This world hasn’t quite evolved beyond the reality of prejudice against something as irrelevant as skin tone. However, I was surprised to encounter the same stunted thinking regarding hair color. This is not the 1950s, so who hasn’t seen someone out in public with hair tinted one or more colors of the rainbow? Creative hair color seems widely accepted by Americans, or so I’d thought.
Cancer patients, before and after losing hair to chemo, are well known for daring a new style. It’s not surprising. When my frizzly, chemo wrecked hair finally began to grow back, mom and I thought it would be fun to bring some colorful cheer into an otherwise difficult state of being. It was just six days after surgery; I'd endured the serious business of a mastectomy with a painful lymph node dissection.
Having a good laugh, mom and I tinted the dull, grey frizz on my head a color called ‘mermaid blue.’ The comedic relief was enhanced by the fact that I ended up looking more smurf-like than the romantic image of a mermaid my imagination had insisted upon. Nevertheless, the color made me happy and looked, well, like pure fun. When I arrived to the clinic for a weekly light duty chemo infusion (Herceptin), the nurses and fellow patients were delighted. My smurf hair generated smiles and laughter, something rare but needed in a chemo clinic. The grandmotherly lady seated near me had purple streaks in her hair. Giggling, we shared amusing bald stories and hair style tips. I was thrilled to feel a bit stylish in spite of my wrecked body and the long, sore baseball-stitch scar where one of my breasts used to be.
Then, a few days later on a Sunday, Mother’s day, I drove to my mom’s place. We were celebrating the day and the fact I was feeling better enough to go out on the boat. Before hitting the water, my boss texted, insisting I call her ASAP. Scheduled to work the next day, I called. My boss had wanted to inform me that my hair was “unprofessional” and I should keep it covered at work.
What’s puzzling is the fact that my boss never saw my blue hair and I hadn’t been to work yet because of recovering from surgery. I did drop something off at the store a day or so ago and somebody must have seen and told my boss. It’s the only explanation. Being lectured about my hairstyle made me feel as if I’d done something terribly wrong, like a child being chastised by an adult. I didn’t know whether to be outraged or astounded, so I felt both.
Upon being hired, I wasn’t informed of a dress code regarding one’s hair tint or style. Just two months ago I HAD NO HAIR AT ALL! I worked in a small, tourist driven gift and tackle shop on the edge of the Everglades. It’s not IBM or a fancy law firm, yet my self-expression had been deemed unacceptable. I’d been ordered to stuff it and conform.
Ah, conformity and the fear of anything different. That didn’t just ruin the day, it damaged my entire outlook on where I was living and working. Tinted hair is THAT big of a deal? Really? I respect rules and dress codes but something about this irked me to no end. It wasn’t personal and my boss was more concerned about my hair's impression on our customers, that blue hair color would somehow be offensive to them. (She is a good person and had no intention of crushing my feelings)
I’m certain the area’s clientele is well-traveled and more open minded than what my boss seems to believe. Of course, there will always be fearful types who are intimidated by anything that falls outside their perceived norm. Their concept of “normal” isn’t my concept of “normal.” Having their ideas (the belief that blue hair is bad) overriding mine just because they possess the material advantage, is appalling.
I can imagine a tourist family from Germany or Toronto, or where ever, going home after visiting my area and complaining about how their vacation was ruined because a lady with smurfy blue hair rung up their fishing tackle.
Just imagine if I showed them my scar.