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Is dying your hair attention seeking?

Hair dyeing has become increasingly popular over the past few decades, with people using it to express themselves or simply try a new look. However, some believe that dyeing your hair an unnatural color is just a ploy for attention. In this article, we’ll explore both sides of this debate.

The history of hair dye

Hair dye has been used for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. However, most early hair dyes were made from natural ingredients and used to cover grey hairs or darken hair. The first synthetic hair dye was created in 1907, opening up more radical hair color options. By the 1960s and 70s, vivid hair colors started emerging as both a fashion statement and form of rebellion. Punk rockers and their followers embraced neon spikes and multi-colored mohawks. Since then, fantasy hair colors have moved steadily into the mainstream. Today it’s not uncommon to see people with vivid blues, greens, pinks, and purples.

Motivations for dyeing hair

There are many reasons people dye their hair besides wanting attention:

  • Covering up grey hairs
  • Trying a new look or reinventing your image
  • Expressing your creativity or personality
  • Making a statement
  • Matching your style to your clothes or makeup
  • Looking edgy, punk, goth, etc
  • Rebelling against societal norms
  • Showing team spirit for sports
  • Showing school spirit
  • Showing spirit for a cause or charity event
  • Matching your hair to a costume or cosplay
  • Trying the latest trend or fashion
  • Following celebrity hair colors

While attention may play a small role, most people who dye their hair loud colors do it for themselves first. They simply enjoy the look and what it communicates about them. Many say it gives them confidence and allows them to outwardly express who they are.

The attention seeking stereotype

Despite the many harmless reasons people dye their hair, there is still a stereotype that those with unnaturally colored hair are just doing it for attention. This stereotype likely stems from a few factors:

  • Vivid hair dyes are eye-catching – people may assume someone wants the attention if they have loud hair
  • It’s seen as non-conformist – some think rejecting societal norms is just about wanting attention
  • It’s more common in youth subcultures – people may assume teens just want attention from peers
  • It’s attention getting by nature – so people assume that must be the goal

There’s also sometimes an assumption that people who dye their hair odd colors are compensating for lacking personality or other positive traits. However, there’s no research to back up the stereotype that those with brightly colored hair are more attention seeking than anyone else.

Personality studies on hair dyeing

Some small studies have looked at personality differences between women who do and don’t dye their hair. Results showed:

  • Women who dyed their hair were more likely to be extroverted and open to new experiences
  • They were more motivated by a need for uniqueness
  • They tended to reject conventional gender roles
  • They placed more importance on appearance than women with virgin hair

While women who dyed their hair did care more about appearance, the studies didn’t suggest they were more attention seeking. Need for uniqueness and rejection of norms seemed more predictive of hair dyeing. Other studies have found no significant personality differences between those who do and don’t dye their hair.

Peer perceptions of women with colored hair

Research into how women with colored hair are perceived found:

Hair Color Perceived Traits
Black Boring, dependable, predictable
Blonde Attention seeking, sexy, less intelligent
Red Sexy, attention seeking, artistic
Unnatural colors Fun, rebellious, artistic, attention seeking

The study found women with dyed red or unnatural hair colors were perceived as more attention seeking than women with virgin, blonde, or black hair. However, they were also seen as more artistic and rebellious. So while the attention seeking stereotype exists, peers also associated colored hair with personality traits like creativity.

Does hair dyeing actually increase attention?

There’s little research into whether dyed hair actually does attract more attention from others. One study tracked glances from strangers toward women with natural and unnatural hair colors. Results showed:

  • Women with medium to dark unnatural shades attracted the most glances
  • Bright red hair also attracted above average glances
  • Women with natural shades received the fewest glances

So hair dyed in very vivid shades does seem to catch people’s eyes more than subtler colors. However, this study didn’t consider whether women dyed their hair seeking that attention in the first place. Many report enjoying the unique look for themselves without caring what others think.

Potential benefits of colored hair

Rather than being purely attention seeking, brightly dyed hair has many potential benefits:

  • Self-expression – Allows you to outwardly communicate your personality
  • Confidence – Let’s you put your inner spirit on display
  • Exploration – Allows you to try new looks and reinvent yourself
  • Belonging – Helps you identify with social groups and subcultures
  • Fun – Provides enjoyment through experimenting with different colors
  • Empowerment – Gives you the courage to reject conventions and expectations
  • Creativity – Allows you to express your artistic side

For many, unnaturally colored hair isn’t about getting attention from others at all. Instead, it fulfills internal needs for self-expression, confidence, exploration, and fun. It often comes from a healthy sense of adventure rather than vanity.

Is it ever attention seeking?

Though many dye their hair for harmless reasons, is vivid hair ever about seeking attention or validation? There are a few cases where dyeing for attention happens:

  • Teens may sometimes do it to seem cool and impress peers
  • Those with low-self esteem may do it to feel noticed
  • People craving admiration may want the compliments
  • Outgoing attention-lovers may simply enjoy the spotlight

Seeking attention or validation isn’t the sole reason most people color their hair. But for some personality types or demographics, it can be part of the motivation. However, even this isn’t necessarily unhealthy – wanted to feel admired or noticed is human nature.

Risks of stereotyping colored hair

Assuming someone dyed their hair for attention can be problematic. It can:

  • Make unfair judgements about their personality and motivations
  • Overlook the legitimate forms of self-expression it allows
  • Perpetuate prejudices against non-conformity
  • Promote conformist attitudes and appearances
  • Stifle people’s freedom to look how they want

If we automatically see unique hair as attention seeking, we rob people of the ability to reveal their inner selves. We create pressure to look “normal”. This can particularly affect teens still exploring identity and developing self-concepts.

The double standard around gender

The stereotype that colored hair equals attention seeking mainly targets women. Men who dye their hair vivid colors are less likely to be perceived this way. This double standard has some roots:

  • Expectations for women to have more “natural” looks
  • The idea that men care less about appearance
  • A long history of punk and alt men having colored hair
  • Men not being judged as harshly for defying conventions

Gender biases