Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blonde Ambition

I've always secretly wished I were a blonde. It's probably because I grew up with a gorgeous golden-haired sister and a bottle-blonde mom, both of whom were my first standards for beauty. But back then the most popular girls in school were always blondes, too. If you'd asked me when I was a teen for the names of great beauties, I'd have reeled off Lauren Hutton, Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs. I was stunned by one especially ethereal Goldilocks, Michelle Pfeiffer, when she came onto the movie scene, and I still think she's one of the most beautiful women on the planet.

It was not in the cards for me to be a blonde. I was born a redhead, and the one time I streaked my hair with Sun-In (a product that claims to give you lovely sun-streaks in your hair) it turned clown orange. I don't have any pictures of that, but trust me, it was beyond tragic. I sometimes wondered if the fact that the great love of my life and our kids are all blondes was the universe's way of needling me, or comforting me.

At some point in life everyone wants something that they simply can't have, like the straight-haired who long for curls or the curly-heads who lust after the the straights -- which is why hair styling products that straighten or curl or bleach or darken are never going to leave the shelves. But I went the other way, and let myself become bitterly jealous. It turned me into a blonde-hater for a while. I collected a million blonde jokes, and I liked nothing better than perpetuating the myth that blondes are stupid.

Fortunately I grew out of that. I also mostly made peace with being a redhead, which was about the same time I began to go gray. Majorly gray, both temples and Kelly-Clarkson-wide streaks in the back. Ten years later I would find out the color change was due to the horrible stress I was under combined with an undiagnosed health problem, but when the gray started showing in my senior year of high school, I was flat-out horrified. I became one of Miss Clairol's best customers for the next twenty-five years.

During all those years of covering up the gray I never tried to dye my hair blonde. I could have, quite easily, as I'd been double-processing my mom's hair since I was old enough to pull on a pair of plastic gloves and hold the dye bottle. Something held me back, though (maybe a leftover fragment of jealousy, or a shred of common sense.) Still, when I went every other month to pick up my hair dye (usually red, sometimes a dark brown) I would stop and admire all the Natural Blonde boxes first.

So pretty, those golden ladies were. Like fairy women. Who wouldn't want to be one of them?

Some of my very close friends knew about my secret hair color obsession, and no doubt wished I'd get over it. It finally happened back in 2002. I lost a bet with one of my friends, and the supposedly humiliating forfeit he picked was for me to bleach my hair blonde. Armed with that excuse, honestly? I couldn't get to the drugstore fast enough. I spent an hour looking over every single shade of blonde before I picked out this beautiful warm golden tone by L'Oreal. I bought that, along with enough bleach and drabber to double-process the Rockettes, and went home to make my dream come true.

Bleaching out my current hair color (a dark brown at the time) took three attempts, and I knew I was quite stupidly frying my hair with over-processing, but I didn't care. At last I was going to have what I'd always wanted. I was so excited I could hardly sit still through the last thirty minutes of toning. Then I washed it out, towelled it off, grabbed the brush and blow drier and went to town.

And then I was finally a blonde. Finally.

To give the chemists who work at L'Oreal their due, the color did look just like the hair of the model on the box. If that was all you had to look at, you probably would have thought it was lovely. Only under all those glowing golden tresses was my face, which was covered by this odd-toned freckled skin of mine. Which the blonde hair around it did not suit at all, and in fact made it look as if I were suffering from jaundice. Major jaundice. Rush-her-to-the-hospital-she's-dying jaundice.

Of course I tried to fix it. Makeup didn't work, and neither did pulling my new shiny locks away from my face. As a blonde I utterly bombed, and not in the good way. This one bit of borrowed beauty I had always wanted for myself was in reality a disaster, and it demolished me to look in the mirror and see how awful I looked under all that pretty gleaming gold.

I believe in learning from your mistakes, no matter how heart-breaking they are. After letting everyone see it and have a good laugh (my guy and the kids almost went into shock, and then all of them begged me to change it back) I waited a couple week (and wore a lot of bandannas and hats), and then dyed my hair back to a nice, safe unexciting brown. And immediately looked 200% better, although it would take another two years before all the damage I'd done to my hair grew out enough to cut off.

Hair dye and I finally parted ways in 2004, and I let my hair grow out to its natural color. I thought I would have a little red left, but my natural color had gone completely white and silver. For a while there I went to the mirror every morning, expecting to see that wretched, jaundiced-looking face again, but (weirdly) going gray suited me. I am now the lightest-haired person in the family -- a platinum blonde -- and while it's never going to be fashionable, I like it fine. It may be silver instead of gold, but it's not fake. It's who I am.

