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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Rakel

Hair Transformations: How frying off my hair changed my relationship with myself

In the 5th grade, my best friend, Gaby, and I stood in the school bathroom. She yanked at my hair while balancing a hair tie around her slim fingers, at the ready to quickly tie the hair together before losing the various ends. It would be the first time I would manage to get my hair into a pony tail. After a small struggle on Gaby’s part, finally a measly tail formed in the back. I felt triumphant. Up until the 5th grade, my mum had cut my hair into a bob, and I was ready to have long locks like the rest of my friends. After experiencing a ponytail, there was no going back. I continued to let my hair grow and kept it long. Every hairdresser I went to, received strict instructions to only chop off the bare minimum.

With my best friend Gaby who helped me with the ponytail...and before I started colouring my hair

There is no denying the power of hair. From fashion magazines writing articles on hairstyles and featuring the most enviable locks, to my family and friends taking extreme care of their mop; it’s intricately linked to many people’s identity. We’re obsessed with hair and I understand; after all, it’s one of the first features someone will notice on you. But after that feature has been noticed, how much of a say does it really have?

Aside from growing my hair long, I never really went out on a limb and did anything wild. My mother has gorgeous naturally blonde hair. Hairdressers often ask her if she’s dyed it. She has Jennifer Aniston’s hair; the type of sun kissed hue plenty of women pay good money to achieve. She’s annoyingly naturally beautiful. One day I said to my mum “I’ll never dye my hair” thinking she would be proud of my au natural future. She looked at me and mused “you will. You have your father’s colours, so you’ll get grey hair early”. My father’s family has nearly black hair, and while my hair wasn’t blonde like my mum’s it wasn’t black like my father’s; I had gotten a nice paté colour. But with that comment, a seed was planted in my head.

With my mum. While living in NY I opted for ombre copper hues.

In 2012, after some particularly challenging years, I went to the salon and asked them to give me a darker shade. It may sound strange, but I just didn’t feel my mousy natural hair colour reflected who I was. I’ve been a people pleaser all my life; dyeing my hair dark was the first thing I did in my life that was truly just for my own happiness. I took no regard of what other people would think of the result. The dark suited me, and I kept it for years to come, slowly forgetting what my natural locks look like.

In 2015, Olaplex was blowing up my Instagram, and I became fascinated with Guy Tang’s transformational YouTube videos. Women with dark hair like mine, were leaving his salon looking like Khaleesi. The salon that took me dark, got a sample of Olaplex and I begged them to transform me. And hence, my journey of frying my hair off started. When it comes to changing my appearance in some way (dyeing my hair, haircuts, extensions, tattoos, piercings) I get impatient. Once I want it, I want it ASAP. Going blonde took nine hours and I went back a few days later to bleach the hair again.

Nine hours later blonde life began

At first, the damage wasn’t too bad, but with every wash, my hair slowly but surely started breaking off. My hair had no movement whatsoever. I remember brushing my hair out and looking at the uneven levels in shock. The same impatience hit me, and the next day I was at a salon getting the length corrected. A good 10cm was taken off. The long lush locks I had spent years achieving, were fast disappearing.

During my blonde phase I moved to Denmark, and there I found a salon that I still go to. They managed to get the last yellow tones out of my blonde mess, and give me the ice colour I had been craving.

However, while the pictures don’t really show the damage, I cringed every time I touched my hair. Where it had once been soft and easy to brush through with my fingers, it was now brittle and dry beyond repair. I tried countless serums, conditioners and masks, even a keratin treatment; nothing replenished my haystack. I lost a lot of confidence and hated that I had ever even entertained the idea. Why, I thought, didn’t I at least just do a Khloe Kardashian and transform slowly? I decided to grow my hair out, so when my roots started to show, I went a dirty blonde, showing the salon images of my former natural colour. It was hard to find a match, and I really didn’t like the new hue. Now I had brittle hair and a colour I didn’t like.

