Anti-Bullying: Why I Dyed My Hair Purple
I dyed my hair purple last week. Professional salon job. It was time for a cut and color, long past because I can almost never schedule two afternoon hours off from work during the week and I’ve had silver in my hair since I was 18. My inability to get to the salon before my roots are four inches long was part of the why.
Purple is my favorite color, but there’s also a deeply spiritual connection and has been since I was a child listening to the Bible story of Lydia and especially now with my sixth chakra connection. It’s also a color some people wear to honor the targets of bullies and call attention to their plight, but I’ll come back to that. I’ve wanted to dye my hair purple for the last couple of decades, but I was always concerned with the impression people had of me in the work force. Sure, I was artistic and wildly creative and everyone knows that, but purple highlights in my dark brown? They might think badly of my individuality, right? Look at appearances instead of substance, yes?
Well, I decided as I sped toward my hair appointment, screw that.
Why now? Why the split second decision? Timing, I suppose. Some confounding allegations earlier in the day set my teeth on edge and I realized I had to take my power back. I had to stop allowing my world to get smaller just to get along with people who have no desire to get along with me and will never be satisfied with my existence no matter how much I give up to please them.
It didn’t matter how hard I had tried to make things work because, as always in any relationship, whether personal or professional, things work only if both parties want them to and are willing to put in the effort. I’d been trying for two years and the only giving was on my part as I tried more and more to keep my head down and hope for a positive change. I couldn’t seem to move forward because with every step, there seemed to be some new argument against me. My world was getting smaller, I was becoming more isolated, I was at work all the time at the expense of family, health, and romance, and things were worse than ever in the last two years.
That’s what I was thinking on my way to my hair appointment, the first in four months. I was thinking about shit-stirrers, gossips, and bullies.
I was thinking about the resurfaced allegation that I was never in my office. Which is largely true. I’m always at work but not always in my office. If I calculated the free overtime I’ve put in over the last two years, conservatively it would be straight back pay of a quarter of a million dollars. Did I mention that that’s a conservative estimate? So how does someone work that much extra and not be in the office? Very, very easily. Because I have supported 4-5 customers at any one time in 6-7 locations at any one time, none of which work near me and most in buildings that are a decent hike away, especially in heels. That means I’m in their offices , not mine, but for anyone stalking my desk, it appears I’m not at work very much….not that anyone has ever asked my whereabouts or looked at my calendar or checked with my wonderful minions to see who I texted about an unexpectedly long meeting that will mean I won’t be back in the office until after lunch. Because it’s much easier for someone to make assumptions or gossip or stir shit than to ask me outright.
And so, on my way to my hair appointment, I was thinking of all that overtime that could’ve been spent writing novels or having a relationship or visiting my kids or earning extra money to pay off my mortgage. I’d never regretted the free overtime before—because I was doing important work—but that putrid feeling of being not only unappreciated but having my integrity questioned was more than I could stomach, and I was angry, and owning my anger. I’ve put in enough free overtime without ever asking for any type of consideration that I deserve to be angry at those kinds of allegations, and I won’t apologize for being pissed off about it. I’m tired of being the last one out of my building, and I’ve stopped that insanity.
But then I started thinking about other things as I drove to my appointment. I deal with a repeating pattern from childhood of an occasional person who will do his or her best to get an emotional reaction out of me, for no reason than their own satisfaction. I see them clearly now because I’m familiar with the tropes. I grew up with it; it’s as familiar when I see it as the back of my hand. It’s easy for them to jack up my feelings when it’s something I really care about and it’s being threatened. I started thinking not just about the “shit stirrers” who are also colleagues—don’t get me wrong: I have many wonderful colleagues—but I was thinking about the bullies that are included in that group. People don’t like to think of bullies in the work place, especially when some wear suits and have six-figure incomes, but they’re there.
The first time I was bullied, I was 8 years old and it was because my Christian beliefs weren’t in the majority and I was unwilling to recant to fit in with the crowd. I can distinctly remember being 8 or 9 years old and wanting to die because it was so bad. Not that bullying or shunning stopped there. It extended through high school, took a break in college when there were more people for me to fit in with without changing who I was, and resumed just as harshly at mid-life in the workplace, again largely for the same reasons–my spiritual beliefs weren’t in the majority. I accept that many people will find the personal beliefs I thrust on no one to be threatening in some way and therefore I must be punished for thinking outside the box.
