I was born curly-haired and blond, and save for a few years of meticulous straightening, those attributes have been a huge part of my identity. My hair is important to me, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, being recognized as a blond is just as significant.
I started to realize this only recently (at least consciously) when I showed my driver’s license to a new friend. The picture on my ID is from my 16th birthday—my budding smile lines and crow’s feet hadn’t formed yet, but my signature flaxen strands were bright and on display. He looked up at me and said, “Oh, so you’ve been dying your hair for a really long time then, yeah?” I was immediately offended. I couldn’t believe he didn’t see me as a natural blond. But then I wondered why I felt so strongly about the outside world assuming I dye my hair. I do color my hair. As is true with most blondes, my light locks have darkened over time, and I touch them up with highlights every few months. (My most recent experience was with Aura from Sally Hershberger in NYC—she is an absolute miracle worker. FYI: My color has never looked better.) But the idea that this person—and perhaps a whole slew of other people—didn’t see me that way was surprisingly troublesome to me.
I decided to talk about this feeling with other women in the industry to see if it was something they grappled with as well. What’s more, I wanted to understand how our hair color really plays a part in who we are and how we see ourselves.
First, I talked to Kathleen Braine, a beauty writer for XOJane who, like me, was born blond but has lightened her natural color throughout the years.
She has had a similar experience with her hair-color identity. Braine explained, “I personally have always maintained that, because I had blond hair as a baby, somehow the fact that I dye it now is more legitimate. I know that isn’t necessarily true, but I also take umbrage at people who feel the need to immediately say, ‘But that’s not your natural hair color!’ I make a choice to be blond, just like a make a choice to wear a certain type of lipstick, eschew all hats, or wear black all the time—it’s a choice that I make about my appearance. And just because it’s not a natural hair color doesn’t mean I can’t talk about the reactions my hair gets, why I love lighter hair, or how much I match my sartorial choices to my hair color.”
“Plus,” she continued, “it takes a lot of work to get my hair to a platinum stage, so the color being a part of my identity is a no-brainer. I spend hours in a salon chair to get to my desired color.”
She makes an interesting point—like somehow we own the fact that we’re blond more passionately because we have to work so hard to maintain the color we love. That, and a recent study found blondes tend to have higher IQs than those with any other hair color. It’s even been proven that blondes are perceived as more approachable and fun, and it’s the most covetable hair color among women. So after some research, it’s clear that there is science and psychology behind this idea.
Then, I began to wonder if this identity issue exists within women who really weren’t born blond. I decided to ask Danielle Prescod, Obsessee’s managing editor and a fairly recent member of the blond-hair club, about her experience dying her hair for the first time and really changing her look. She told me that, even though it sounds crazy, she really thinks of herself as a blonde—and she, too, is offended when others don’t view her that way.
“I was convinced to go blond last year after I was bombarded with images of a very blond Kim Kardashian,” Prescod explained. “You might have blinked and missed her blond hair since it only lasted for 21 days, but a good 10 of those were spent in Paris for fashion week, where visibility was super high. I had never colored my hair before this, and I sat on the idea for a little bit, knowing that my locks would be taking a beating if I were to go blond.”
She continued, “In May of last year, I decided to do it anyway. I went to Adel Atelier, where the colorist went easy on me at first, but two weeks later I went back so that I could be blonder. That was the beginning of my blond-hair dysmorphia. From that moment on, I couldn’t be blond enough—I began to very emphatically identify with being blond. At a dance class, the teacher called ‘all the blond girls to the floor,’ and I stepped forward. At my Diesel appointment, they had a T-shirt bar when you fill in the blank to the slogan ‘I am naturally ______,’ and I had them fill in blond for me.
“I am very solidly committed to the fact that this is the way I am supposed to look. My whole face is warmer, I can wear simpler things, and I think that in general I stand out more. I can’t even imagine going back to my natural hair color. I went back twice more since my initial plunge to achieve my desired results and we finally got to the perfect mix last September. It’s faded some, so I went back for a blonde re-up last weekend, and of course, I am woefully unsatisfied.”
Another recent (and, in my humble opinion, wildly successful) blond transformation came about a year ago when Carly Cardellino, Cosmopolitan’s senior beauty editor, went from brunette to a milky white blond.
She said of the experience, “I’ve been a brunette all of my life (aside from spending the past year with platinum hair), and while I never thought blondes really had more fun—because I had a lot of fun with brown hair—I have to say that I do feel more like myself with my super-light hair. I can’t really pinpoint what it is about my new hair color, but it makes me feel wild and free and more like myself. Plus, I love that it makes a bold statement and is an automatic accessory (i.e., you look chic even when you’re going to the laundromat to pick up your laundry).”
So after talking to natural blondes, recent blondes, and a few that are in between, it seems my initial reaction was not only founded but also common. I am allowed to feel protective over my hair and the way it’s perceived, because whether it’s from a bottle or not, it’s a part of me.
Do you think your hair color plays a part in your identity? Sound off with your thoughts below.