Tag Archives: bodies are weird

Why Purple Hair is Necessary

Photo on 2-27-17 at 5.27 PM

Purple hair and red lipstick. BAM.

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.

My Relationship With Running


Me after running my first marathon.

My relationship with running used to revolve around my relationships with men.

When I was in my early 20s, I had a boyfriend who wanted me to run with him. I was not a runner. I had sports I loved—skiing and horseback riding, hiking and swimming—but I wasn’t into team sports or anything really physically grueling. Or maybe the sports I loved were physically grueling, but I didn’t see them that way because I loved them. But running just felt like pure misery, and I had no interest in making myself miserable.

He didn’t just want me to run with him–he wanted me to be the one pushing him. I thought he wanted to be dating someone much more athletic than I was at the time–maybe someone who was the top scorer in field hockey and the fastest freestyler on the swim team and ruled at gym volleyball. None of those things were me. I don’t hate people who were good at team sports, of course, but at the time I hated the person I thought he wanted me to be, because I felt so much pressure to be that.   And when we went running I hated every step.

Later, I had a different boyfriend. We’d been dating a while when he suggested going on a run together. At the time I’d been going to the gym for about a year, taking yoga and pilates and spin and martial arts, trying to settle on a sport that would sustain me. I wanted to be more active. I wanted to keep my jean size. I told him I’d run with him, but not to pressure me—I’d probably be slow, and I didn’t like to be pushed. I said he should just go ahead of me and we’d meet up at the end.

It was beautiful, that run. We were on a beach, and the sky and the sea were just endless. I turned on my music and started running and breathing in time with the ocean waves and just lost myself. By the time I looked up—miles later—I’d left him far behind.

I left that boyfriend behind for real a few years later, but I kept running. In the several years since I started, I’ve run two half-marathons, one marathon, and countless 5K’s. Running is my moving meditation. It’s the place where I feel most powerful and most at peace.  I love the toned, sculpted legs it gives me and the way I feel like I’m on springs just walking down the street. I love how my endurance makes other sports almost effortless—like rock climbing or horseback riding. I never get tired.

Last year, though, I got a headache. It lasted for four months continuously, and later became debilitating neck pain. It’s too much to get into here, but you can find the start of that series here. It was hell. I don’t know exactly what caused it still, but as I recover, it becomes more and more clear to me that running has something to do with it. These days, when my neck hurts, it’s usually because I went running the day before.

I know what I have to do. Stop running. Not forever—but for longer than I want to. I need to let my neck heal, do a lot of yoga, and build up my strength. I’m almost all the way better but still delicate, and yoga is what brought me through that particular health crisis. I know it’s what my body needs.

But letting go of running is so hard. While I was visiting my parents in Gettysburg, I had the most beautiful run. I went down a country road, discovered an old pre-Civil War graveyard, and daydreamed about novels I have in the works. I went past fields full of cows and old stone farmhouses and roads lined with daylilies. I wanted to go for hours.

I don’t want to break up with running. Stopping for a length of time brings up all my fears. That my endurance will die, and I won’t want to pick it back up again. That I’ll gain weight (yeah, I know it should all be about health, but for me it isn’t). I’ve let go of so many things in the past few months, mainly to heal my neck and devote myself to my novels. This was the one thing I wanted to hang onto.

But the stakes to this are high. The headache absolutely ruined my life. I would do anything to keep that from happening to me again. Now my body is asking me to give up running, and I hate it. But I have to do it.

This week, all I’ve done is yoga. So far so good on the neck. I miss running right down to my bones. But last night I took a two-hour walk to the Williamsburg Bridge and back. I listened to my running music and daydreamed about my plot. I didn’t get the high I get when I run—but for now, it will do.

The Headache That Wouldn’t Go Away: Part I

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a long time.

Mainly because I couldn’t stand the idea of writing about it while I was still going through it. I’ve been coming out of it lately, slowly, with setbacks and plateaus and flare-ups periodically. But it does (knock on wood; knock on allll the wood) seem to be going, thank whatever gods there are. So I figured it was time.

This past August, I got a headache. It lasted for four months. Then it became debilitating and mysterious neck pain, which I’m still recovering from.

I remember exactly when I got it. The weeks leading up to it, I’d started feeling inexplicably tired at weird times, and sometimes vaguely dizzy and lightheaded. I didn’t think much of it; I’d been going through a lot of personal and work-related stress, and I thought I was just run-down.

But things had started looking up, too. I’d started seeing someone new, for instance. On one beautiful early-August day, I was sitting with him in the backyard of my local coffee shop. He bought me a mimosa. I took a sip. And suddenly: headache.

 I call it that, but it doesn’t really describe what it felt like. It felt like a punch in the face. Sudden deep, aching pain behind my nose and eyes, throbbing and demanding all my attention.

The pain lasted all day. I was concerned, but I’ve always been able to sleep things off. In the days and weeks that followed, I realized that there was no sleeping this off.

I had no health insurance. I signed up for Pager, an app that lets you schedule a housecall for a relatively low price. The doctor I called gave me a quick exam and said he thought it sounded like a sinus infection (even though I wasn’t stuffed up). He prescribed me some antibiotics. I took them for the allotted week, and they didn’t make a dent in the pain.

I called the doctor again. He sounded concerned, and told me he could get me in to see one of the top neurologists in the city, a friend of his, for free. On the day of my appointment, the neurologist gave me what I’ve come to think of as a drunk driving test—holding up my hands, testing their strength. He shone a light in my eyes, pressed hard into my face at various trigger points.

