I stopped dyeing my hair in the pandemic and felt closer to my mother

  • After dyeing my blonde hair for 20 years, I stopped coloring it during the pandemic.
  • My natural color bore a striking resemblance to that of my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
  • It helped me feel closer to them, and it strengthened our shared resilience.
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A year ago, I was in the bathroom studying my hair. The bleach-blond ends have given way to the dark roots that grew during the block. I had always hated my roots. Yet, as I watched myself in the morning light, my disapproval turned to curiosity: What if I raised the climaxes completely? I had no idea what it looked like, and I had the urge to find out.

I had highlighted my hair since high school, when my blonde was darkened in a shadow that didn’t jive with what I was expecting to see when she looked at me in the mirror. In addition to familiarity, to be the blonde also carried cultural weight. From a young age I absorbed tropes like “blonde bomb” and “blondes have more fun”, unconsciously embracing the idea that blonde is better. In my twenties, when a friend tried to dissuade me from culminating points – “They put chemicals. in the head! ”she exclaimed – I contrasted my natural hair resembling dirty flat water or the southwestern sky during a dust devil.

And so have the last 20 years gone. Then came COVID-19. At first, I avoided the salon out of caution. But then I let my makeup and towels collect the dust and I like to take them off.

calls in yoga pants, an implicit rejection of all the things I’ve done to make the public version of myself. I was wondering: Do I feel more or less like myself if I embrace my natural hair color? And what color was it, though?


My roots darkened and I highlighted my blonde hair amidst a pandemic.

Megan Feldman Bettencourt

During a tuft in case of beads, I put on two masks and I had a stylist darken the blonde half of my hair to match my natural color, which turned out to be light brown with cinnamon highlights. When the stylist gave me the mirror, the green-eyed brunette who looked at me in her glass made me think of my mom when she was my age, before she turned gray. The look took my breath away.

I derived comfort from this common, inherited hair color

I missed my mother terribly. My son was five and my daughter one when the pandemic halted Mom’s monthly visits to see our family in Denver. I did my best to show my daughter’s baby steps and the art of my son’s kindergarten from afar, via Zoom and sent envelopes to her Albuquerque home, but I felt sadly inadequate.

As we anticipated vaccinations, we planned a spring visit. But in January, the mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of embracing her grandchildren, she would undergo a partial mastectomy and possibly radiation. His partner wasn’t even vaccinated, so I turned down plans to make the car. I had never been so far away, and I envied my older sister for living nearby.

“What do you need from me?” I asked Mom one night. “I need you to send me strength,” he said. It had always been my rock, and now, I needed to be her.

One winter evening, I sent an SMS with my mom and sister about the second dose of Mother’s Day and imminent cancer surgery. Mom sent us two photos as a welcome distraction. Look what I found! he wrote. The first picture was the three of us in 1979. My mom wore her long, pecan-colored hair in a bun and my 10-year-old sister held me, a little girl in her head. Looking at their brown hair in the photo, I feel closer to them because of my new look. Frivolous? Maybe, but it was true.

WFabiola uccheddu.

My mom, my sister, and I.

Megan Feldman Bettencourt

The second photo my mom sent me was of her parents in the 1940s. My grandmother Videlle’s stylized hair was similar in color to ours but slightly darker. The daughter of the housewives and the son of the coal miners, she and my grandfather seemed so happy and hopeful.

Soon I found myself staring at the old photos

I studied my female ancestors in the dining room, looking in the mirror at the wall and holding pictures in my face to judge the similarity. As I did so, my eye fell on my wedding band. The diamond set in an art deco square in gold belonged to my great-grandmother. I took my favorite photo of her.

In sepia-toned images of a 1918 Armistice celebration in Kansas, Blanche sits on a car holding an American flag. Her dark hair is tucked into a military hat. The image was faded, but I could make out the resolute set of her jaw. Some time that year, perhaps even at that parade, she had the Spanish flu, which developed into encephalitis that kept her in bed for months and almost killed her. Doctors didn’t think she would survive, but she was finally recovered – minus a lifelong tremor – and continued to raise her daughter and help raise my mother.


My great-grandmother Blanche, who held an American flag, in 1918.

Megan Feldman Bettencourt

Surrounded by four generations of portraits in my dining room, I was moved by the resistance of my ancestors. My great-grandmother survived the “Great Influence,” the Great Depression, and the two World Wars. A Christian Scientist who attributed her resumption of influence to the healing power of prayer, sewed clothes by hand for my mother, cooked a nasty roast, and lived in the 1990s.

In the years after that photo discovery of the newlyweds was taken, Videlle discovered she had an affair. I had to hire a private investigator to document adultery in order to get a divorce, and then I worked in factories to support my mother and aunt. Mom says she doesn’t remember that her mother was bitter. In my memories, my grandmother is sweet and kind, with an enthusiasm for life that stays with her until she dies quietly at home at 98 years old.

In view of this legacy of tenacity, it is not surprising that the mother became the first person in her family to attend college, earned a doctorate while educating children in the 1970s, and continues to work as a student. and clinical psychologist in 79. Prior to her cancer surgery in February, Mother’s biggest concern was her traumatic patients. When I suggested she refer some to lighten her load, she scoffed. “Are you kidding me? Do you know what these people went through?” He took a week of injury for surgery, then resumed Zoom therapy sessions from the bed with a drain under his left arm. His only concession was to refuse new patients.

Like brown hair color, resistance is my legacy

Devastated that I couldn’t be with her, I took solace in our common inherited hair color, which I admired in the rearview mirror while talking to her on the phone while leaving my children at the nursery. As I listened to Mom’s updates on wound care, I imagined my grandmother and great-grandmother, long dead, cheering us on.


My grandmother, Videlle.

Megan Feldman Bettencourt

“Mornings are really hard,” Mom told me one morning. “But I continue to find wonderful things – like this new pain management record that I listened to last night.” That recognition of the difficulties, followed by the celebration of hope and salvation, crosses our stem like a strand of hair in a long braid. And when I forget, mom reminds me.

I complained to her about a snowy afternoon of the relentless monotony of pandemic parents, of distance work, and the battle to keep dirty dishes at bay. Even though she was the one recovering from a cancer surgery, she gave me a hug. “The forties are tough,” he said. “Work, kids, marriage, hormones, everything happens and you do it in a pandemic. I don’t know anyone who has the moment of their life now, friend, but we’ll pass it.”

Mom reminded me that resilience is my legacy. It’s as much a part of me as that persistent brunette gene is.

While waiting for a trip after the vaccination in Albuquerque to see Mom, I use a series of talismans to remind me where I came from and what makes it possible. I keep the 1918 photo of my great-grandmother on my desk, play with her ring while I think about it, and wear my grandmother’s opal around her neck.


My kids and me.

Megan Feldman Bettencourt

My two-year-old daughter, with brown hair, blue eyes, picks up a book, and I say, “Grandma sent you that one.” When my child was on my way back to history, I was determined to set the example of resilience for her and her brother that our ancestors had given me. I think: Their stories are your stories even now. Their strength is yours to pull forward.

Megan Feldman Bettencourt is the author of Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgivable World. His writing has appeared in publications including Psychology Today, Salon, Harper’s BAZAAR, Glamor, The San Francisco Chronicle, and many others.

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