I started dyeing young.
At 17, my coloring compulsion began. I bagged my virgin brown and went red. Bright red.
Little did I know, as I sat in the colorist's chair for the first time, that I would emerge a hair-dye junkie.
Part of the obsession was, and still is, rooted in exhibitionism: the power to turn other heads with my own. From red to purple, to orange to magenta, to the blondest of blonds and everything in between.
But after so long, my shock ceased to be shocking.
I could play a screen saver on my hair and no one would notice.
I had to do something cutting-edge.
Blue? Leopard print? Plaid?
Brenda Messina, who's returned to deep brown after years of other hues, can relate.
"It feels like putting on an old dress that still fits," says the 42-year-old physician's assistant who lives in Catonsville. Her hair escapades included plum and tie-dye, but now she's close to her original brunet. "It's nice being me again."
Practical concerns often come into play. "Women get tired of the cost, the time, the whole cycle one goes through," says Melissa Bedolis, editor of Salon News. "Since we've all been coloring our hair so long, there's this backlash."
And, of course, going gray is a major reason for coloring hair as well, but that's an entirely different story.
For women going back to natural after years of running from their roots, there may just be a question of curiosity.
"What is my natural hair color?" Michelle Robin, a colorist at Art and Science in Evanston, Ill., asked herself when she returned to her natural dark blond 10 years ago, after having dyed it for nearly six years.
She stayed natural for six weeks before going back to blond out of boredom.
And while it's not quite a trend, notice some celebrities opting for the authentic. Madonna has traded blond ambition for brunet recognition, the once-platinum Mira Sorvino has adopted a chocolate tone, and Mary Bono has opted for a darker 'do as well.
Particularly for younger women who have grown up in a world where streaks, highlights, chunks and all-over color are commonplace, going au naturel has a certain boldness.
"Someone in their 20s who doesn't color their hair stands out," says Bedolis.
Yet even if going natural unravels the mystery of your true pigment -- and may be ironically rebellious -- most women would rather not.
"They don't want their natural color at all, ever," says April Collier, a senior colorist at Frederic Fekkai in New York City. "Your natural color, let's face it, it's not a nice color."
Sometimes it is, but Collier is not in the business of encouraging women to let their follicles run free.
Virtual hair reality is the best choice for many women, because staying within two shades of your natural hue best complements your coloring, according to Xenja Schneider, head of the color department at Vidal Sassoon in Tysons Corner.
You get the benefit of a near eyebrow match without the matte dullness of natural hair.
That is, unless you're the victim of a genetic hair trick.
"Nature made a mistake with my hair color," says Chopin Gorazdowska, 32, who works in public relations in New York.
She has been dyeing her naturally brunet hair blond for the past two and a half years, and the lighter shade has delighted her.
However, she recently acted on a whim to go from Betty to her native Veronica to impress her boyfriend, who always had a thing for brunets.
Other brunets, apparently.
"My boyfriend absolutely hated it," she says. "He would not speak to me, he would not look at me."
Her mother openly despised her innate tint as well, and Gorazdowska returned to her colorist, Frederic Fekkai's Collier, in tears, to reclaim her blond. And she warily concedes the decision was not entirely hers.
Gorazdowska's experience may have been traumatic, but other women welcome back their intended shade.
"It was a nice change. At first it was a little disturbing because it looked so dark. Now I would never go lighter again. I'm real happy with it," says Debra Parsons, 43, who lives in Springfield, Va.
She went from dyed dark blond back to a more natural reddish brown after two years. "I don't need the outlandish purples, the outlandish reds, the things the teen-agers do."
Still, some find more comfort in a chameleon identity.
"We start to perceive ourselves as the color we choose to be," Robin says. "Not the one we're born with."
So, naturally, going back or somewhere thereabouts, is a major decision with potential disastrous consequences. When Collier gets the request, a warning light flashes in her mind.
"Usually I tell them to go put a wig on," she says. "I tell them to come back in a couple weeks."
What did my hair look like after being suppressed for so long?
Dingy? Darker? Angry?
Well, mostly it looked ... brown.
I kept it for 3 months and then returned for another hair fix.
It's still brown, but better.
Authenticity is highly overrated.
Pub Date: 02/28/99