"So...am I allowed to ask about the hair?"
(Me glamming it up with one of my goddaughters after she and her sister coiffed my hair.)
This particularly spectacular 'do aside, what that question really means, of course, is "Why on earth did you dye your hair that color/ combination of colors?" And there's a very simple answer:
That's it. It's not a statement (well, ok--except for that one time it was a statement). It's not rebelling against anything. It's not a desperate attempt to recapture my youth (which I spent quite happily as a natural 90's earth child, thank-you-very-much). It's just...fun. Of all the ways you can change your appearance dramatically without altering it permanently, playing with your hair is #1.
It's also a great creative outlet, especially when most the other elements in your life are stable. Before I got tenure, I played with different shades of brown/red/blonde ... but now that I have tenure and have been at the same school for 13 years, have lived in the same house for the last 12 years, and have driven the same car for the last 11 years, the sky's the limit when it comes to hair color.
Things really got interesting when I spent my first sabbatical in Boulder. Out of the classroom for a year, I first experimented with dark purple:
...which faded into this super-funky iridescent combo. I'd let that go for a while, and then re-dye with the dark purple.
And then came the fateful night when two friends and I got together for a hair-dying party, one brought along some leftover purple dye, and my hair turned out like this:
The dark purple had been subtle enough that I didn't get many comments on it, much less significant side-eye. But this was kind of hard to miss. One of my friends told me I looked like an Oompa-Loompa; an airline security officer asked me very seriously whether it was a wig. My son loved it, however, on the grounds that it was extremely easy to find me in crowds.
Eventually, though, I got tired of having to talk about The Hair every time I left the house, and it spent the next year being various shades of dark purple and dark brown.
My great-aunt had white hair by the time she was in her 40's, and I apparently inherited that gene: I had a white streak in college already, and by the time I hit 30, I was well over 50% white. This has led to my ultimate hair goal, which is to cosplay as Storm at my 50th birthday party.
(Note: I may need to have several 50th birthday parties. Some of them may occur significantly before or after I actually turn 50.)
In any event, as I wait for eventual Storm-ification, I have kept myself entertained in a variety of ways. There was the year of my PFLAG bangs, for example. This was the one time my hair has 'meant' something: solidarity and support for LBGT+ students at my own school and beyond.
I've spent time since then letting my hair grow in white, and playing with different colors in the front. (I am not sad in this photo because of my hair. I am sad because I hate grocery shopping, and I was with people who take grocery shopping very seriously.)
Finally, last 'spring' (or what we locals like to refer to as The Winter That Would Not End), when it was late March and there was still snow on the ground and no leaves on the trees, I decided there needed to be some happy color in the world. So I added pink streaks to the dark red and white:
(Me asking a question at a philosophy conference this past summer. You can tell it's a really good question because of how I'm holding my hands. You know what's between those hands? THE TRUTH.)
The current 'do constitutes a new era for my hair, insofar as I'd wanted pink hair for ages but had hesitated to do it because it seemed both too "girly" and "mainstream". I mean, seriously. I drive a manual diesel VW. I use a MacAir. I want to yell at all the kids doing hot yoga to get off my namaste lawn. I went to grad school in Ithaca, NY in the late 90's. Dying my hair PINK seemed like bowing to the dominant, corporate, princess-flavored patriarchy.
But then I had a reality check where I realized that I am a 40 year-old, single parent, philosophy and gender studies professor. Ain't nothing dominant, corporate, princess-flavored patriarchy about THAT.
So, pink I went. And pink I (so far) stay. My favorite thing about The Hair right now is when small children see me and their eyes get all big and they whisper really intently to their parent(s) ... and then their parent(s) say, "No, sweetie. You can't."
This is me, waiting -- and hoping -- for the day when one of those parents says, "YES! That would be fun. Let's go do it."