of my parents, who luckily never went gray until well into their 50s. Sure, I've wanted to dye it, but I'm an out-of-work student who doesn't have the money or time. My mother said she promised to get me some hair dye. "Totally unnecessary," I insisted.
Sure enough, a week later she comes by with hair dye. I knew what she would get me before I even glanced but it's still disappointing. 31 Dark Auburn. "Now you can have red hair gain," she says. I manage to get out a, "thanks mom." My fiancé and I go for a drive later while I huff and complain about the red hair dye. "Your mom was just trying to be nice," my fiancé assures me. "I know but it's still annoying."
I get the distinct impression that my parents had it all figured out at my birth. Who I'd become - which career I'd pursue, which clothes I'd wear, which music I'd listen to. They had it all figured out at my older sibling's birth too, but that turned out all wrong. This time around was their chance to do things right. Little Meep was terrified of ever doing anything wrong. I was highly obedient, quiet, and a people pleaser. I just didn't want to get into any trouble.
Despite this, a lot of mundane things seemed like a struggle that would only get worse as I grew older. Every morning was a battle. I'd weep as my mother would scream and force me into clothes I didn't want to wear. Normal at a certain age, of course. But this went on much longer than average. We were still having morning battles over clothes as I reached 12, 13...then 14.....15, 16. One of our worst fights was over proper outer wear when I was 19-years-old - the police were almost called. Mother was under the impression that I should either be wearing the fluffiest dresses imaginable resembling a cupcake, or I should perpetually be wearing khaki pants or skirt with a long-sleeved, collared, button-down shirt. I didn't understand why I couldn't pick out my own clothes like other kids my age. The mere suggestion in the mornings seemed to throw my mother into a frantic temper, as if I had offended her in her deepest core. "What you look like reflects back on me as your mother!" and "You don't have a life! Your life is mine until you are 18!" were my mom's favorite morning musings.
While my mother is a white, blonde-haired Midwesterner, my father is a dark-skinned, black-haired immigrant to this country. I look more like my father. I'd want the brown-haired Barbies that looked like me but my mom would ask, "Don't you want the blonde ones? Blonde girls are considered the most beautiful." My mother always assured me I was beautiful, "the most beautiful girl in the world!" But comments like these made me feel like I wasn't. Sometimes she would muse, "I always thought I would have lots of kids that looked just like me, but I'm glad I have a mixed child." Celebrities who I idolized as a kid that were the same ethnicity as my father, my mother would shoot down as "ugly" and "not conventionally attractive," and "who would like them?"
As a preteen, my mom took me to get highlights. I thought they were ugly but my mom insisted it was necessary. This would slowly turn into a near-obsession of my mother wanting me to have red hair. "You look more like a white girl with this color hair." We used box dyes and I thought I looked atrocious. Red hair did not match with my features and it made me look washed out. But mother urged that this was the hair color that made me look the most beautiful, so I continued the routine throughout my teens years.
As an adult, I decided I was done with the red and kept my natural hair. "Your hair is mousey brown. It just doesn't look good," mother would say. I've long dreamt about dying my hair a darker, chocolate-y brown. A mistake to casually bring this up to mother, as she chirped, "But Meep!!! Then you'll look like a [insert my dad's ethnicity here]!" Frustrated, I shot back, "That's what I am, mom! Maybe I want to look like that because that's part of me! If you didn't want a [insert ethnicity here] child, you shouldn't have married dad!" She became flustered and further argued that it was impossible to dye my hair that color, I'd have to bleach and fry my hair and it would be too much trouble. This didn't sound right to me - my hair is light brown, would it really be that hard to dye it dark brown? I haven't had the chance to find out.
After virtually waking up one morning to find a head at least 30% full of gray hairs, I panicked and dyed my hair red once again - yet instantly regretted it. I hated looking at myself in the mirror. I didn't have the heart to shave off my hair. I diligently waited a year and a half for my hair to grow out enough for me to chop off all the last remnants, knowing I'd have even more grays waiting for me. When I visited my mother for Thanksgiving, she looked on in disappointment. "Short hair? That's not what I would have chosen for you."
I'm staring down this box of red hair dye. I hate it. I won't use it. As a nearly 30-year-old adult, I should be comfortable in asserting what I want, but it still gives me anxiety. It's hard to explain to a fiancé how a parent can make you feel ugly while they simultaneously compliment your supposed beauty. I should be grateful, thankful, that my parents spent their limited weekly funds on this box of red hair dye that I will never use.
I'm not a doll.
But thanks anyways.