Shortly after this new colour, I went on a trip to London, where I bought some clip-on extensions. I instantly loved how I felt; the synthetic long locks compensated for my now short, dry tragedy. Once back in Copenhagen, I talked to my salon about extensions. They told me about tape in extensions. I’d once sat for 5.5 hours at a salon in New York getting glue on extensions for a hefty price tag, only for them to start falling off within hours. I didn’t want to be in the same position again. Tape on extensions became my godsend. They allowed me to hide my frazzled ends and stop worrying about my hair so much, without damaging my own hair. At times an extension would slip off, but that was due to my excessive use of conditioners. I lived a 5-minute walk from the salon so I would just pop over whenever one of my locks made an escape. The extensions were merely another addition to my already very high maintenance hair. Hours of my life went into styling so it didn’t look like a mouse lived there.

Tape in extensions gave me back some much needed confidence

As my roots continued to grow, I went dark again. I didn't connect with the blonde hue and felt an impatient need to go dark. This also helped hide my frazzled hair. The brittle dry ends drove me crazy. The bleach had completely destroyed the hair’s texture. It was spaghetti like and weak when wet, and it was a crinkly parched mess when dry. It was all I could focus on when I looked in the mirror and I decided that once I had enough healthy unbleached hair, I’d chop off all the dry ends. The day I went to the salon to remove my extensions and chop off the remains of my short lived blonde life, I had no qualms about going short. “Take off everything dead” I said. Since that day in the 5th grade, my self-worth and beauty had been heavily linked to my hair. At 24, I was now about to go way shorter than the cute bob my mum had always requested for me, and my femininity and beauty was about to stop being dependant on my hair length.

Left: minutes after chopping off all the hair

I felt amazing after chopping off my hair. Practically all the brittleness was eliminated, and for the first time in over a year I was able to run my fingers through my hair and feel smooth soft locks. It was glorious.

During my short hair period, I went through a lot of changes; not because of my hair but because of my circumstances. Having the confidence to go so short, was a true indication of how ready I was for change. My locks had for so long been what I identified as feminine and beautiful, having really short hair meant redefining femininity for myself. I paid more attention to my clothes and makeup as a result but also more to my well-being. During my blonde phase, I got bored easily of my hair; often changing the shades etc. It was no different when I went short, but I didn’t dare bleach again. I experimented with dark shades going from chocolate to plum. Eventually I added the extensions again and went a step further getting extensions that were purple. My salon ordered blonde tape in extensions, and spent hours dyeing the tops dark like my own hair colour, then slowly fading them into an ombré pink-purple. A month after getting them in, I took them out as I went on an Ayurvedic retreat in India (many of the treatments involved dousing the hair in oil and the extensions would just have been flying off left, right and centre). Since then I haven’t had extensions.

Purple extensions and the India trip with my sister and mum

My hair is now just past shoulder length. I’ve done a bleach bath to strip my hair of the dark red and purple hues last summer, but the sun made me go orange. Hence, I’ve gone dark again, but I’ve made sure to go a dark brown that doesn’t involve having to go back to the salon to dye my roots. I haven’t dyed my hair in 3 months and I can’t even tell where my roots start and end.

Current situation

My hair still has odd lengths due to all the breakage that happened during the bleached phase, but it’s growing fast.When people tell me they want to chop off a big chunk of their hair, I tell them to do it. I don’t tell them to do it because I think it will suit them, but because hair grows back, and it’s important you don’t link your identity to one part of yourself. You are so much more than your appearance. Of course, how you look can tell a lot about you, but going out of your comfort zone is healthy. My confidence definitely took a toll when my hair started falling out, and I'm acutely aware of how important hair is for the confidence of many. At the time I went blonde, I also gained a lot of weight, so I really had to dig deep and find my confidence from other places than my appearance. So to answer my own question, how much say does your hair have? I think my changing appearance reflects my adventurous side and that I'm willing to take risks. But whether I'm blonde, purple or dark brown, the fabric of my DNA is still the same, and it will take a bit more than hair colour to change that.

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