Tuesday, September 16, 2008

BLONDE DISPATCHES: Undercover Brunette

by Tolly Moseley

Ever since I was sixteen, I've been an artificial blonde. I blame Loreal Frost and Design. The pretty girl on the box of Champagne H85. The easy pull-through cap with a new time-saving formula. The tools, the potion you get to mix up, the erotic thrill of reversing your hair color destiny via the magic of science. What girl wouldn't fall for this stuff?

The first time I highlighted my hair, I remember my mom shaking the bleach powder into the plastic tub, releasing chemical-laded ammonia fumes. I felt so ballsy. I was about to do something unapologetically fake to my body. Sure, it was a far cry from a tattoo or even a piercing - but it still gave me a rush. The Sunday before, I had gone to church, where we probably talked about our bodies being temples. Now my virgin, mousy hair awaited a thick layer of 100% non-God given bleach. I had never been so excited about giving this temple a renovation.

The first time I bleached my hair, I lied about it. A girl on dance team asked me if I had gotten highlights, and I told her: "I was in the sun all day last weekend - you know, my hair just does this sometimes!" It was an out-and-out untruth. I don't think she believed me.

The gazillionth time I bleached my hair, my boyfriend, now husband, asked: "Are you a natural blonde?" I laughed and said, "this is not nature, my friend - this is art." And that's exactly how I, and I imagine many women, feel: like an artist of one's own appearance.

So it's with great pleasure that I go about day-to-day, wearing my blondeness. Hello, traffic light! Hello, Fran in sales! For whatever reason, being a blonde usually makes me feel perky. I am quite certain this has its roots in culturally stereotypical and decidedly unfeminist lines of thinking. But I also know that I look a lot better as a blonde, and that shot of self-confidence I got at sixteen as a newly-minted towhead still hasn't worn off.

For all of the reasons above, friends and family were quite surprised when I decided to go brunette. Promptly after my wedding.

"But you make such a good blonde?"

"Are you mourning your single life?"

"Does your husband secretly prefer brunettes?"

The truth was, I had been blonde for about a decade - not counting one inconsequential encounter with a box of hot pink dye I picked up at Sally Beauty Supply in college - and thought it was time to challenge myself. Why "challenge?" That's a good question. I guess I operated under the assumption that anyone could go blonde...but not everyone could do dark. It seemed like an adventure.

When my stylist unwrapped the towel from my fresh, inky tresses, I knew I had made a mistake.

"Um...I love it!" I stammered. This was a disaster.

The first thing I wanted to do when I got dark hair - a rich, chocolate brown with red highlights, a beautiful combination whose only problem was the un-beautiful girl it graced - was slap on as much eye makeup as I could. So I came home, rubbed charcoal shadow on my lids and penciled black liner on my eyes, with nude lips for effect. My husband and I went on a date that night. I think he was scared.

The second thing I wanted to do was go get a tan. This too was an impulse I can't explain. As a blonde, it seemed that the only people I ever ran into at the tanning place were…other blondes. I guess I thought that brunettes had either a) naturally olive skin that looked sort of tan no matter what they did, or b) porcelain complexions kept delicate and snowy so as to heighten the drama with their contrasting locks. But I was, unfortunately, no Dita Von Teese. I marched my brunette self straight into a spray-on booth, and emerged Eva Mendes. A shorter, more-awkward looking Eva Mendes.

Here's something I didn't expect: brunette hair made me feel like I had a huge head. As a blonde, if one's hair is mussy and not quite “fixed," which would have been me every single day prior to de-blonding, it’s easy to get away with. But as a brunette, all of those out-of-place hairs stand out in stark contrast against the rest of the world. So although it was completely not my personality, I felt compelled during those first few brunette weeks to make a daily ‘do out of my raven locks, which styling tools and expensive products I had to ration my grocery shopping money on. Why? I couldn't very well walk around with this huge head full of crazy brown hair, could I?

Another thing: I learned that one's "blonde wardrobe" doesn't immediately transition to a "brunette wardrobe." At least, it didn't for me. I virtually buried my pink items, which all struck me as horribly Elle Woods, and bought several jewel-toned tops that looked at once grown-up and sophisticated. Was brunette hair aging me? I couldn't tell.

Eventually, with practice and purple blouses and inexplicably large sunglasses, I started embracing the brunette thing. I felt like a spy on my own life. I'd go to the gym, and people wouldn't recognize me. I visited my in-laws, and they stuttered a little. It was all so very strange, this dark hair! I have never been one to intimidate, and all of a sudden, I did. Are blondes more approachable? Are blonde jokes still echoing in our cultural consciousness? This was in the height of Jessica Simpson madness, and everywhere I looked, I saw her blonde hair, her huge heels, her whole Texas (specifically, Dallas) package grinning at me from the cover of an Us Weekly. I've always had a soft spot for Jess, but I also congratulated myself for temporarily excusing myself from the blonde ranks until her flaxen domination blew over.

I have one confession from this time period. It's true that as a brunette, I didn't get checked out as much. I hated it, then I loved it. How lovely not to be sexualized. How freeing and bold I felt, not using my feminine wiles as a crutch for almost every male/female interaction. Not to say that the world isn't delirious with sexy brunettes (Penelope Cruz, we are looking in your direction). And not to say, also, that I was even entirely conscious of all the giggling, the blondie silliness, before. "Man, could I act like a blonde sometimes!" I'd think, catching myself in a moment of flirty blondeness, which felt forced and weird now. 'Brunette' was a second skin I didn't quite own, and further, something about it made me hyper-aware of how many more people took me seriously, which was sad but also interesting. So I didn't try to impress the would-be flirters.

When I heard the siren song of blondness some six months later, I didn't resist: On my 26th birthday, I skipped back to my blonde "roots." I did it myself, with a humble Loreal Frost and Design pull-through cap kit. I remember meeting my parents for dinner that night, and my mom telling me, "honey, it's good to see you again!"

Mom's right, I'm more "me" as a blonde. But inside, there's a brooding brunette who realizes she is a sociocultural archetype, a "bad girl" invented by Hollywood tropes, rubbing her hands together fiendishly and waiting for our next adventure. She's telling me to go red this fall. In a couple of months, I shall be a fiery vixen a la Joan Holloway on "Mad Men." The inner brunette/redhead can be quite convincing, when she wants to be.

Tolly Moseley is a book publicist and writer based in Austin, TX. To read more about the trouble she's causing deep in the heart of Texas, visit www.thataustingirl.blogspot.com.


JacquelineC said...

What a great story. Well written and fun. Do you know about Inked-In? Check out our little writers/artists/musicians community...I'm going to send folks your way, too.

The Leather District Gourmet

Austin Eavesdropper said...

Hi Jacqueline - Thanks so much for the kind compliments! I'd love to know about Inked-In, is it on The Leather District Gourmet website?