This post originally appeared on Real Delia

So I’m sitting at the dinner table the other night visiting family in New York when all of a sudden my eldest brother turns to me and says, “You really shouldn’t dye your hair. It looks better when it’s natural.”

I don’t see my family all that often (I live in London; they all live in and around New York City) so to him, my hair–currently a  jumble of chocolate, tawney and bleach blonde stripes–looks demonstrably, well…fake. My brother still remembers me in my blissful youth when I sported an unvariegated–but nonetheless authentic–middling brown color. Nothing special, mind you, but it was the “real delia” (no pun intended).

In fact, the first time I colored my hair–roughly ten years ago–I explicitly told the stylist that I wanted it to look “natural.” So I did know what my brother meant.

Fast forward to when I first moved to London two and a half years ago, and actually allowed the stylist free reign to determine what colors might look best on me.

“Your hair’s just like my sister’s!” she cooed, as I entered the salon. “Let’s do a mixture of blonde, brown and ginger!”

Who knew that, in London, “ginger” meant pink? (Answer: my mother, who read all those nineteenth century English novels I never managed to get around to). Here I thought I was softening my look with some kind of golden honey tone, and instead I emerged with magenta streaks. I looked like some rare breed of Eurasian squirrel.

And it’s not just hair. Once upon a time, I never would have dreamed of  whitening my teeth. But I’ve been buying Crest White Strips for several years now, and if I had more money, I’m sure I’d at least contemplate having the dentist shoot me up with some peroxide or whatever that dreadful chemical is that renders your whites extra-pearly…

And apparently, I’m not alone. Teeth whitening has risen 300% in recent years. Hair dying has gone from just 7% of women in the 1950s to over 75% today.

The point is: It’s a slippery slope, this beautifying thing. And I don’t think it’s all about vanity. The older I get, the more I find myself not just wanting to alter my look but to really play with it. There’s something exhilarating about changing the way you present yourself to the world. It’s sort of like having a secret with yourself that other people aren’t in on (FACT: most people think I’m a natural blonde. I LOVE that!) It’s a safe way to have some fun without really altering who you are.

There are boundaries, to be sure. I personally am not all that keen to “have work done” (as my mother-in-law puts it).  But I also find that I’m less judgmental about plastic surgery than I was even five years ago (cosmetic surgery is also on the rise, although according to this article in Slate, that’s one thing that’s really taken a hit with the current recession).

What about you? Where do you draw the line?

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