“Does this hurt?” he asked, digging into the side of my jaw with a finger. “Does this?”

It all hurt. Not because it was especially tender in those spots, but because he was pressing hard.

He palpitated my shoulders. “You’re really tight here,” he said. “I think you have TMJ.”

I was skeptical of that. If I had TMJ, why would it suddenly come on so strongly now? Also, I’d never had a dentist tell me I was grinding my teeth. Still, he was the doctor and I figured he must be right, somehow. He prescribed me Aleve—one 24-hour pill three times a day—and suggested I get a mouth guard to sleep in.

Then he charged me $100.

This would be just one in a series of misdiagnoses—along with puzzled looks and noncommittal shrugs—that I’d get from doctors in the next few months. But I was still at the beginning of this journey, and I trusted him. So I took the Aleve. It helped a little bit, sometimes. But nothing really helped in any permanent way.

In the coming weeks I tried a lot of different things, with increased amounts of panic. Aleve, aspirin, ibuprofen. Tea tree oil and oil of oregano and herbal stress remedies and meditation. Medications for allergies and infections. The TMJ diagnosis didn’t feel right, and neither did an infection or a sudden allergy, really, but I didn’t have much else to go on.

In the weeks of August and September, I noticed some things. The headache moved around; sometimes it was in the front of my face like a sinus infection; other times it circled the top of my head like a tight band, or sat right on top of it like a heavy rock. It would also sometimes move to the back of my neck.

I could talk about nothing else. My friends all offered suggestions. Vitamin deficiencies. Weird infections that were resistant to the usual antibiotics. I tried changing my diet; I tried drinking lots of Pedialyte and Gatorade for the electrolytes (I’d been training for a marathon, and I was fighting to keep up with my training schedule despite the headaches). Some remedies seemed to help for a few days.

But it never went away entirely–and it always got bad again. To the extent that I started describing it not as headaches, plural, but as a single headache. It was always there. Some days it was faint, but I could still feel it. Other days it was so bad I could barely get off my couch.

I spent a lot of time on Google. Nothing online seemed to line up with my symptoms. Still, I tried every home remedy someone else enthusiastically endorsed. This rarely helped, and once it went very, very badly.

I’d started using a Neti pot, on the theory that this was some kind of weird sinus infection (although I wasn’t having any other infection symptoms aside from pain). If you’re not sure what a Neti pot is—it’s basically a little pot with a narrow spout that you use to pour salt water into your sinuses to irrigate them. Some people swear by them. I found it to be marginally helpful, sometimes for a half hour or so, if the pain was in the front of my face. It’s also unpleasant and gross. Seriously, do not let anyone see you use a Neti pot if you want them to stay attracted to you.

On some discussion board, I read about a woman who put a few drops of tea tree oil in her Neti pot—and it cleared up her pain. She’d had horrible facial pain for weeks, and after trying this once, she’d woken up pain-free. I thought, I want to wake up pain-free. In that moment, I’d never wanted anything else so hard.

So I went out and bought some tea tree oil. I put a few drops in my Neti pot that night. Then I poured the water into my nose.

I’d also taken some 24-hour Claritin that day, on the off chance that this was an allergic reaction (the guy I was seeing insisted that it was). The tea tree oil did not get along with the Claritin. Suddenly I was feeling jittery and anxious—my heart was racing; I couldn’t sit still; my breath was coming in gasps. The headache multiplied. I called the guy I was seeing and he ran home from a night out with his friends to hang out with me. That whole night, he kept me company through my panic.

It took me two days to recover from that—by which I mean, recover to the point where the headache was at its normal terrible intensity, instead of its terrible-times-four intensity.

Through all this, I was still training for the marathon. Sometimes running made me feel better; sometimes it made me feel worse. But I’d been training for months and I was not giving up. I gave up other things, though. Coffee and alcohol made it worse, so I stopped drinking both. I severely curtailed my social life. I stopped working on creative projects. It was basically all I could do to keep my day job afloat.

The marathon—my first one—was the Loch Ness Marathon in Scotland. My plan had been to spend a week with friends in London, then go to Scotland with them (we were running the marathon together). From there, I was planning to fly to Spain for four weeks. I was going to go to Seville, the Andalusian hills, Madrid, and Barcelona, meeting friends along the way and spending my birthday in Barcelona.

When I first got the headache, I thought for sure it would resolve by the trip. But as the days passed and I kept waking up with it, that seemed more and more unlikely.

Headaches seem like a minor problem. Almost everyone has had a headache at some point. Before this, they were usually a result of my bad choices: not getting enough sleep, drinking too much (alcohol), not drinking enough (water). I knew, intellectually, but didn’t really understand that headaches can be completely debilitating. And even in the life-wrecking level of severity, many people—including health care professionals—don’t treat them seriously.

There’s a special kind of horror in having some kind of health concern that should go away—that always went away before—that you keep waking up with. I remember my mood getting blacker and blacker every time I woke up in pain and thought, great. This is still happening.

I kept waking up with that thought as the weeks passed and my Spain trip got closer. I was trying not to panic—the headaches could be a result of stress, maybe. But I reached a point where I had to make a decision: do I cancel the trip and try to fix the headaches, or do I go to Spain and hope they go on their own?

I chose to go to Spain. More about that in the next post.