You know those T-shirts that say “Blondes Have More Fun”? They make me sort of wistful. For a hefty portion of my life, being blonde was a significant part of my identity, one that was hard to give up. I was born blonde and remained naturally so until junior high, when my hair started to darken with puberty. That’s when I took to the bottle — the bottle of peroxide that is. I associated being blonde with being pretty, feminine, and fun. In junior high I did not feel particularly pretty, feminine, OR fun, but I really wanted to be, so dying my hair — lighter … and lighter … and lighter — was my way of grasping for those qualities. I started off dying my hair myself, with boxed dye from the drugstore. The more golden the better! The upkeep was time-consuming. Though I rarely saw it, my natural color had darkened to a medium brown, so my roots were obvious. Not that anyone was really under the illusion that my flaxen hair was natural, though I argued that I was “a blonde inside” and God or the gene fairy or whoever had made a mistake with my dark locks.
Looking back, I don’t know what being blonde “feels like” or, for that matter, what it feels like to be a brunette. I just know I associated being blonde with being beautiful, but also with being something. Some people are sporty, or creative, or adventuresome. I, for some reason, wanted to identify as a blonde, perhaps because I hadn’t yet figured out what else I was of value yet. I projected a weird sort of confidence in being a blonde, but that confidence was about as genuine as the hair on my head.
When I moved to New York, I started going to a salon to get my hair done. One time, the stylist conditioned my hair with this purple stuff which, normally, enhances the blonde color and makes it brighter. But my hair was so porous, after having been stripped of all that was, well, natural about it, that it soaked up the purple tone and I walked out of the salon with ashy, gray hair. I was unfazed. Being blonde comes with consequences.
A few months later, I went home for the holidays and visited a new stylist, who took one look at my tragic locks and said he would not, could not bleach them any more. My hair was so fried and damaged that it would, could not take any more. The stylist dyed my hair a soft brown. I hated it. There’s a photo on my mother’s fridge, taken just a few days later, of me with my new dark hair, looking rather glum.
Then I started to get used to it. I got compliments, which helped, and I started to see that the dark hair complimented by skin tone better than the blonde ever did. As a brunette I had so many more shades to play with anyway, because my hair could actually take on the whole range of browns and auburns. Around the same time, I got a better job, I met more people in my new city, and my self-esteem started to improve. I no longer associated feeling good about myself with the color of my hair. As I got more distance from the peroxide, I realized I never really felt good about myself as a blonde anyway. I dyed my hair blonde to hide the fact that I was definitely not having more fun.