When I entered college, I wanted to make drastic changes. It was the first time I wasn’t under my parents’ thumb, and I was itching to finally be able to alter my appearance the way I’d previously been unable to. The first thing I wanted to do was get a nose ring. I was only 17 though, and would have to wait until my birthday in May to be allowed to get a piercing without parental consent. Now, looking back almost ten years later, I’m fairly astounded that I was allowed to do much of anything without parental consent. But there I was: running around Cambridge, playing at adulthood with the rest of my classmates. I was way too antsy to wait seven months to start playing with my image, so I made a decision. I needed to dye my hair.
My natural hair color is the color of Black girl hair. Very unimpressive. Very boring. I was determined to change this, and took to my local CVS to procure a magical dye that would set me free. I lived in one of the few typical dorms on Harvard’s campus. Instead of an old, tiny room with too many occupants and a private bathroom, I lived in an old, tiny room with too many occupants and shared a bathroom with a long hallway of girls. Each of these who entered that day were treated to one of the surprising cross-cultural experiences the college years are so good for: my hair was in its natural state, fresh from impossibly long micro-braids they thought I’d grown myself; creams that smelled of stinging were piled high on my head, man-hands strained through delicate plastic gloves, scrubbing little red specks on the wall with wild eyes. I was a fanatical scientist, bent on my hair’s destruction.
Only, it didn’t work.
My natural hair color is the color of Black girl hair. My head cozy was a dense, dark and apparently, impenetrable. I tried again – went to the trusty CVS where an ostensibly homeless man would happily accost me:
“Hey! You want to go on a date?! When you gonna let me take you out? Damn, you fine girl!”
But, sir. Just where were we going to go? You’re out here begging for change, and I’m a broke as hell college student blowing the little funds I have on boxed hair color. We ain’t a got a good decision between the two of us, but you’re gonna take me out? OK. (>__>)
Again, I was bested by my iron pelt. And again. I shifted my strategy and began choosing boxes with Black girls on them. Still nothing doing. Months had passed and my ongoing struggle was well-documented among my friends.
“Have you tried Sun-In?” one girl suggested.
I’d never heard of it, but nothing else had worked. Why not?
For the uninitiated, Sun-In is a ‘hair lightener’ designed to be sprayed into hair before a day at the beach, or some other such outdoor activity. Over time, the hair will turn lighter and your world will be changed forever because blondes have more fun and the sun is magic. Or something.
We were in Cambridge though, where we had what I like to call ‘negative sun.’ Negative sun is where the sun is not only too weak to give you a tan, but goes in the opposite direction and sucks the color right out of you. If you go home from college and your Black relatives tell you you look ‘pale’ and wonder if you are sick, you’ve been exposed to too much negative sun. Fun fact: Stephenie Meyer wrote the Twilight series after a trip to Cambridge, where she saw glittery, bleary-eyed students ambling out of the Body Shop in Harvard Square.
Sun-In it was. I borrowed a friend, her bathroom, and -unwilling to wait for the useless Cambridge sun to do any work- two hairdryers (which are apparently a sun substitute). I sprayed my mane like mad. We stood in front of a mirror and used the dryers to push the old circuits to the limit. After an arduous twenty minutes, we were done. The room was stifling hot and smelled tangy, like chemicals. I was sweaty and panting. But. BUT! My hair had turned a gorgeous coppery brown, and I was thrilled.
My elation was catching. My friend and I whooped and grinned from her room to the dining hall for dinner. After eating, we went back to her room to continue the very important Sex and the City marathon we’d been engrossed in. The show progressed, Samantha showed her boobs, Carrie was insufferable, and all was finally right in the world.
That was, until I noticed something disturbing: small white spots were appearing all over my hands. I began to panic. They seemed to be growing and multiplying before my eyes. As my friend and I rushed to the campus hospital, I wailed:
“I’m going to have to find skin-like gloves like that girl in X-Men! Lawwwd!!!”
“I’m turning white like Michael Jackson! Jesus, I can’t sing like that!”
When I finally saw the doctor, he told me I’d bleached my skin, and it would be a few days before my hands turned to the right color. Like an overzealous idiot, I’d ditched the gloves during my Sun-Ining.
During my bleaching.
The pretty blonde lady and beach scene on the front of the bottle had distracted me from the fact that I was simply bleaching my hair. As we walked home I started designing gloves in my head. They would be cute. If I had to do this, I may as well lean into it.
Luckily though, the spots started fading by the time we’d gotten back to the dorms. Look at Gawd.