“Let’s talk about hair. Why do I call it ‘yellow’ hair and not ‘blonde’ hair? Because I’m pretty sure everybody calls my hair ‘brown.’ When I read fairy tales to my daughter I always change the word ‘blonde’ to ‘yellow,’ because I don’t want her to think that blonde hair is somehow better.”
That’s from Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, and it’s a quote that has always stuck with me.
After reading the book several years ago, I made a point to do the same thing with June, whose own mane happens to be white, surfer-girl blonde, the kind of color Hollywood actresses risk scalp burn for (and to think all you have to do is be a 4-year-old to get color this gorgeous and shimmery).
I didn’t want to do anything to perpetuate the “global blonde conspiracy” (or “GBC”) in my house, though. So I substitute blonde adjectives, I don’t buy her platinum haired dolls, I put strict limits on the type of programming she’s allowed to watch, that sort of thing.
Yet the other day, while brushing her glossy mane, she off-handedly mentioned she would NEVER in one million years want to have brown hair because brown hair isn’t “beautiful” like blonde.
What about black hair? I ventured. She looked at me like I had some kind of strange disease. I wanted to laugh. Then I got really depressed. How, despite my vigilance, my sly adjective substitution, my strict motherly controls over the quality of programming she watches, did June pick up the message that blonde equals better?
“Is this something you learned at school?” I asked. (It must be the other kids.) “No,” she responded. “It just is.”
It just is.
When a 4-year-old calls it like they see it, you know it to be true. (June also told me the other day my teeth look yellow. Which means I actually have yellow teeth.) Blonde is better than brown. She has absorbed the cues put forth by our blonde manic culture despite the fact that she’s never even owned a Barbie. The GBC is all around us.
The woman smiling brilliantly at me from the box of teeth-whitening strips that I should probably purchase: blonde.
Every bridal magazine cover model ever: blonde.
Ninety percent of the white ladies in my small Virginia town: blonde.
Every other Hollywood starlet: blonde.
Taylor Swift: blonde.
At least one woman within 8 feet of you right now: way, way too blonde with serious split ends.
Even glacial-topped Claire Underwood from House of Cards dabbled in going brunette, but was told to revert to her original flaxen color because it “polled better” with voters.
Is it a surprise that two popular contenders for the first female president of the United States, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, could pass for Breck girls who grew up?
Why is this? Why does our culture love blonde hair? I suppose it has something to do with blonde signaling safety, goodness, freshly baked corn muffins with a dash of youthful sex appeal. You don’t see women blow torching their hair in a zeal to go brown or black. We think going blonde will make us look younger, but what it mostly does is convey to the world we couldn’t pass up the $19.99 skunk chunks down at Shear Elegance.
Because here’s the essential truth about artificially blonde hair: unless you’re Gwyneth Paltrow, most artificially blonde hair looks, well, artificial. It just does. (Come to think of it, Gwyneth Paltrow might actually be a natural blonde.) You can spot a bad, brassy highlight from one end of the dye aisle to the other. But your average gal — she doesn’t care. As long as she thinks she looks young, she’ll happily break strands to achieve the perfect, frizzled, Tara Reid hair helmet.
The messed up thing is, I lament the Global Blonde Conspiracy even as I AM blonde. Well, more like mousy blonde. Okay, my hair is brown. I have brown hair that I highlight blonde every four months (I have a small shield of broken bangs from over-processing to prove it). See? Even I try to pretend my hair color is lighter than it is, evidence of my own ensnarement into the GBC. How can I expect my daughter to embrace all shades of humanity’s glorious follicle rainbow when I can barely admit to myself that my natural hue is the color of pureed, chicken and gravy baby food?
So this afternoon, when June gets home from preschool, I’m going to sit her down and talk to her about why brown, black, and red are gorgeous hair colors too. Brunettes and redheads can signify basic corn muffins just as much as yellow tops! And I’ll say all this with the utter conviction of a woman who would rather choke on peroxide than give up my highlights.More On