11/18/2013 04:22 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Red Hair, Don't Care

Whether I like it or not, my hair has always been part of my identity. When I had play dates, some girls would try to brush and braid my hair while I futilely rebuffed their advances. During a trip to Las Vegas, my grandma decided that it would be a good idea to put her roll-on curlers into my hair. Hours later, she and my mom struggled to get them out while trying to calm an upset ten-year-old. In middle school, I felt like my hair was my most redeemable quality. Even when I felt insecure about my appearance, I could still fall back on the thought, "Well, at least I have nice hair." Once I got to high school, my hair was a way for someone to easily spot me among my dark-haired friends.

More importantly, it has always been an extension of my mom's identity. During her childhood in Winnipeg, Manitoba, she always had to keep her hair short. As much as I love my mom, she is one of those parents who sometimes live through their children. And she does it through my hair.

In its natural state, my hair is this weird shade of golden brown. It would lighten in the sunlight, but then it would look dark in the winter. That all changed toward the end of sixth grade, when my mom took me to hair salon and I got highlights. My hair could finally be categorized as a simple color: blonde. I thought it looked nice. I was a little bit indifferent about my hair, but my mom loved it and insisted on the color, so I stuck with it.

Once I got to college, I played with the idea of not being blonde. But what color though? I didn't want to drastically darken my hair. Adding streaks of blue and pink would translate as "I like to have fun and I don't care about being professional." However, blonde didn't seem to fit me anymore. When I looked in the mirror, my hair seemed so foreign. It didn't give off the image I wanted to emulate. Although some of the blonde stereotypes factored into my sudden disliking of my hair color, there was a bigger reason: I wanted to be my own person. My mom's influence on my hair was her way of channeling herself in me. Don't get me wrong: I love my mom. But, this is my hair and it is about time that I took control over something in my life.

One day in October, I went to CVS and examined all of the boxes of hair dye. I did some research on my phone and picked out a box of Clairol's Nice 'N Easy in Natural Light Auburn.

That's right. I was going red.

I bought the box and took it back to my dorm. After reading through the instructions, I took one last look at my hair. In retrospect, it was weird that I was making a fuss over my hair. There were more important responsibilities I had such as homework, tests and newspaper articles. I shouldn't be spending so much time worrying over something so superficial. Yet at the same time, it was a big deal. Hair color says a lot about you. It is one of the first features people notice about you. I had to get it right.

Waiting for the dye to process was agonizing. But after thirty minutes, I rinsed out the dye and dried my hair. Then I looked in the mirror. I almost forgot what I looked like as a blonde. Right off the bat, red hair suited me. For once, I felt like I was myself. Even though I liked it, I was a little afraid of what other people would think, but when my friends here at Syracuse and back home saw my hair, the compliments poured in.

It was reassuring, but then it hit me: I had to tell my mom. Family Weekend was a month away, and I thought it would be an interesting surprise to show her then. After talking to my older brother, I realized not telling her ahead of time would be bad. Knowing her, she would have flipped out. I decided to attach the photo in a long email about school and asked her what she thought of it. Then I prayed that she wouldn't murder me.

An hour later, I got a response. At the very end of the email, she said my hair looked nice. Really? Who are you? But during our next phone call, she asked me what possessed me to change my hair. Her tone wasn't condescending, but I knew she wasn't a huge fan of my red hair.

Finally, Family Weekend arrived. My parents had to go to a reception for parents, so I first met up with my older brother. He thought my hair looked nice, but we were unsure of how our mom was going to react in person. When we finally met up with our parents, my mom didn't say anything. Instead, she burst into tears and blabbered about how she hasn't seen me in three months. However, once we got up to my room, my brother said, "Hey Mom, you haven't said anything about Ellen's hair."

She looked at me and shrugged. "Eh," she said. "It's different."

I laughed, but it stung. I wasn't that surprised, but I was hoping she would actually like it. She then added, "I prefer you as a blondie." Then over dinner, she mentioned that my hair was "flat-looking" and that it needed highlights of some sort. She questioned about if I was going to keep the color, but I stayed firm. Considering I spent six dollars on hair dye from a drugstore and I never dyed hair on my own, I did a pretty damn good job.

Next week, I'm coming home for Thanksgiving break. I have a haircut then, and I think my mom thinks I will go back to blonde. That won't be happening. My hair will no longer be fuddled with anyone else's identity. It's mine.