Right away, as a kid, I saw the correspondence between my hair color and sex. It was the nineties; women were confidently sporting long and fluffy locks (think Julia Roberts’ big hair), and this hair was an essential element of fashion and sex appeal. I remember always trying to fluff up my flat hair with hairspray that would inevitably weigh it down and flatten it further. I knew that with my hair color, came a role I had to play, not unlike an actress.
“I’m a natural blonde, but I feel like a brunette…People used to be shocked, when I was a blonde, that I wasn’t stupid.” ~Olivia Wilde.
Olivia Wilde is a successful actress who has taken on numerous roles that involve complex characters and storylines. She darkened her hair to gain more “serious” acting parts. Wilde is not alone.
“Yes, I’m blonde. When I started as an actor, because of the accent and my body and my personality, it was not what the stereotype of Latina in Hollywood is, so they didn’t know where to put me. The blonde hair wasn’t matching. The moment I put my dark hair, it was better for my work,” ~Sofia Vergara.
I bet you didn’t know Vergara was a natural blonde. Angelina Jolie is too. On the other hand, there are other actresses and entertainers who lighten their hair for their work.
“I’m such a blonde. It doesn’t make sense for me to have dark hair.” ~Jessica Simpson.
When Simpson states, “It doesn’t make sense for me to have dark hair,” she implies that there is some sort of logic or reasoning behind the choice of her hair color. In fact, whether these actresses have darkened or lightened their hair, they all express a strong correlation between identity, society and their hair color. For women whose professions rely greatly on their appearance as well as others’ perceptions, hair color nearly determines the course of their careers.
If these powerful and successful women must either suppress or surrender to their natural hair in order to gain certain positions throughout their careers, what are the implications of hair color for the women without fame and fortune?
Like wealthy actresses, female waitresses, educators, CEOs, dog walkers, exotic dancers, scientists, mothers, cashiers, teenagers and doctors (to name a few) all face the complex social implications of hair color. Though hair color is literally a detail of appearance, symbolically and culturally it is clearly much much more.I like to feel blonde all over. #marilynmonroe #quote Click To Tweet
I’ve never been anything but a blonde, so unfortunately, I don’t have the personal expertise required to compare the experiences of being blonde, red, gray or brunette. But as a blonde, I can affirm the strange, complex and subtle social connotations of “blonde-ness.”
Since childhood, I was coined the token blonde within the circles of family and friends. Though I wasn’t particularly enamored with my hair, it felt like others were. I learned quickly that my hair, to my liking or not, would always be tied to people’s perceptions of me. It’s hard to say whether or not the development of personality was affected by the external reactions to my hair because it’s not something we are consciously aware of really until we have fully nourished our critical thinking skills (which happens in adolescence or adulthood).
As a teen and young adult, I experimented with the social and sexual accompaniments of blondehood. As a blonde, I have the right to be funny, sexy, childish and fragile, for whatever reason. These are rights that any woman or man should and can enjoy. But as a blonde, you are handed this metaphorical license to “have more fun.”
Some of the downfalls I encountered (now, remember this is just my own theoretical expressionism; I don’t speak for everyone, nor do I claim to be correct) from being blonde were the result of being socially assigned to a sexuality and IQ.
As I got older and began to develop physically, my blonde-ness seemed to become more and more pronounced. In some ways, I feel that I surrendered to the label, regardless of my excellent grades, athleticism and work ethic. Luckily, performances that are measured objectively (like grade calculations and personal records) can not be influenced by hair. Numbers are numbers; an essay is an essay. But when it came to relationships, social developments and self-worth, things got confusing.
Though the connotations of being blonde have always existed in my life, I think in grad school, when I was endowed the opportunity to really self-explore, research and develop as a professional, I felt the most confused. Wrongfully, I had the notion that in graduate school, stereotypes and the objectification of women would be rejected. So, when I discovered as an adult, that my hair color was still more powerfully noticed than my work, I carried a sense of defeat (and truly some sorrow) in the world of awards and events.
If I’m really going to be honest about it, it wasn’t until grad school that I explored and confronted the profound ramifications of my hair. Famous blondes, Marilyn Monroe, Edie Sedgwick and Goldie Hawn became the subjects and regular stars in my poetry. I have a small collection of poems I named, Brains of a Blonde. Ironically, as I explored the intricacies of my own identity, I was objectified by some of my peers and professors.
“I know! Let’s just put Nicole in a bikini at our booth and people will totally come!” a fellow grad student, to my utter horror, suggested as we prepared and strategized for a Writer’s Conference. I felt so disheartened. Here I was writing all this intellectual stuff about the place of blondes in society, and these fellow scholars and writers still wanted to keep me in the Beach Barbie box.
I confided with another poet about the incident, seeking some sympathy. She responded, “It’s just that they don’t see it as insulting. If anything they figure you like the attention.” Clearly, another poet was the wrong person to talk to. This girl also told me to put my hair in a ponytail during a panel, so that I would be perceived less “blondely,” as being blonde is apparently not embraced by literary professionals.
A professor once said in class, “Nicole is great for publicity.” Another male poet suggested that I darken my hair.
I received a scholarship for a distinguished writer’s workshop called, VONA Voices: Writing Workshops for Writers of Color. I earned the award because of my work of course, but also because both my parents are Cuban; hence I was a “writer of color” on paper. However, in person, regardless of my cultural background, I was excluded from public photographs and mocked by one of the founders. I wondered, exactly what color are they looking for?
I’m still frustrated. I still sometimes get my authentic self confused with the expectations of others. Frequently, I find that I have to prove my mental worth when I meet other professionals. For example, when I reveal to recent acquaintances that I’m a professor and a writer, they are suddenly much more interested and invested in conversing with me.
Based on my observations and friendships, I know that women of all hair colors deal with their own social challenges. It’s not just blondes. Each hair color is anchored by social expectations, leading to many identities being weighed down. Luckily for the beauty industry, women flock to the salon or the CVS hair care section so they can finally be seen and heard as their true inner selves.