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The College Captain to Green Hair Pipeline

I loved high school. I loved my teachers and my friends. I loved immersing myself in my subjects and my role as College Captain. I loved the validation of a productive workshop session with a teacher or a good grade. I loved the awards ceremonies and the public acknowledgement that, academically, I was thriving.

I loved high school. I loved my teachers and my friends. I loved immersing myself in my subjects and my role as College Captain. I loved the validation of a productive workshop session with a teacher or a good grade. I loved the awards ceremonies and the public acknowledgement that, academically, I was thriving.

But although I loved these markers of academic success, they left me feeling like a fragile shell of a human being, someone whose worth and entire personality were determined by a 90+ percentage score on an assessment. Someone who would crumble time and time again when the pressures of academic perfection became too much.

The true extent to which my schooling had required me to subconsciously repress my self-expression and delayed my realisation of the kind of person I wanted to be is something I’ve only recently come to understand.

I now realise the combination of academic pressures and my typical eldest daughter desire to be nothing short of perfect gnawed at me until my obsession with academic perfection became my defining personality trait. At the time, I insisted these pressures were pushed upon me by my teachers, peers and family members. In hindsight, the standardised tests and uber-competitive rankings of VCE made me my own harshest critic. The worthlessness I felt as I cried in the school library after receiving 88 per cent on an assessment was an emotional devastation of my own creation. I couldn’t accept the thought that my academic capabilities were lesser than anyone else’s, and I couldn’t bear that my teachers might think me second best.

I also despised the notion I was “naturally gifted,” a phrase which followed me through my teenage years. “Naturally gifted” stripped me of my hard work.  It invalidated the constant pressure I felt to push myself harder, to be better, more intelligent. I despised “naturally gifted” every time I was hunched over practice examinations at my desk, writing ferociously to beat my previous completion time. I despised it every time I broke down in class and had to walk out in the middle of a lesson because I was exhausted from sleepless, anxiety-riddled nights spent revising novel quotes. The assertion that I was “naturally gifted” made me feel as though someone who excelled in school couldn’t possibly admit to sinking under its pressures and needing to come up for air.

The pressure to be the girl who thrived at school and “effortlessly” attained top marks saw me prioritise the perfect literary analysis and a pat on the back from my teachers over my emotional and psychological wellbeing.

It wasn’t until the end of year eleven, when my homeroom teacher told me I had “lost my sparkle,” that the damaging weight of this pressure began to dawn on me. She’d touched on something I hadn’t realised about myself, something which absolutely broke my heart.

In the years after I completed high school, no longer bound by the precious reputation I had cultivated over thirteen years of schooling, I became determined to reclaim that sparkle.

I was exhausted, tired of the version of myself who would stop at nothing to prove my dedication to my teachers and to excel. I was tired of being told I was an “old soul”—which I came to understand meant I was uptight and no fun.

So, I did what any repressed Catholic school girl does: I dyed my hair. Well, the underneath layer, to be exact. Half pink, half orange.

I loved it.

With the first touch of dye on my hair, I felt the shackles of academia begin to break away. The version of myself who laughs at her clumsy mistakes, who is unafraid to try new things, who’ll shamelessly wear her 2014 5 Seconds of Summer t-shirt five days in a row, who learns roller derby, who scrolls Instagram in search of tattoo inspiration, who is willing to spend all her money on jewellery in an attempt to look like Arwen from Lord of the Rings, was no longer confined to the safe space of home. It felt like a natural progression, and those who knew me best weren’t surprised. They too had noticed that my sparkle had dimmed and were excited that the version of myself I am at home, away from academia, was finally surfacing in a more public way.

From then on, hair experimentation became an addiction. The subtle orange and pink underlayer was soon replaced by an unmissable mop of bubblegum pink curls. It was a big move, but one which still felt safe—near enough to an identity of mine that was recognisable to those who didn’t know me well. Then my hair became fuchsia, an edgier take on the palatable pink I had quickly become bored of. It was pretty and soft, and still entirely too safe.

I was bored of the safety net provided by conformity, of blending into a comfortable version of respectability and femininity. So, I cut it all off, into a forest green mullet. It was the woodland pixie life for me. Finally, I felt reinvigorated, enlivened by my decision to do something so bold and unexpected, which very easily might look completely and utterly hideous. I was over the comments of people shocked that I’d dyed my hair, and of the surprised reactions of those who “didn’t think I had it in me”. Ugh. I simply did not care. I was done caring.

At the same time as I’d begun feeling comfortable with altering my outward identity, I also became comfortable with the idea that I wouldn’t receive an H1 for every university assignment, and that I wouldn’t always be the top of all my classes. I felt I could finally let my hair down (metaphorically, of course—as there isn’t really any left).

Yet with the newfound freedom that came with being able to write an essay or a news report without the self-imposed pressure to achieve absolute perfection, I began to feel lesser than my past self.

Less intelligent, less driven, less worthy.

And with the state of my hair, less desirable, too. Less deserving of male attention (as though that’s something I should feel compelled to earn), as though I’d driven away all future romantic prospects by embracing the kind of androgyny I felt most myself in. I thought to myself, “When I dye my hair a natural colour again and grow it out, then men will like me,” as though I needed to undergo some sort of high school movie makeover to reveal the “beauty within”.

The repression I’d been exposed to in my most formative years now meant that even in the skin I was most comfortable in, the persuasive urge to return to a safe, respectable, and most of all desirable conformity remained strong. Even now, it resurfaces every time I think about my high school peers, fearing they would laugh at me and view these changes as a fall from grace. It resurfaced just last week when I walked into my high school grounds, certain every teacher who saw me would think I was a “waste of potential”.

But despite these momentary feelings of shame and doubt, I don’t want to return to a version of myself entirely lacking in “sparkle”.  

I have never felt more myself than in the skin I’m currently in (no matter how stained it may be from green hair dye). I don’t look in the mirror and base my worth on how appealing my appearance may be to others. Instead, I revel in the confidence I feel when I turn my head to the side and see the badass mullet textures in my hair. I feel excited to convey my uniqueness of self through hairstyles and through clothing which is becoming more and more androgynous. And I embrace the certainty that with each of these bold changes, I will continue to learn about myself and the kind of person I actually want to be. Whatever hair colour comes next, whether it be purple or blue, I know I’m only going to continue to learn more.

 
Farrago's magazine cover - Edition Five 2022

EDITION SIX 'RETROFUTURISM' AVAILABLE NOW!

Our last print edition of 2022 is here! This wild, visionary edition is filled with burning nostalgia, glittering hope, and tantalising visions of the future, past, and present.

Read online