I hear they’ve discovered the gene that makes one blonde.
I was a towhead as a child. As a baby, my hair was so light and fine I looked bald for a very long time. It darkened as I grew, and now my natural color can be called honey by the charitable and dishwater by the not-so-charitable.
Though you’d never know it to look at me. I henna now, but as soon as I could I started dyeing my hair, preferably black as sin. Occasionally I’d liven it up with a black that had red undertones, but I despised my natural color.
Why? people would ask. Everyone wants to be blonde, right?
No, they don’t.
The comments started when I was young. Oh, she’s blonde! So pretty, she’ll never have to worry about finding a boyfriend. Often, when I did something kid-stupid or silly, my haircolor was blamed. That’s so blonde of you. It was a low hum, something I was foggily aware of. I was busy with other things–surviving, mostly.
Then came adolescence. I gained weight in self-defense–food didn’t yell at me, judge, or hit me. I could always depend on food. Also, if I was heavier, men and boys stopped doing certain things. They only insulted me instead of insulting and sexualising, molesting and harassing me, which wasn’t much of an improvement but constituted some progress. Unfortunately, those were the years that “blonde jokes” had a resurgence. Sitcoms, songs, commercials, all got in the act. It was everywhere.
My stepfather latched onto the zeitgeist with unseemly lipsmacking glee. There was a constant barrage of blonde jokes, even outshining his favourite fat-girl and slut-jokes. I don’t mean occasionally, or just at holidays. I mean every day there were at least a dozen. Old favourites were repeated, and he brought home more from his buddies on base. Maybe they thought he was a connoisseur of such things, I don’t know. Mostly he deployed them during dinner, where I was also told clean your plate, we worked hard to get you that food and, in the next breath, if you just lost some weight you’d be such a pretty girl.
I didn’t want to be a pretty girl. I wanted to be left alone.
My mother took her cue from my stepfather, and it became a family maxim that I was book-smart, maybe, and I got fantastic grades but I was blonde, and that meant stupid. I’d never be street-smart. I wasn’t practical. If I just lost some weight, well, I was blonde and I’d find someone to take care of me, since I was so flighty and dipsy and head-in-the-clouds.
Black hair dye changed that. I looked in the mirror after rinsing it out, breathing in the chemical reek, and I saw someone different. Instead of blonde jokes, my infrequent family visits now meant I was told just that I was too fat and stupid, but without the constant “How do you confuse a blonde?” or “A blonde walks into a bar,” or “There was this blonde, you see…” The prevailing narrative was still that I was a mistake, but it felt marginally better.
A few times, over the years, I’ve had my natural color–mostly while growing my hair out after shaving my head in mourning. Each time, the jokes started again, the random comments from men. My response has become simple: I turn around and walk away, often in the middle of the joke. No discussion, it just makes me too tired. Often, the man in question will try to follow me, shouting. As if they cannot believe I don’t find them entertaining. My female friends say “I had a blonde moment!” or something similar only once or twice before they cotton on that such a thing makes me fierce. Don’t say that about yourself, I will fume. Don’t put yourself down at all, but especially like that. I can’t stand it. Please don’t do it.
The worst was having to listen to that sort of bullshit in an office environment. Nowadays I have the great luxury of not having to put up with that shit during my daily job, and I recognize it’s a luxury not many women share. I’m sorry. I wish I had some good advice, but I never learned a foolproof way of making a group of men you work with stop once they’ve discovered misogynistic crap irritates you.
I still don’t find blonde jokes funny. At all. In the absence of a gene treatment to give me a less awful color (seriously, I want GREY, dammit, with my eyes I could really rock long grey hair) the henna will have to do.
It’s a practical solution, after all. You could even say it’s smart.