michelle wildgen
Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Wildgen
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Michelle Wildgen loved being a blonde—right up until she didn't.

Even as a fifth-grader, I hated my haircolor: muddy brown. I'd load it with lemon and roast in the sun, picturing the alchemy I'd soon see revealed in the mirror. My shade was a blight that made every attempt at a hairstyle seem misguided.

And then, in my teens, my mother let me get highlights and I went from dull brown to decidedly flaxen. Believing, in my teenage way, that I could shift the world on its very axis by being blonde and smart, I overdid both, carping about my intellect and arranging my hair into a golden cumulonimbus. I wore scarlet lipstick; my hair seemed to demand it. Though my style shifted throughout my teens and 20s—short, long, wavy, curly—the shade was nonnegotiable. I thought of myself emphatically as A Blonde.

But while part of the allure of blonde hair is its impression of effortlessness—gold is the very color of luck, after all—the truth is that for everyone but children, Swedes and elves, being blonde requires a lot of upkeep and money. Whenever I moved to a new city, I had to begin an anxious search for a dye master who could find that elusive zone between brassy and ash. After a decade of this, my prized fairness began to seem a bit desperate, a tad obvious. (A brunette who wants to be blonde—you don't say.)

Maybe I was tired, but one day I just gave up.

I couldn't help noticing that shortly after I went brunette, a number of celebrities did, too. Nor can I blame them. (Bravo, Reese.) I loved being brunette again. My haircolor flattered my skin tone and matched my brown eyes better than the blonde ever had.

These days I catch myself thinking of depth, of darkness: mahogany, raven, glossy chocolate. The perfect brown is shiny, not too dark, touched with gold rather than copper, more fawn than fox. It's shot through with variegated color: maple, raw sugar, caramel, cocoa. Sometimes I lose track of my own imaginings and just start listing everything good that is brown. The list gets longer all the time.
Michelle Wildgen

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