Last week I dyed my hair purple.
This would be a big change for a lot of people, but it was especially big for me.
I’ve been a commercial model and actress in New York for seven years. And I’ve been pretty successful at it. You won’t recognize me on the street, but I’ve landed modeling jobs worth many thousands of dollars. I’ve worked with a number of household-name brands. My friends periodically text me pictures of my ads that they see on Facebook and in other places.
Dyeing my hair purple basically torpedoed that. In fact, my agent emailed me fairly late the night before my hair appointment to tell me a big fashion brand wanted me to model their shoes. (Shoe modeling is a pretty huge market for petite models, which is one of my categories). I turned the job down so I could dye my hair.
It was an agonizing decision, but walking to the hair salon, I felt happy and weightless and full of light. I haven’t felt that way in a long time.
I called my mom after the appointment, raving about my hair. My mom was happy and supportive—but she also said she didn’t see why all this was necessary. I get why people would ask that. Purple hair is expensive, it’s a lot of work to maintain, it’s completely impractical—and my mom is an extremely practical person. My decision might seem incomprehensible, even self-destructive, to a lot of people.
This post is an attempt to explain.
I’ve been building up my professional acting career since I graduated from college—about sixteen years ago. First I moved to Philadelphia, and I occasionally booked work, but things didn’t really take off until I moved to New York. For about three years, work was very slow—if it happened at all. Then I got new headshots and got better about branding and suddenly I was getting a lot of auditions. And every so often I booked.
I loved the work. The down side was that I wasn’t doing plays and fun Indie movies like I originally envisioned. I was doing commercials. Not as creatively fulfilling, but still a lot of fun—and these paid. Instead of letting my artistic drive lead my acting career, I followed the money. In a lot of ways, I’m my mom’s daughter—practical to the core.
The audition process could be grueling, though. In a busy month I might go to six or more auditions in a week, sometimes three or more a day—spending all day running around the city. I would book maybe once every few months. And the auditions would often come in short-notice, making my life and schedule unpredictable.
I also had to maintain a certain look. I paid thousands of dollars for professional headshots, modeling shots for a portfolio, and a video reel. My hair had to look exactly the same in all of these, and match precisely what was on my head. If I wanted to change my hair, I had to change all my marketing materials—a huge investment, plus a rethink in terms of what acting and modeling jobs I was most competitive for, and an overhaul of my entire branding strategy.
So I had the same hair—a marketable brown, feathery and chin-length—for seven or eight years. It represented a compromise: I could style it bland enough to appeal to mainstream brands, but also edgy enough to feel like me when I wasn’t auditioning.
I kept this up for a number of years. And then last August I came down with a single, persistent, debilitating headache—and neck pain—that lasted for about eight months. I kept the grueling audition schedule up as long as I could, but eventually I had to scale back a lot. And coming out of it, hermiting in the midst of New York’s punishing winter months, I completely fell in love with a book I’m writing.
Coming out of the headache, I knew two things for sure: first, I wanted to write this book. And second, I never wanted to go to another audition as long as I lived.
An audition is an exercise in trying to gain another’s approval. You go in hoping you’ll be the chosen one. The one picked, out of all the other talented people, as the most worthy. I was deeply, deeply sick and tired of trying so hard to get picked. I was done.
This feeling didn’t occur to me right away. It grew, over the months I spent recovering from the headache and falling deeper into my story. I’ve always been a writer as much as an actress. I always knew I’d give up acting to focus on writing someday—and that I’d know when I was ready. I was starting to know, and my hair became a representation of that. I was tired of keeping it a certain way for other people. I wanted my hair to be for me.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the hairstyle I was most attracted to was as far from commercially marketable as I could get. Long purple unicorn hair. Hair that looks nothing like the people I usually played in ads: up-and-coming businesswomen and crunchy yoga enthusiasts and suburban moms, or at least a big corporate brand’s idea of those.
I let the idea sit in my head for a long time, to see if I’d stop wanting it. But I didn’t. I pinned pictures of people with gorgeous ombre purple hair. Rich violets and lavenders. Silvery highlights. I wanted all of it, and I didn’t care how much it cost. I got obsessed.
The day I dyed my hair purple, I felt like I always did on the last day of school or the day I quit a job. Like I’ve been carrying a weight around my ankle for a really long time, and suddenly the line’s been cut and I’m free. It feels right. It feels like a declaration to the world.
My hair is not for a market or an agent or a panel of directors and producers whose approval I’m auditioning for. It is for me. I’m a writer—a romance and fantasy novelist and a poet and a copywriter—and I am both deeply practical and wildly impractical, often in the same sentence. I am a human exercise in contradictions with bright purple hair, and I am exactly where and who I want to be. There is nothing about this I regret.