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October 5, 2011

I Was a Hair Color Virgin

A redhead by personality (and birth) gives in to the bottle to reclaim the fiery strands of her youth.

gwen flamberg

Flamberg as a 9-year-old carrottop.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Flamberg

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At 14, I Was a roller-skating hair model. As the redhead in a blonde/brunette/redhead trio, I cruised around my hometown of Forest Hills, Queens, on Saturday afternoons, shaking my mane of fiery curls at the neighborhood regulars. With my frosty, spackled-on makeup and teased-to-the-sky hair (hello, 1984!), I could get past the velvet rope at Studio 54, where I'd spend the 50 bucks I earned each weekend. It was the best job I've ever had.

As I've gotten older, the trademark hair has lost its fire and turned a drab shade of auburn. A day rarely goes by when an old friend or colleague inquires if I've colored it ... brown. The truth is, I've never dyed my hair. Despite my rampant consumption of antiaging eye creams, electro-current body sculpting, and Botox galore, I have virgin hair. And though almost every American woman has reached for the dye bottle at least once, I have hung on to my virgin status with pride.

You see, red is more than a hair color — it's an identity. Think about it: The object of Charlie Brown's affection didn't even have a name — she was simply the Little Red-Haired Girl. People marvel at redheaded children like freaks at circus sideshows. Classmates never fail to single out those who are "different" — you know, the loser who eats paper, the nose-picker, the redhead. It's no wonder growing up ginger forges the foundation of a strong personality.

As I entered my teens, however, the electric orange mellowed into a lovely strawberry, and I started getting compliments. The very same trait that once made me "different" suddenly made me "unique." Scrappy gave way to saucy, sexy, spirited. I identified with the persona so strongly that I collected every carrot-topped pinup girl Alberto Vargas drew. And like the chubby kid who drops 50 pounds but still sees himself as fat, I've held on to these characteristics long after my locks have faded.

But now, I just feel old. Would losing my virginity and dyeing my hair bring back my glory days? I'd be straying from Mother Nature, but I wouldn't be betraying my true self: I'd lost my inner diva, and I wanted it back. Going red certainly hasn't hurt Drew Barrymore, Emma Stone, Blake Lively, or Christina Hendricks. After careful consideration, I finally decide to test the waters. I call up John Frieda hair guru Harry Josh, who colored a young Gisele Bündchen's hair in the sink of his apartment back in the day, thereby creating an international hair icon. "I can leave the base and lighten up your ends to give you a look like you've been on holiday in Brazil," he says. I like Brazil. "The overall effect will be lighter, brighter, redder." I'm sold, though a bit worried about the health of my hair. Josh assures me that I'll see no damage; today's color formulas are actually gentle on strands. And since I'll be focusing the color on my ends, the roots won't require maintenance — the perfect scenario for a first-timer like me. Plus, if I hate it, I can be a born-again virgin in six months by snipping off the lightened tips.

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