for a change
When I walked through the door aged 14 with cornflower
blue hair, my mother, Barbara, burst into tears. I came from a respectable
family, my father, Beric, was a joinery manufacturer with three successful
factories. 'Only common people dye their hair,' she cried, 'it's not something
people from our background do.'
My hair was naturally very thick and black with
red highlights which would catch in the sunlight. But while everyone else
seemed to love it, I found it a bit of a handicap. I was only 4ft tall
at the time, and felt the dark colour made me look even shorter especially
as I had pale skin.
I'd seen, from visits to the hairdresser, that
you could dye your hair every colour under the sun. At 14, I felt strong
enough to deal with the inevitable reactions to being different.
Dyeing my hair blue was a way of letting everyone
know that I would never be the 'Laura Ashley', middleclass person they
all wanted me to be. I had rebelled, and I found the whole experience very
And I know I'm not alone. According to a new survey,
seven out of ten women have dyed or highlighted their hair all their adult
The psychology of changing your hair to be different
or to feel better is why so many women do it. It has allowed me to be distinctive
and different - to feel sexy and good about myself.
Although I did it to break the rules, some do
it to signal a new start. That is proven time and time again when women
change their hairstyle after breaking up with a partner.
I got a hell of a lot of stick for the way I looked.
Taxis and buses refused to stop for me, and I was constantly on the receiving
end of comments such as: 'I didn't know there were clowns in town.' But
instead of making me feel more fragile, it made me stronger and more determined
to be what I wanted to be.
When my career as a singer took off in the 1980s,
I moved to London and as I was becoming famous, I was lucky enough to get
it done for free. My hair, which had been the bane of my mother's life
when I was younger, was now making me a fashion icon.
Even though I'd been dyeing my hair for more than
ten years, I had no side-effects whatsoever. Yet there was one occasion
when it went wrong.
For some reason I didn't go to my normal hairdresser,
and they let an apprentice loose on my hair. I wanted to have it dyed jet
black with lots of pillar-box red streaks. It was all going well until
she tried to bleach the black strands. Apparently the black dye is even
more aggressive than bleach, so my hair went to powder.
After years of going to the hairdresser trying
outlandish hairdos, I knew it was going to happen but the apprentice ignored
me. In the end they had to cut the whole lot off, which didn't look too
bad, but I never went back there again.
Throughout the 80s I continued to get my hair
dyed bright primary colours every few weeks, but in 1993 I decided enough
Like many women, I found my hair colour was dictated
by my career and my age. Margaret Thatcher famously advised us to go lighter
as we get older. I was turning my hand to TV presenting, and decided to
change peacock vibrancy for blonde elegance.
Blondes may have more fun, but my main reason
for going blonde was professional. The brightness of the colour reflects
off the skin and makes you look younger.
Being blonde has helped me understand why so many
millions of women have done it - I've got more work out of it and had more
fun. Fortunately, no man has treated me like a idiot - they wouldn't dare.
So am I going to keep dyeing my hair? Of course
I am. After all, there's precious little else you can change without going
under the knife.
INTERVIEW: CHARLOTTE DOVEY
28th August 2003