People sometimes ask me, Is that your natural hair color? Referring, of course, to my beautiful long red hair. In my opinion, this is one of the ruder hair questions out there. But for enquiring minds who have to know, the answer is “no” – at this point, there’s a lot of gray “naturally” in my hair.
My born-to hair color was hard to describe. Some people called it brown, some called it blond, a boy in the fifth grade who liked me called it “fawn brown.” I had to be careful with hair products because it had a tendency to take on an orangish hue my mother called “brassy.” It was an unusual multi-textured shade people often commented on, and I had no thought of changing it.
But I did use neutral henna to condition my hair. I fell into this habit when I lived on wimmin’s land. Wimmin’s land is a rural collective living arrangement for feminists that is closed to men. The wimmin’s land where I lived was in sourthern Arizona, and women on the wimmin’s land circuit flocked to this place in the winter. They would take this opportunity in their low-budget traveling lives to condition their hair with colorless henna, which could be purchased cheaply from the co-op in bulk, sunbathing naked in the desert sun except for the muddy goo wrapped in plastic film on their heads.
You probably know where this is going. Somehow the red henna got mixed up with the neutral henna at the co-op. Maybe somebody left a baggy laying around and it got poured back into the wrong jar. All I know is that I washed the conditioning henna out of my hair one afternoon and got the shock of my life. Nor was I the only one; the co-op heard from a number of angry women. One particularly incensed woman demanded that the co-op pay her restoration bill from the hair salon, which they promptly did.
Red henna in most hair only imparts a lustrous sheen that may appear slightly reddish in strong sunlight. In blond hair, or hair that has a tendency to take on orange highlights, it turns a bright rusty color. Usually this washes out in two to four weeks, making it too labor intensive for a hair dye, but for a lucky (or unlucky) few, the hair strands absorb and hang onto the color, and it will not wash out. The furious woman who went to the beauty parlor was still a strawberry blond six weeks later.
Myself, I decided I liked the effect, once the shock wore off. My friends asserted that it fit my personality, and I rather agreed. Since that time, I’ve treated myself to more henna as the roots grow out, using only packaged red henna from a reputable source, of course. I can tell from the roots that my hair is graying beautifully, as my grandmother’s did, so it sometimes seems a shame to be covering it up. But the red does seem more “me,” like a corrective action the Goddess herself decided to take. I was taught growing up that completely dyed hair on an older woman, like long hair on an older woman, is verboten. It doesn’t look natural, having young hair with an old face. But I’ve decided I don’t care. It is natural. It’s me.