Tats: None of Your Business


Comments on my changing colors.


My phone reads 12:13 as I glance at it on my way to my noon class and as I run past the law school — hoping my professor is also running late today – I’m almost so caught up in whether I will be interrupting lecture that I nearly miss the mother giving me a disdainful look while passing by with her toddler.

In the months of having bright dyed hair, I still do receive as many concerned looks as the small quote and Delta sign on my inner arm drew in the first week of having my tattoos. If there is one thing I hate, it is people trying to tell me what to do. I dye my hair because it is easy for me to feel like an exhibit, which people enjoyed seeing but only in an isolated and tamed state.

Before choosing any form of body modification that veers outside of typical, my advice would be to perfect a response to the many people who will ask for a justification of your choice. But to be honest, even though I feel certain and strongly about my choices to get my tattoo and dye my hair, it was rather impulsive. Just when I thought sophomore year couldn’t get much worse, midterms hit me. My engineering courses were fun but challenging, and often left me feeling like I was no longer unique or special.

Photo provided by the author.
Photo provided by the author.

I bought $5 blue-green hair dye online at 3 am one night after studying for finals sophomore fall. It wasn’t necessarily that I liked how the shade of teal would complement my red hair — no, it was more that this was the cheapest option for Amazon Prime and I need change now. I dyed it myself in my dorm room and forgot to warn my roommate, who was caught off guard by the suddenly blue-tone to our shower curtain. I stuck to only dying the bottom 4-5 inches of my long hair because I’m not one for commitment, but that didn’t mean I didn’t frequently switch the tint once the color began fading.

Once I started feeling more grounded, I didn’t dye my hair as often as I had before. I initially dyed my hair as a distraction. But it became a comfortable and creative way to express myself. I have always dyed my hair for myself. However, I quickly realized that many people wanted to comment on it. The Nice Jewish Boy I started seeing sophomore spring said he really liked the color I had in my hair. But when I told him that I considered dying the entirety of my head blue, he “didn’t think that would look as good.” Up until I told him I had wanted to dye all of my hair, I actually had decided to go back to something resembling my natural red hue. I was actually coming down from an all-nighter and exhausted at that time but the unwanted negative response fuelled made me feel especially stubborn.

It didn’t stop with my hair: after getting my tattoos, boys frequently felt the need to comment on my choices. “You’re still in the honeymoon phase.” I like comparing a tattoo to marriage because it certainly is a commitment, except this is a commitment to myself. My tattoo is similar to paying an ideally one-time membership fee to being happy and investing in myself. My tattoo was just that — an investment in myself. While I understand tattoos may make you less appealing to certain employers, my paycheck will already be much lower than yours because of the gender wage gap and marginalization, so it’s really not any of your concern. With the many aspects of life that I have no control over, I choose to exercise liberty in the areas that I do.

Photo provided by the author.
Photo provided by the author.

Dying my hair is a much smaller commitment, to be fair, but nevertheless an investment in myself. I deserve it. I deserve the freedom to make “irrational” decisions, regardless of what potential employers may think of me, because I value taking time and effort to invest in myself. Dying my hair reminds myself that I am the one with sole control over myself. This is my body — no matter who gave it to me, no matter who may encounter it — and, for the time being, it is solely mine. You may be decorating your dorm room carefully for the year with the intention of leaving it no different than when you moved in out of fear that you’ll be term-billed, but there’s no term-bill for me.  This isn’t a decision I’ll grow out of because I don’t plan on moving out of this body for a while and I want to make myself comfortable in it.

Hunter Richards (hrichards@college.harvard.edu) muses over what colors she’ll move to next!