It’s your classic twenty-first century romance: Girl meets boy and falls in love. Girl “accidentally” stumbles upon some incriminating text messages on boy’s phone and dumps him. Girl decides to drastically change her hair.
The “girl” in question here is, obviously, me. The year was 2015, I was reeling hard from the breakup, and decided to channel my ultimate celebrity #girlcrush—one Jennifer Lopez—to try and make myself feel better. She is a strong, independent woman, and I figured that emulating her would be the best way for me to feel that way, too. As a result, I listened to “I’m Gonna Be Alright,” on repeat and dyed my hair blonde.
Until that summer, I’d been using the same reference photo for my cut and color since I was 18 (this one of Minka Kelly, ICYWW). I’d always had long, dark hair with the subtlest golden brown highlights a person could possibly get and still refer to their hair as “highlights.” Something about having my heart broken that particular time (it was not the first, and certainly not the last) made me want to do something completely different. Every person in my life told me that it probably wasn’t the best idea. I have black, Oscar the Grouch-style eyebrows that, as I now know, don’t exactly pair well with lighter strands. Yet, I ignored them and booked an appointment at my mom’s salon in an all-but-abandoned strip mall. In retrospect, I probably should have known not to trust a place with a half-functioning neon sign for a new look, but 24-year-old me wasn’t as savvy at context clues.
I showed them a photo of my idol’s flawless blonde strands and settled in to commence my transformation into golden-haired goddess, J. Lo. Two hours and what must have been an entire bottle of peroxide later, I got the big reveal of myself in the mirror, and immediately started laughing. Instead of looking like 2015 J. Lo with gorgeous blonde hair, I’d been tiger striped. To make matters worse, when I got home my mom started crying at the sight of me, which wasn’t exactly great for my post-breakup self esteem.
What followed was a long, multi-salon journey in attempt to undo the damage. I went back the next day to the same place to ask them to fix the botched job, but second attempt only made things worse. Two days later I went to another place, where they gave me some low lights which still didn’t help. Stylist number three, at yet another salon, dyed my whole head back to brown. While the color looked slightly better, as you can probably imagine, after four dye jobs in a week the texture was shot. My usually curly hair laid limp, dry and straw-like, and STILL wasn’t the right shade. It was a disaster.
The journey back to “normal” was a long one. It took 18 months of zero processing and some significant chopping for my hair to look like itself again, and it wasn’t until I cut some serious length off of it that the texture fully returned to its curly glory. At no point in this journey, it’s worth noting, did I look or feel at all like J. Lo, but thankfully since then I’ve learned that it’s much easier (and less permanent) to do that by way of pole dancing instead of highlights.
My hair horror story sucked at the time (and for a year and a half after the fact), but it did teach me some valuable lessons. First things first, when it comes to a major change, you should always work with a stylist you trust. Beyond that, though, it’s important to be crystal clear about what you want—as my experience proves, showing a reference photo isn’t always a fool-proof method. Be sure to tell your stylist what, exactly, you actually like about the photo, whether that’s the color or the highlight pattern or some combination of the two, so they know beyond a shadow of a doubt what you’re trying to emulate. And now for the (sort of grainy) proof:
Beauty horrors happen to the best of us—like the time Beauty Editor Rachel Lapidos accidentally over-peeled her whole face. And if you just dyed your hair (…. I hope your experience went better than mine), a hairstylist wants you to remember this one important thing.
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