Wanting what we don't have drives us to learn and work and improve ourselves, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Where would this world be if we were all satisfied with the status quo? But wanting what we can't have, on the other hand, sets us up for serious disappointment. Some people seem to be born with the wisdom to know the difference; others like me have to find out the hard way. But it's the kind of painful lesson that once you're taught, you never forget.

So the next time you're standing in front of that shelf in the bookstore, the one that is packed with those hot-selling wildly popular novels of that writer you hate, or love, or envy beyond all other things, the writer that you know you can write rings around -- or maybe you can't -- don't beat yourself up for not being him or her. You might be able to imitate some of that solid-gold writing, and tell yourself you're just as deserving of success, but you may find that when you look in the mirror that you won't much like what you see.


  1. I find it fascinating that all the blonde pictures you've selected are black & white, effectively turning them silver.
    It's never too late for revenge.

    Should you ever lose another bet, go to a hairdresser. If nothing else, they're trained to select a shade that best suits your colouring.

  2. I'm a "strawberry blond" - light brown hair with red highlights - very thick, very curly. Poodle curls, "oh you're SO lucky, people PAY to get their hair like yours" curls... horrid curls. And thick enough that it can be thinned, plus 6-12 inches cut off the length, leave a huge pile of hair on the floor - and absolutely no one even notices.

    (My younger sister is of the stick-straight, cannot hold a curl whatsoever, sort.)

    I mostly made my peace with it in high school, thanks to my mother finally letting me grow it out beyond an inch or two - and discovering leave-in conditioner and big-toothed combs.

    My kids' dad is a red-head. My oldest three, boys, all have auburn curls, and tend to wear it long. (Somewhere between their chin and elbows.) My daughter, the youngest, got straight hair the color of mine, when after three children with hair like that, one more wouldn't have bothered me. And she wants their curls.

    So what happens? Their dad and I split several years ago, and now the kids have an almost 2-yr-old half-sister. With auburn curls, of course.

  3. I needed to hear this tonight. Thanks for the post!! :-)

  4. Wow! Really cool metaphor.

    (Personally I'm having Neil Gaiman as an author god. Our only similarities are that we have a perpetual bad hair day, and an endless stock of black t-shirts.)

    Word verification: Crifis. It feels like my hair is having a major crifis today... too...

  5. Hello, I've commented in the past, but not lately. I have a quick question. Do you still sell your eBook "The Way Of The Cheetah" via Holly Lisle's Hollyshop?

  6. This was great. Learning to be comfortable in your own skin is a beautiful thing.

  7. Now me, I have always envied the red headed girls...

  8. I am one of those unusual women who actually likes her hair. Like the color, like the texture, I seem to understand my hair and know how to style it.

    Now, if only I could find such zen-like understanding of my writing.

  9. I made peace with my curly (perpetually messy) hair a while ago. And I may give up on fighting the white, too; started in my early 20s and I'd love to know what health issue causes that. I've been coloring it for years but I'm kinda sorta tired of that.

    I think I'm also coming to terms with the kind of writer I am. Maybe maturity and going white do go together. *g*

  10. I vividly remember Sun-In and that's all I'm saying.

    While you were envying the blondes, I would have been envying you. I have always wanted red hair. Red-heads always seemed bolder and braver to me.

  11. *laughs* Hi! I'm your evil mirror twin. I was the blonde who always wished she could be a redhead. =]

    Oddly enough, about the time you said your red hair started going gray, my blonde hair started going brown.

    I've also done the dye thing - first was a dark brown which horrified all of my co-workers (it looked nice, but why dye away from blonde, they wondered). Then a series of different shades of blonde and finally a red - which I liked but would not stay in my hair for love or money. I would go from deep purple, through copper penny, to faded strawberry and all the way to anemic peach in just under two weeks.

    I think that got the dying out of my system, though. I've hobble-stepped back toward my natural dark ash blonde and I won't be dying it again. My natural color isn't as nice as the bottle colors, but it's MINE, and it's more cost-effective than dying.

    I'm really glad I got it out of my system early, though.

    And I still think natural redheads are the most beautiful people in the world. I have a red-headed friend with a set of adorably gorgeous red-headed children and she never believes me when I tell her she's gorgeous.

    We're an odd bunch, humans.

