In which the author explains how and why she has been coloring her hair for 23 years.
I turned to the bottle for the same reason most people do: insecurity, frustration, a nasty breakup, general alienation, and my mother’s persistent referrals to my hair color as “dirty blonde.” None of which is all that unusual for a 12-year-old. Adding to my preteen trauma was the fact that my father’s job in the oil business had our family living in the Middle East. I was in a rut but didn’t have the money or permission to do anything about it. But I had Madonna. At the time, Like a Virgin seemed like the most rebellious tape you could own—sort of a musical version of Judy Blume’s Forever. It was while listening to “Dress You Up” for the 4,321st time that I decided to color my hair.
I popped the tape into my Walkman (I needed a soundtrack for the momentous occasion), walked to the store, bought a box of Nice ’n Easy, and forced my younger (and smaller) sister to assist. There were a few complications—my hair was a bit brassy, and a towel or two may have been ruined—but I was ecstatic. Here’s why: I went from wallflower to superstar. As with all serious addicts, it only took once. I was hooked. And my mother was fine with it, which in retrospect makes sense. When we left the compound, she was frequently mistaken for a local (this could have been due to the seven bangles that jangled on both arms and her unwillingness to pay retail at the street markets), and my sister to this day gets asked about Passover plans. It’s my theory that Mom thought at least one of us should look like a WASP.
I have no way of knowing whether Gwen Stefani copied my Baylor look for her No Doubt persona. All I’m saying is that by the time I had returned to the States and graduated from high school in 1990, I had also graduated to platinum. (My mother unkindly referred to it as “fluorescent.”) I ran every day, sometimes twice a day, so I never bothered to wear anything but Umbros, tiny t-shirts, and running shoes—whether to class or to bars. I rocked curling-ironed bangs with ponytails. And, God, I was skinny. So, really, I was Stefani (minus the bindi) before she was. Being blonde was extra important during those years. I hated so many things about Baylor, and my hair color was my show of mini-rebellion. It made me too trashy for the churchy people, and many of the insufferable “intellectuals” assumed I was an idiot. I liked that. I didn’t have to bother talking to people I didn’t want to talk to, a luxury you’re never really afforded in high school. Even better, in my senior year, someone called me a “bitch.” To my face. As I later explained to my sister, “It’s a good thing. Can you imagine getting called ‘dork’ or ‘loser’ or, my God, ‘fat’?” Obviously, the eating disorder distorted my thinking a bit, but I figured the boy went with “bitch” instead of “dork” because of my stunning halo of hair.
I eventually moved to Dallas and met my hairdresser and soulmate, Richard. He has wrested total control from me over the color. It’s much more age appropriate, less platinum. Of course, I would love for it to be lighter (Gwen Stefani, after all, is still pulling off the platinum look more than 10 years later). But Richard quiets me with booze, and I’m always euphoric when he’s finished. It’s as though I’ve lost 12 pounds and maybe a year or two, thanks to my blonde, blunt bangs. I trust Richard more than anyone I’ve ever dated. Put it this way: if something terrible were to happen to Richard, I know he’d take my color formula, the name of the last guy I slept with, and my true weight with him to the grave.
I can’t be sure if my dating experiences in Dallas have suffered because of the hair or the girl wearing it. And maybe brunettes and redheads find this to be true, too. But the men I’ve gone out with seem disappointed when a woman speaks. Fantasy is a wonderful thing, and if men imagine their ideal blonde as a wordless, bouncing cheerleader or a kindly, silent stripper with a heart of gold, I certainly have no control over that. But this blonde has an opinion on everything and everyone—even (especially) people I’ve never met. I like to pepper those opinions with strong words. I dated a man who would attempt to parent me by saying, “Volume,” when I got loud. Surprise: the relationship didn’t last.
The last man I dated was a prolific reader—so prolific, in fact, that he liked to read my mail. Which is how he came across a rather unpleasant letter from American Express, which was threatening to take me out at the knees, turn off my card, or some such nonsense. After a particularly humiliating discussion about just how much I owed, a detailed accounting of where all my money goes, and a stern talking-to about how this sort of behavior could affect my credit score, he offered me the money. I refused. I don’t take money, condos, or cars. In my mind, that’s another sort of blonde altogether. But I was shocked by how many women told me that I should have taken the money and run.
I’m guilty of my own blonde prejudices. I wish I could say that I feel a kinship with all of my blonde sisters in town, but I don’t. I’m quick to disassociate myself from blondes with boobs and lips so overinflated that the women look as if they’re anticipating an aquatic emergency. I consider them less blonde, and more cartoon, which is fitting as males never really outgrow their cartoons. But much scarier are the flaxen-haired helmet ladies who lunch, the ones with tight smiles and perfect makeup. They can make any clothing item—even if it’s Armani—look like it came from Talbot’s. Ladies, don’t be the blonde who asks, “Where do you worship?” as a follow-up to “Nice to meet you.” It’s none of your business, and, frankly, the conversational possibilities it invites should bore anyone to tears.
Negatives aside, I’ve spent 23 years pursuing my color of choice, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I certainly don’t foresee anyone asking me to. Even when my frugal ex began rattling off “luxuries” he felt I should forgo, hair coloring did not make the list. When I brought it up, he said, “That’s not really an option.” Damn right.
Laura Kostelny is the former managing editor of D Home.