Celia Barbour gets highlights.
Photo: Inga Ivanova/iStockphoto
She was a blonde as a child. What had she missed out on by letting her hair go brown? Stung by strangers' comments, Celia Barbour decides to reclaim her birthright.
I am failing to live up to my hair.

My hair deserves to be taken out to fancy dinners. It should be admired, adored.

I, meanwhile, can't even find a mirror. We (husband, three kids, and I) have just moved from the city to a small town, and me and my freshly colored hair spend our days unpacking boxes (but not, dammit, the one that holds the mirrors), me in a T-shirt, my hair wadded into a clip. When I do happen to catch myself in the rearview on the way to the store, I am startled: Me! With blonde streaks! Check 'em out!

My hair droops in dismay.

I didn't set out to disappoint my hair. On the contrary, I thought my timing was quite clever. A new town seemed like the perfect place to start over with the hair I was always meant to have. When I was a kid, it was blond—white-blond, the color of a sugar cookie. But starting at about age 4, it began its long, slow descent into darkness; by high school it was the color of oversteeped tea. "You know what's neat about your hair?" asked a classmate whose gorgeous, honey-colored curls tumbled to her butt. "It's the exact same color as your eyes."

Yeah. Thanks. Brown. Wow.

Still, I would have been fine spending my whole life as a brunette because being fine was something I was very good at. I'd been working at it for years, thanks to my big sister. Growing up, Elisa saw everything as changeable. Her hair was long, then short; blunt then feathered; straight then frizzy; brown then Cheez Whiz (remember Sun-In?). For her, nothing was fixed. Everything was mutable.

I took the opposite path, probably just because sisters do that—Elisa was scattershot, ergo I would strive to be grounded, steadfast, deep. Instead of incessantly changing the things I didn't like about my appearance, I'd accept them. My hair, which was long and straight in seventh grade, was long and straight in college, and long and straight on my wedding day. If superficial dissatisfactions ever roiled my life, a new hairdo wasn't going to fix them—or so I told myself.

I cannot pinpoint the moment when this philosophy crossed over from Zen acceptance into a kind of stern inflexibility—from "I don't need to change my hair" into "I need to never change my hair."

Life has a way of playing tricks on people like me; the more self-righteous we are, the better. And so life handed me three kids, all of them blond. Stunning, spectacular blond. Strangers would see us and say, "Where'd they get that fantastic hair?" or "I guess your husband is blond." No, I'd say, sighing. No, it was me. Once. A very long time ago. (I hate strangers. They always stir things up.)

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