Red, Blue, Purple and Persnickety

For the first time ever my children and I were confronted about our ‘otherness.’

We are not people of color, we are not minorities in any sense, unless you count being Democrats in a Republican town. We don’t encounter issues with police, or neighbors or well, anyone really. We are lucky to be able to live our lives in relative peace with the world.


Except when some people get a glimpse of my tattoos. Or, as is the case this month, I have purple hair (I’ve been dying my hair purple every May for Lupus awareness month…I was a bit late this month, but I made it for the last few weeks of May and now into June) my son has a red streak in his hair, and my daughter’s hair is a nice turquoise. Standing together if you glanced over at us you might see nothing but a rainbow of hair color and the Mom’s wrist tattoo.

I never really think twice about these things. It is just not a big deal. My daughter and I have been dying our hair since the first Lupus awareness month we celebrated back in 2011 or so. This year, my son decided he wanted to dye his hair too…but he wanted red. This lead my daughter to think about blue and well…it didn’t make much difference to my husband and I. It’s just hair. They can do whatever they like.

Yes, they are 9 and 11. For some people. children shouldn’t be making their own decisions about their hair. Especially dying their hair. However we don’t subscribe to this sort of parenting. If they can decide what to wear and how they express themselves through their clothing (so long as it’s weather and age appropriate) we don’t really mind. My daughter spent a few weeks big on fingerless gloves and knee high socks. Cool by us. My son could care less what he wears so long as it’s comfy and he doesn’t have to think about it much. He is, however, very particular about his hair. He likes it long. Also cool by us.

So when we left the grocery store the other day and we were getting ready to load bags into the car I really wasn’t thinking about much of anything, certainly not our hair.

An elderly woman walked towards us saying ‘wow. WOW. wow. WOW. wow. WOW!’ and varying degrees from a whisper to loud to average speaking tone. Looking at us and now openly tsking, she began to shake her head as she uttered her ‘wows’ … and walked past us to get a cart.

The wows and tsks now louder, I finally turned around to confront her, as I could fee her still staring at us as she begged for my attention.

‘You know you are RUINING those children by allowing that ridiculous hair. You are RUINING them! And you doing it too…you encourage this? This.. this… ridiculousness? You are RUINING them!’

I took a breath and looked at the kids who both had their jaws hanging open. My brother has just pulled up with the car and could see something was going on between the woman and I but wasn’t sure what to make of it…

‘We enjoy expressing our individuality…I hope you have a really nice day!’ is all I could get out with a huge smile on my face.

The kids, now realizing what happened had varied reactions but mostly were in shock.

My daughter, with a confused look said ‘Wait…WHAT?’

My son, repeated the woman but in a totally different tone of questioning and confusion, ‘WOW…really?’

We got in the car and on the way home I told them that some people may think we look strange with our hair different colors. And some people probably don’t like my tattoos much either. But do we care what other people think of how we look? Nope. And how much do we love our hair? A LOT…we’re having fun!

They agreed and we laughed and I felt sad for the angry, elderly woman…who clearly was so upset by our hair she absolutely had to confront me. It was shocking to her. This made me sad. Not for us, but for her. To be so angry at people who are different. To be so upset by things that are weird or not the norm.

I wanted to go find her again and give her a hug. Although I’m guessing she doesn’t want one from me. At least not until the purple fades from my hair…



  1. Sounds familiar. I used to get a lot of flak for my hair and my taste in clothing. (Black fishnets over turquoise tights was my favorite Friday celebration.) Mind you, I was an honor student. I eventually started answering with something like “I could help you dye your hair” or “if you need a personal shopper, we can hit up Goodwill together sometime.” Occasionally if I was with my mom and someone confronted us, I’d ask them if they needed her to give them a refresher on good manners.

    12 years later (I’m getting OLD!), it’s much less frowned upon to have crazy hair. And luckily for me, most people LOVE my tattoo. (She’s a watercolor painting of one of my favorite graphic novel characters and pretty darn cutesy.)

    Your kids were clearly shocked by that woman’s poor manners and that’s to be expected. She was RUDE and they have good manners; it’s truly a shock to see an ‘adult’ behaving like a mean kid on the playground. But your kids rock (and you can tell them I said so).

    Truthfully, I’m jealous of your son’s hair. He and my brother have such gorgeous locks and mine are all blehhhhhhhh.

  2. Lucretia says:


    The thing that drives me the most nuts was not the people who confront me face-to-face whenever we let the kidlet dye her hair (it was pink all over at 7, has had purple, pink, and turquoise stripes at other ages) it’s the parents who rather than tell their children “No – because I’m your mother/father. There are things you get to do that she doesn’t and vice-versa, that’s how reality works” went and put pressure on school administrators instead.

    You know what? “Ruining” your children would be to bring them up so that they behaved like that woman in the parking lot. Someone, somewhere, mislead her to believe that her opinion was important and her unsolicited parenting advice was valuable.

    You kind of have to pity her. She probably went home and took off her culturally acceptable makeup (no one’s eye lids are those colors naturally) and changed the earrings in her culturally acceptable *pierced* ears (permanent body modification) and didn’t realize the hypocrisy of judging someone else’s self-expression through hair dye.

  3. laurie percival says:

    Erin, thank you for sharing this. I was honestly a bit shocked when I saw you tweet about the encounter. I thought we had moved well beyond this as a society. I personally battled this issue many many times, having had every color of hair and facial piercings in my youth. I know that a day will come when my daughter will ask for her hair to be dyed and I am perfectly comfortable with that. I encourage her to express her individuality every day, even when it means she leaves the house with not one piece of clothing matching and five ribbons in her hair. As long as she is happy and confident in her choices, I don’t care what other people think about it.

    Lucretia, you really put it perfectly. People are fine with things like ear piercing and makeup because they have become the norm and are therefore acceptable. Maybe someday we will be able to accept people as they are without judgement based on their looks but on their behavior and how they treat others.

  4. I think that is sort of the kicker in all of this…had the woman spent two seconds talking to my children she would have found them to be polite and well mannered and absolutely wonderful. I have a feeling this would have shocked her further.

    Honestly as we stood there I had forgotten we even HAD dyed our hair and it took me a minute to realize what she might even be reacting to, and when I realized it I KNEW my kids would be very confused.

    I’m thankful though, in a way, because it gave me the opportunity to remind them to be themselves no matter what. No one should tell them what they like or how they should dress or how they should wear their hair. They make these decisions based on their thoughts and feelings, not society’s.

  5. Too bad for her. Hooray for you-all.
    Makes me want to dye my hair some unnatural color. 😛

  6. It doesn’t shock me at all that she said something to you. People have unbelievable gall. I have short hair and strangers ask both me and my husband if he has a problem with it and doesn’t he want me to grow it long? Seriously? This is their big concern? Whether some woman they don’t know is pleasing her husband with her hair length?

    I had punk hair in my youth, very long, but very short on top with bleach blonde tips. And I wore a long snake earring in one ear. Didn’t bother my mom a bit. I thought it was awesome.

    It’s just hair. Not sure why people fret about it.

  7. Unfortunately, things like that happen all the time here (in Oklahoma). The kids are not allowed in school with “unnatural” hair color. As in, your kids would be sent home from school and not allowed back until they had brown/blonde/”natural” red hair. It’s so stupid. I don’t understand how a child’s hair color could possibly interfere with learning, but that’s the excuse they give — it would be a distraction to other kids.

    I love the way you handled this, from your response to the woman to the talk afterwards with your kids. I just wish people around here would get a clue.

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