Revisiting Authenticity

It’s one thing to write about someone else’s fakery, but it’s another to ignore your own.

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I figured that I’d better get up close to the mirror when I’m tossing stones at other folks.

My pal, Marilyn, said that for people like me, my hair is part of my personae. For others, particularly Generation Y, hair is like a hat: an accessory. Bleach it, darken it, tease it, braid it, toss it like a salad. It’s just hair. Or, as Marilyn says, it’s a hat.

I’ve worn my hair long and cropped, and it’s been blonde, grey, brown and copper. As a teenager spending summers at the city pool, where I competed on the swim team and performed synchronized swimming (we called it water ballet), I poured lemon juice on my hair to coax it to blonde.

And as a young college student, I wanted to look like the girls at Haight-Ashbury, and grew my hair long, straight, and parted down the middle. I turned less timid after landing my first job and experimented with perms and dyes, but once I started graduate school, I cut it short and let the grey reign.

I was content with my grey hair for years, finding the hair dye ads gloriously disingenuous. Clairol links their products with “nature,” encouraging consumers to give Mother Nature a nudge by buying their hair color.

My path to authenticity took an abrupt turn when I remarried and my husband encouraged me to cover my grey. So I returned to the beauty parlor and spent fistfuls of cash on colors and tints in the vain hope of appearing to be authentic.

After sloughing off the husband I considered resurrecting the grey but didn’t know how to accomplish the act gracefully. I was encouraged by a book I read while wandering through Powell’s called Going Grey by Anne Kraemer, appropriately subtitled, How to Embrace Your Authentic Self with Grace and Style.

So, in August, after returning from the reservation in Oklahoma, which always inspires me to authenticity, I started to grow out my roots. The woman who cuts my hair keeps shortening the ends each visit, and we figure that will help ease the transition. And she introduced me to a hair spray that colors my roots—temporarily—as the grey emerges.

So, in my efforts to become more authentic, I color my hair each morning to blend the grey and brown, which gives me pause. But here’s the thing: I figure the façade is only temporary, and it will soon give way to the real me.

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. She is enrolled with the Osage tribe.
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