6.1 Alter Ego — Dark Blonde Ash

6.1 Alter Ego — Dark Blonde Ash


My mother has had dirty blonde highlights for as long as I can remember. Since the age of twenty, she has dyed her hair to the perfect light brunette base with long ashy blond streaks. “Not too orange,” she would beg any hair stylist she entrusted with the process. After all, the expensive method of bleaching and toning hair to get the most ash, white-sand on-a-beach, pale blonde hair that can possibly be achievable was something to be handled by only the most experienced hair stylists (along with the Instagram photo credentials, of course.) Her highlights were always bold in how they were presented; her appearance was dramatic at first, they always shone bright fresh from the salon, but then, over the months that passed, they seemed to tone down a bit. Still, they never cease to make a statement.

Right before my junior year of high school, my mother convinced me to get highlights in my hair, just like hers. I was initially hesitant, unsure if they would suit my face, but after months of convincing, I finally let my mother take me to get my base color, Alter Ego 6.1 Dark Blonde Ash. The name is too juxtaposed to even make sense. Blonde hair is associated with some of the lightest, palest hair that can be imagined; the word dark implies that blonde is actually a scale. Like your “light” blues or “dark” purples, “dark blonde” seems to indicate an intense chestnut brown. This brown mimics naturally dark-haired brunettes when they enter the daylight to reveal a shining, sun-kissed tone. The dye was so good at mimicking the natural tints, that Dark Blonde Ash was frequently mistaken as my natural hair color. The saturation of the hair dye, the undertones of reds and oranges that make up the color brown, dare not to be anywhere near potent, and are instead dulled down to the point of ashy. Yet, despite this, the hair still seems to glisten brightly in even the slightest of lights. 

After a few weeks, my mother and I went for the first time to get my highlights done. I researched the bleaching process, which made me even more scared than the first time I dyed my hair. Highlighting hair involves seven phases of bleaching. Levels 1–6 are your blacks and browns, and then to continue, levels 6–10 range from orange-like blonde to completely pale, nearly-white blonde hair. To achieve the perfect ashy highlight look, one must stay within levels 8 to 10. But, the hairstylist must be very careful because if you over-bleach, hair starts to damage and break off in large chunks. It takes a very skilled artist to perfect this craft. My mother emphasized the importance of my highlights looking ashy and not yellow or orange. This is because when you get highlights, the point is to use the color of the hair to add depth and texture to the overall appearance. The streaks are added to guide the viewer’s eye throughout the entire head of hair, and the most natural-looking hair streaks tend to be on the ashier side. This means the hair’s redness or copper undertones blend better with the already ashy base since they are slightly dulled out. Over time, as the hair oxidizes and is exposed to sun and water, the ash of the hair is better suited to blend in more than orange-toned highlights. 

After applying the dye to penetrate the hair follicles in my hair, my new ashy brunette, pale blonde highlighted hair was everything that my mother had hoped for. Before, I had some of the darkest, most black-brown adjacent hair. One of the hidden, most shameful reasons my hair was dyed in the first place is because of a few silver grays that stood out in the sea of all of my black strands. Gray hairs: the sudden loss of pigment in what was once a beautiful, black strand, becoming a thick, snow-white hair that would always stand out. Gray hairs have always been a symbol of aging. A mature, salt-and–peppered look is preferred by some as they age, and it even can be perceived as attractive, thus the term “silver-haired fox.” But, since I was in my teens, this was seen as obscene and evoked shock in those who decided to look. The silver-white hairs symbolized aging, but were also associated with stress and negativity that could pile up in one’s lifetime. People would always point them out, “Oh look–you have a gray hair!” and attempt to pull it out. 

I wondered if my mother dyed her hair for the same reasons. A choice she made in her twenties is still being enacted in her mid-forties; I wonder if she decides it’s best to keep a youthful look by dying her hair. When contemplating my choice to dye my hair, I realize that most of the women in my family have hair that is a different color than their natural shade. For example, my grandmother has had a honey-gold hair color ever since the first gray strand appeared on her scalp. For them, being seen with a gray head of hair means that you’re washed up, old and past your prime. Her golden hair reflects her golden years, despite not even being born a blonde! 

While I looked in the mirror to admire my new, bouncy, youthful-looking hair, the name 6.1 “Alter Ego” suddenly made sense: It made me feel like I had a second self. I was a brand-new person. My mother was with me through the whole eight-hour-long process. She explained that beauty is pain, but that it’s ultimately worth it. When the dyeing was done, I looked in the mirror and admired the skillful artistry of coloring one’s hair. The perfectly pale blonde streaks in my hair, beautifully combined with the base color of dark blonde ash, added perfect depth and complexity to my hair, and my eyes danced around my head; it was beautiful. But beyond that, dyeing my hair was a rite of passage in my family. Afterward, I got many compliments on looking exactly like my mother, and honestly, I was happy about that. I felt more connected to her in a way, and to my grandmother, too. When I was ready to go back to school post-COVID for the first time, my hair and the fact that it was dyed felt like a symbol of maturity and growing older (without looking too old).

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