A few weeks ago, I went to the salon and came out pink. I was thinking of something subtle and Helen Mirren-ish, but the only yarn they’d had for my Pussy Hat was a baby pink, and I didn’t really feel that suited me. So I went full-on, Barbie-Doll-Dream-House, tempered — artfully, by my hairdresser, Andrea — by some chunks of my natural gray.
Bold, you might say.
Or maybe cowardly. I went pink, not — as one friend guessed — for breast cancer. Or — her second guess — as a kind of permanent Pussy Hat statement against Trump. I went pink for two reasons. First, for the fun of it. And second, because I believed, with my silver — er, gray — hair, that I had become invisible.
I’ve been waging a war against invisibility since the beginning of chemo last year, when I got the huge glasses. I feared my eyelashes and eyebrows would fall out, and I wasn’t going to go quietly into that good night. Turns out, they didn’t fall out until chemo was over, and a prescription for Latisse resolved that pretty quick.
But I liked the big glasses even better with my fuzzy little post-chemo halo than I had with my wig. So I kept the glasses, balancing them out with enormous black plastic loop earrings.
Then, the post-chemo fuzz came in gray — er, silver. And, despite the glasses, despite the earrings, I just felt invisible.
It’s a well-known thing that people — men included — can feel invisible when they get to a certain age. So it’s not personal to me. One can even argue, as the podcasters behind Harry Potter and the Sacred Text did brilliantly in one episode, that invisibility (as symbolized by Harry’s invisibility cloak), is a symbol of white privilege.
Invisibility is not, however, a privilege that appeals to me. Maybe it’s being a first child, and having the stage stolen by my younger brother when I was two and a half. It’s my own personal take on Descartes. If I’m not seen, I’m not sure I really do exist.
So, like a bird watcher intent on finding exotic specimens in the wild, I’ve been on constant lookout for people with brightly-colored hair. I’ve found them in Hudson, NY, in Manhattan, in Montclair, NJ. Sometimes I asked politely if I could take their picture. Sometimes I asked if they dyed it themselves. A woman after a show the other night shared her pro tips. They all seemed cool.
And they were all, by the way, young. Despite Helen Mirren and what you see on the internet.
So it wasn’t really surprising when, after I posted a picture of myself with my pink hair and a new gray beret on Instagram, a friend wrote:
“Hope I’m as hip as you in 20 years. ;-)”
Meant kindly, I know. But it made me feel like a little old lady who’d just been described as “feisty.”
Which brings me right back almost to where I started. Little old lady. I’m the little old lady who my friend wants to be in 20 years, but I’m still the little old lady. Why does that make me cringe? Because, clearly, I’m an ageist myself! I can twist myself into a pretzel when I get existential about my hair. And my age. And my aged hair. (Calling Ashton Applewhite.)
Mainly, though, I like it, although sometimes I feel a bit of a shock when I pass a mirror. And it’s become an interesting litmus test. One of my doctors, in a masterly display of medical professionalism, ignored it completely the other day, not even cracking a smile. But the server at a restaurant last night just couldn’t stop goggling at me with wide-eyed admiration. A litmus test of what, I don’t know.
And it has occurred to me — especially when I’m in a car, subject to the whims of cops — that I have given up my invisibility cloak. Driving while pink. Not the hairstyle with which to break the law.
My husband has also found it helpful when arriving ahead of me at a restaurant.
The other night, meeting him at a ramen place, the host knew immediately that I was meeting a party, and exactly where he was seated. It was like a cheap parlor trick how quickly they matched us up. My husband smiled triumphantly and said he’d told he server, “Be on the lookout for the girl with hot pink hair.”
Later he confessed that those weren’t his exact words.
His exact words turned out to be: Be on the look-out for a 60-year-old woman with hot pink hair, and send her up to me.
This story originally appeared on Midcentury Modern, a collection of essays for and by the generation that ducked and covered.