I was always fascinated by people who pushed boundaries when it came to style and beauty. They seemed so confident and bold—almost like nothing could stop them. One of the reasons I love hair so much is because it can be a form of self-expression. For the longest time, I saw people walking around with vibrant hair colors, and I wished I could join them. As a young girl, I didn’t want any attention drawn to me at all. Anything I could do to blend in and stay under the radar was most comfortable for me. Throughout my adolescence and teenage years, I went to private schools that enforced a strict dress code where self-expression was pretty much banned.
I was never really out, to be honest, since my environment stalled my progress for quite some time. I felt the opportunities to explore my identity became more and more limited, and I pushed myself further back into the closet. But, as I entered my young adult era, it hit me that life was too short not to be my most authentic self—and I took my first steps with my hair.
In Manhattan and at my university I saw so many people walking around with colored strands, and I wanted that too. I wanted to be unapologetically myself as an asexual woman and make a statement—no more hiding. I started off with some subtle rainbow accessories here and there, but it wasn’t until the past few years that I decided to take the plunge and dye my hair a vibrant pink color and spruce up my wardrobe. It’s the best decision I’ve made at this point in my life, but it wasn’t always like that.
One day it hit me that a lot of my friends who are also in the LGBTQ+ community have found a similar outlet in dyed hair. Not saying it’s a coincidence, but I wanted to see why they decided to give their strands the ultimate makeover. Was it to live out loud and be authentically who they are? Did dyeing their hair help improve self confidence?
The author Casey Clark
Let’s just say the overall consensus came down to a few elements: identity, self-expression, and confidence.
To delve deeper into hair and its connection to the LGBTQIA+ community, I spoke with Kate Nichols, LCSW, who specializes in working with millennials and queer folx with trauma.
“Many members of the queer community have historically utilized clothing and style choices as a way to express their identity and signal to others who they are, especially throughout history when more people remained closeted, people could provide subtle hints via their clothing, style, and hair,” she says. “Now, it can be a way to signal boldly and be unapologetically who you are.”
While highly-saturated hair hues are a means for queer people to express themselves, exploring identity through androgynous cuts and gender-affirming styles is also very powerful.
Prior to coming out, I used my style choices to subtly hint at my sexuality. I’d wear tons of rainbow studs and rings to express my queerness without having to utter the words “I’m gay.”
Like myself, Amber C., account coordinator for North 6th Agency, and Madeline Walsh, a communications student at Hofstra University, struggled to accept their queerness. It was through the power of self-expression and hair color that they were able to break down barriers in their journey towards self-discovery.
“Dyeing my hair has helped me gain the courage to fully accept and embrace who I am and have the confidence to be bold in my queerness,” Amber says.
“LGBTQIA + identity is a spectrum, and I had been seeing it as a binary. However, dyeing my hair afforded me the chance to choose glamour and femininity on my own terms and find my spot on that spectrum,” Walsh adds.
Similarly, Gwen K., a 14-year-old from Los Angeles, California, explore self-expression through hair, makeup, and clothing as a way to let others know they are part of the LGBTQIA+ community and proud of it.
“I often wear things to indicate I’m a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. I always wear rainbow and lesbian flag ‘kandi’ bracelets. Sometimes, I wear a collar pin [that]says ‘they/them’ so people know my pronouns,” they say. “Dyeing my hair bright colors is super fun because I feel like I’m more me with brightly colored hair than ‘natural’ colors. I use makeup to show how I’m feeling on particular days.”
While having a colorful wardrobe will change your physical appearance, it can also have a noticeable difference on one’s mental health.
“Style and self-expression can improve mental health by improving how aligned one feels with their authentic self or identity. Especially if you feel that there are things in your life out of your control, making choices about your style and self-expression can help you to feel more in control of how you see yourself and how others see you,” says Nichols.
After I dyed my hair, I felt an improvement in my depressive symptoms and self-esteem. For so long, society promoted the message that queer people like myself needed to be silenced and “blend in” with heteronormative society. However, it was once I realized there were ways I could go against the grain, like by dyeing my hair. I felt empowered and don’t plan on going back to my natural honey blonde strands anytime soon.
Need some words of encouragement to help you get started on your hair color journey? Here’s what Walsh, Amber, and Gwen, have to say:
“Start with highlights, not a whole head dye. Dip your toes in, and eventually, you'll sink in,” Walsh.
“If you want to dye your hair bright blue, go for it, don’t think twice about what other people think. More times than not, people are more so worried about themselves than they are about you. In fact, others will be inspired by your boldness to be authentically yourself,” Amber.
“No matter how your hair is cut, or how it’s colored, or what you wear—people are always going to have an opinion—so do it for you! How do you feel your best? What makes you feel the most you? Think about that—and then do it!” Gwen.
Much like sexuality and identity, hair is also fluid. There are endless styles, colors, and cuts to explore, and only you get to decide how you want to wear your hair, just like how you get to be in control of how you identify.