  12. I've always had blonde hair, but I'm also pale w/ blue eyes & light eyebrows. I am easily washed out in photos and I have a hard time wearing a lot of colors (I can relate to your jaundice comment). For most of my life I wanted dark hair, preferably black. It took me a long time to realize that if I had black hair, I'd either want another hair color or obsess about something else of mine that sucked.

    I should have been spending that energy on my writing, but oh well. You are so right about lessons learned. It’s always nice to know that there are others out there who feel the same way. However, I never did reconcile that sixth finger…

  13. Growing up, I was a light strawberry blond. I loved my hair that color because my eyes are so brown it's hard to tell where the pupil ends and the iris begins. Black lashes and blond brows, I looked like a calico cat. My hair began to darken in my mid 20's and though it kept a golden tone, I didn't like it and started trying to recreate my original color which of course didn't work because, like someone else said, red never stays in the hair. I wish I knew why. I could make a million dollars!

    Then I had kids and one day while coloring, I realized I had tons of gray hair! Oh no! Where did that come from? Why...the kids, of course. About that time, I developed some health problems and my hair that wasn't gray turned the oddest shade of dirty puddle grayish brown. So, coloring was a must!

    Now, I still color, only because the meds I take make me look like I'm embalmed with my real color. But the gray is getting thicker and eventually, I'll stop coloring. My gray isn't that odd yellow gray, it's a beautiful silver. There's just not enough of it yet.

    All this is to say, I think my writing has taken the same path. I was happy with my writing when I was a kid, but then, kids usually are. Then I started to learn what "made" a good author and I became dissatisfied with my writing. Why couldn't I write like this or that author? Why shouldn't I emulate them to the point where I lose my own voice in the process?

    I've gone past all that now. My hair might not be that silver-gray enough, I'm still waiting for the "I'm happy with it" gray, but my writing has become the thing I wanted most. Mine. Something I'm happy with. Something that suits me.

    I'd have never thought of hair color as a metaphor for writing, but it works! :o)

  14. It takes a long time to be comfortable in your own skin but its so nice when you accept it.

    I'm still highlighting my hair though.

  15. Desiree12:15 PM

    I feel your pain and envy! LOL I went platinum blonde for my graduation pictures. I spent 3 hours in a salon and when I was finished I had chemical burns all over my head and I was pulling chunks *shudder* of scalp off my head for the next three weeks. The final toner they put on my head was supposed to stay on for 10 minutes. I managed 5 minutes while sweat poured down my back and I held back tears from the horrible pain that felt like a blow torch was hovering above my head. I learned my lesson though! Now I only ever add highlights, but it still sucks that I can never be a bombshell blonde. My natural colour is brown with weird highlights that turn bright orange when exposed to bleach. I also started going gray when I was sixteen. I'm 29 now and I have gray spinkled throughout. The women on my fathers side of the family are usually snow white by 40ish. I mostly stick to dull brown colours for dye in the box to cover my gray. I dont think I will let the gray show in all its glory until I'm all the way there. :)

  16. I'm a blonde and I dyed my hair red a few months ago. Every few years I cycle through the colors and end up with blonde again. I love to change my hair and it always cheers me up to dye it.

    Cool metaphor. :)

  17. I'm a redhead with brown eyes. Not the bright orange color, a darker red shade. I've never really wished that I was blonde, but I have noticed that most of the "popular" girls at my middle school were blonde. I know that I wouldn't look good as a blonde, though, so I'm fine with my red hair.

  18. I needed to read this tonight....... Not about my hair, I am a natural blond, my roots go all the way to the BRAIN haha! , but for other things in my life that I need to make peace with. Thank you!

  19. Beautiful, Lynn! Simply beautiful.

  20. Anonymous7:10 PM

    I was born blonde and always wanted to be a red head. Funny the way life is...

    I always feel so refreshed after reading your blog posts. You always seem to know just what your readers need to hear. Thank you Lynn.

  21. I have the straightest hair on the planet. I actually get asked on the bus what I use to straighten it so perfectly (simply getting out of bed usually does the trick already).

    Of course I always wanted curls. Nothing could convince my hair budge into any kind of form even remotely representing a wave.

    So I went to the hairdresser and got a perm. Nature wasn't having any of it though - roughly 2 weeks days later the perm was gone without a trace (which I had thought impossible up to that point).

    Thankfully, I moved to another country, where straight hair was all the rage at the time and my previously very un-cool look turned me into every female acquaintance's object of sheer green envy overnight.

    Bingo! :)


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