The awakening came in the form of a text. A quick, absent-minded text sent from my mom’s Subaru as we drove back from my grandparents’ and catalyzed by the boredom only six hours of my sister’s Dave Matthews Band CD could produce. The words fluttered from my fingers before I could question them.
“So, like ... what if I dyed my hair blue?”
I’ve flirted with the idea of hair dye for a while. Like most — okay, some — people, I endured a middle school counterculture phase that caused me to paste a “Make Love, Not War” bumper sticker above my desk and read too much Allen Ginsberg. I wanted a physical manifestation of my newfound rage against the machine. Blue hair would signify that I was different, a separate class from my brunette past. Of course, my thirteen-year-old angst didn’t factor my indecision into account; for someone who holds up the line at Starbucks weighing the merits of coffee versus tea, changing my hair seemed like a life-altering decision.
I know that this is stupid. Perched behind my laptop in the Law Library basement, I can laugh at myself. But this week when I stood in front of my mirror, attacking my face with a makeup brush in preparation for rush and new classes, I glanced at my reflection and wondered the kind of first impression my appearance made. I’m a pretty ordinary-looking person on the surface: long hair, brown eyes and pale, like so many other girls waiting in the cold outside sorority houses. I don’t stand out on Locust Walk — and with my dark peacoat and Longchamp bag, I certainly don’t stand out from my Rho Gamma group. I wish I had a more superficial distinctive quality.
Hair dye isn’t my only attempt to differentiate myself. Since my middle school days, I’ve flirted with different fads. I went vegan for a week before hamburgers and ice cream proved too seductive. For a semester in high school, I stayed away from jeans and wore only skirts and dresses. I had a hipster period. During my first months at Penn, I’ve tried to be everything from “The Girl Who Shakes People’s Hands When She Meets Them” to “The Girl Who Always Smells Like Strawberries.” Sometimes, these fads stick — as my roommate can attest from the pile of strawberry perfume on our bookcase — but more often, I just trade them into new ones. When the Common App asked me to concisely express my personality, I had a stockpile of taglines I’d amassed over the years to define myself. But self-identity gets a lot messier when it’s not crammed into a word count.
As I bounce back and forth between different rush events, I’m frustrated that I can’t summarize myself. I can’t articulate some spiffy conclusion from the various odds-and-ends that make up who I am. I’m comprised of insignificant details — the fact that I have E.E. Cummings taped above my bed or hate bananas or subsist on black coffee — that add up to something I can’t convey with my choice of shoes or the color of my peacoat. What I can control is whether I look like an interesting person, whether the five-minute chat I have with a sorority sister indicates I’m worth getting to know. As trivial as it sounds, blue hair offers a pretty compelling way to stand out.
By the end of the car ride though, I had decided to leave my hair in peace. For one thing, hair dye can be expensive; for another, I’m happy with my hair as is. I’ll burn it with my straightener, I’ll tease it into 12 different styles while I prepare for Open House and Pref Night and the seemingly endless slew of other rush activities, but ultimately, all my hair will do is flounce over my collar while I shake some sister’s hand and introduce myself. It won’t guarantee that I’m memorable. For that, I’ll have to rely on what’s inside my head.
DANI BLUM is a College freshman from Ridgefield, Conn. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Danalyst” appears every Thursday.
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