Before long, they had me wondering about the blond life I never lived, my unfulfilled birthright. And so I decided to try it out, if only to coordinate better with my kids. Mind you, I had no idea what "going blond" would entail, having never so much as squeezed lemon juice into my hair. I knew that it would be time-consuming and difficult. But when I found out that I would have to strip all the brown from my hair before it could be dyed, I blanched. Covering over my brown was one thing, but erasing 40 years of comfort scared me.
I told Gina Gilbert, the colorist at the Serge Normant at John Frieda Salon in New York City, that I was starting to chicken out. I expected her to be irritated at my spinelessness, and so to rekindle my nerve. Instead she smiled and said, "Thank God. When I heard that you're a mother, I thought, 'Blond is going to be a nightmare.' You'd be in here every three weeks."
"Oh," I said, relieved.
"Besides," said Gina, "I like your hair brown. It's the right color for you."
I nearly laughed out loud. Perhaps the plain, brown rut where I'd spent the last four decades was exactly where I belonged.
I was wrong—not about the brown part, but about the rut. Gina didn't change my color, but somehow made it gorgeous, like a polished tropical wood. It was as if she had noticed in me a prettier, nicer person than I'd ever dared see in myself, and coaxed her out of hiding. For the first time in ages, I felt that my surface matched my core.
As the week wore on, though, my curiosity gradually began to reignite. And so, two weeks later, I was back in the colorists' chair again—this time, Marie Robinson's, at the Sally Hershberger Downtown salon—for brighter, lighter highlights.
I told Marie that I needed to experience life as a blonde—even just a partial, streaks-of-gold-through-a-mane-of-brown blonde.
"I bet you'll like it," she said, as she enfolded segments of my hair in foil envelopes. "But once you've tried it, I think you should go back."
"Why?" I said.
"Brown suits you."
She was right, of course, on both counts. I do like my sunny highlights. And they don't quite suit me. It's fun to have gold-streaked hair, the same way that it's fun to try on gorgeous-but-not-me clothes in the dressing room. In front of the mirror, it's all make-believe, but the moment I step out in public I get insecure, lose my poise. For me to feel pretty, I have to be confident, and for that, I have to feel like myself.
That doesn't mean I'm going back to my plain-Jane hair, however, because that doesn't feel like me anymore. In fact, it doesn't feel like anything. All those years when I thought I was being true to myself, I was just growing numb on monotony. Getting a great new color made me realize that the right kind of change doesn't take you away from yourself; it wakes you up to yourself. So what if the self I discovered doesn't happen to be a blonde? I can accept that.
So I'll let my highlights fade. I imagine that will happen about the same time the last box is flattened and sent to recycling. Then I'll head back to the salon and watch the colorist turn the haircolor I've simply put up with all my life into the color I now crave—the beautiful, vivid, glossy brown that feels just right for me, a woman who knows a thing or two about change.