About four weeks ago, I had my stylist give me some purple highlights in my hair.

It’s the first time I’ve ever colored my hair (if we exclude those hairspray colors used for Halloween or on stage that wash out easily). And I’ve found myself amused and/or bemused by people’s reactions.

Most people who commented said they think it looks good and/or I wear the look well. A couple of people asked if I made the choice because of soccer star Megan Rapinoe’s hair color. (And no, that’s not why I did it.)

A couple of people have said they think I should have done more than just some subtle highlights. One of these people is a long-time family friend. The other was a patron at the library where I work.

So far, no one has said to my face that they think my hair looks terrible. In fact, only one person’s comments struck me as critical of the choice. It was another patron at the library, who said, “You’ve never struck me as a purple-hair kind of person.”

That remark made me wonder what this person’s overall impression of me is.

I’ve often been told that people often perceive me as stuffy, uptight, or conservative. Perhaps that’s how this patron sees me and why my hair color seemed out of character.

Of course, I also get the sense that many of my coworkers and patrons think I’m a much wilder, crazier, more adventurous person than I really am.

Case in point: About a year ago, our veterinarian recommended giving one of our cats CBD oil to help a chronic health condition. I mentioned at work that I’m now ordering this product for my cat, and I was told, “Sure you are, Ruth. I know you’re really buying it for your use.”

I had to laugh at that because this person clearly doesn’t know me as well as they think they do.

(I’ve never tried any tobacco product or narcotics. I was offered a chance to buy pot in junior high, and when I refused, I was told, “Yeah, I’ve heard you’re uptight like that. Do you want to go out with me?” Frankly, that’s probably the strangest way to be asked out that I’ve ever experienced.)

Anyway, to make a long story short (too late, I know), I’ve been thinking about perceptions and assumptions. About how I view other people and how they might view me. About the judgments we make in every interaction we have each day.

Many of our judgments are unconscious. We take a liking or disliking to someone. We might say our gut tells us that person is good or bad. Perhaps they remind us of someone we care about. Or someone who betrayed us.

Perhaps they’re different in a way that makes us uncomfortable or that we find fascinating and then fetishize.

We draw conclusions about people based on appearance: their clothing, hair, jewelry, tattoos, piercings, etc. We judge others based on visual markers of race, gender, or ability.

Sometimes, our judgments are accurate. Often, they aren’t.

The reactions and comments I’ve received about my hair color have reminded me that our choices are always being judged and discussed.

I need to spend less time making snap judgments and more time learning about who people are beneath the surface details. It will make me a better, more empathetic person. And, I can hope, a better writer.

(Photo by Kym MacKinnon on Unsplash)

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