A sweet friend of mine reminded me a couple of months ago when things were really rough of some favorite quotes of mine, including Dr. Wayne Dyer’s “What you think of me is none of my business.” I reminded him that while I normally would agree, it is my business when they have an effect on my business, including my income and professional reputation. But there was more that I didn’t say, that I was too embarrassed to tell him because I hated feeling like a weakling around him and somehow I have for most of this year. What I wanted to tell him was that it also matters when bullies’ opinions have a direct negative effect on your daily happiness because of the regular abuse and concentrated isolation intended to make sure their target has no one and has no choices left but to leave or crawl under a rock and die. It matters when my alone-ness becomes less of a choice and more a result of their direct actions because people I like being with are afraid of them and don’t want to be their next target and give me up when forced to choose. You can say those people aren’t true friends, but how many of your friends are tested in this way to know if they are true? Would you ask a friend to give up a promotion so you can remain their friend?
You see, what bullies say about me always gets back to me. I still have enough friends who pass along their gossip, even at the higher and closed-circle levels. Most recently, it’s that I’m not at my desk and since they don’t instantly know where I am or what I’m doing, I must be goofing off. Before that, they were accusing me of whoring around and clubbing it up. What was I really doing? Being at work at 8 or 9 at night on a Friday night, trying to get a file finished up before I headed home with files in my arms to review over the weekend. These people don’t even know the real me well enough to know that I’m not the bar/club kind of girl (nothing wrong with that but it’s not me at this stage of my life) or that I’m strictly a relationship-oriented girl and have been for a long, long time. But I guess that’s not much fun to talk about.
As I was driving, I thought about several friends of mine who faded out of my life over the last two years. They were trying to get promoted or trying to stay in good stead with certain colleagues. They let me know they’d been warned by the bullies to stay clear of me, even to drop me as a friend. Some did, and told me shamefully why. Others, bless ‘em, have stayed my friends regardless and don’t care who knows, and I appreciate them deeply. But my circle of local friends, specifically those at work, has dwindled over the last two years, specifically from fear of being targeted.
I’ve met new people coming into the area, ones I’d thought were going to be close new friends. But they have been cornered and warned to keep their distance from me or guilt by association might ruin their careers here. They still contact me privately when they need my help, but we don’t do lunch anymore or hang out after work. Truthfully, I’m no longer inclined to go overboard for them if they can’t acknowledge our friendship publicly and there’s no past investment from either of us that pre-dates the bullying. You don’t get to have it both ways. Not any more.
And then there’s the final cut: I’ve met a couple of men through work who were “date-able,” but even they have been confronted and told not to see me if they don’t want the brunt of these bullies coming down on them.
This isn’t high school. It’s not middle school. They’re not fourth-graders angry with me for refusing in chorus to sing a sacrilegious, popular song. These are highly educated professionals who clearly don’t have enough to do if they are to mind my business instead of theirs. It’s not like they don’t have rather severe problems of their own to tend to, whether in their relationships, home life, or health.
But this is what I was thinking on my way to my appointment—that it doesn’t matter what I do or what I don’t do if I’m a target. There is nothing I can do to improve the situation or change who they are, but I’ve been allowing them to change me in order to keep things that were important to me. At this point, I’ve lost most of those things, and I’ve let the bullying tactics choke out a lot of my own individuality and definitely a lot of my own happiness over the last year or two.
So I’m taking that back. I asked for violet purple highlights, the kind that are subtle and almost invisible in office light but bright in the sun when I’m away from my office. No one will notice at work as long as I’m sitting in bleak fluorescent light but when I’m gone and on my own time, I’m in the sunshine and I’m me.
That’s why I dyed my hair purple. For the cause of anti-bullying, for me allowing me to be myself. It stands for that early childhood connection with someone whose favorite color was purple, a simple connection that was perhaps the only happy connection with that troubled person. It stands for those early learnings of ancient texts. It stands for robes I’ve wrapped myself in and felt most like myself and for that velvet purple dress Mama made for me to wear to Daddy’s deaconship ordination. It stands for those colors in nature that sing in my heart. It stands for my sixth chakra and the intuition and spirituality associated with it, as well as the visionary and creative part of my personality. It stands for no longer backing down or shrinking into my cage because of what people might think of me when what I do doesn’t matter anyway and what I don’t do has no bearing on what they dream up. It stands for being me and not what I’m dictated to be, me without a mask, me as who I am. It stands for standing up against the shit-stirrers and bullies and not letting their toying with my emotions get any satisfaction.
It stands for taking back myself.