My two older brothers had a dusting of platinum blond hair at birth. I, on the other hand, emerged from the womb with a disheveled mop of dark brown hair.
My mom likes to joke about looking in my basinet to see if my dark hair had begun to fall out, she was convinced it was just a phase. Don’t get me wrong, she loved me. She stood vigil beside my pediatric hospital bed when an army of doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me. She administered medication through a long-term IV line for months after that. She gave up all dairy and soy for over a year because of a severe allergy I had which led to a ‘failure to thrive’. She joked about the dark hair but I know it did not matter.
At thirteen months of age I no longer ‘failed to thrive’ and lo my hair, as I can discern from photos, had begun to lighten. By three my hair fell below my shoulders in a cascade of blond straightness.
Even now, in the heart of winter, when my hair loses the super blonde streaks caused from exposure to the sun and the ocean, my mom likes to joke that my hair is turning brown. I could not take any more offense.
There are an estimated 7.7 billion people on earth, only 2% of those people have naturally blond hair. So a true blond is a rare thing. Me, my mom, my two brothers, my grandpa, and my Viking ancestors have/had blonde hair. It is part of my identity, part of my culture.
Though proud of my blondness, I do find it difficult to identify positive blond female depictions in film and television. The blond characters usually play the part of the mean girl who loses in the end (Clueless, House Bunny, Baywatch to name but a few) or the idiot who can’t puzzle through the simplest of problems (Family Guy, Mean Girls, Glee, Three’s Company). The list of blond screw-ups is way too long for this post. Luckily I did not watch much television as a child so I grew up believing I was a bad ass.
I have had my share of encounters, good and bad, related to the color of my hair. In 10th grade I walked into the peer-tutor learning center at school, and one of my classmates asked, “Oh, what subject do you need tutoring in?” He assumed, based solely on the color of my hair, that I needed help when in fact I came to tutor others. Tourists have snapped my picture at the beach because they think I am the quintessential California girl. One of the notes I received at senior retreat, from a brown-haired classmate, apologized for not realizing how smart I was and how passionate I felt about the environment. Basically they said sorry for assuming I was an idiot. I can only think my blondness caused this as well. No one ever looks at me and thinks ‘smart’, I blame the media.
Every Halloween assembly at school makes it very clear that the student body must tread carefully and not offend any culture or ethnicity with their costume of choice – no afros, no feathered head dress, no kimono, no sombrero or serape unless these items represent your personal background. I agree with this I would not want to make light of someone’s beliefs or identity. But why do we accept the 75% of woman who dye their hair blond? I could argue that this offends my Scandinavian roots (no pun intended).
All this begs the question, why does my hair color matter to me? It matters for a myriad of reasons. It ties me to my Nordic ancestors, it links me to the beach and the ocean, it makes me look like my brothers, and sometimes it gives me the upper hand. I can fly under the radar if I choose, because people who don’t know me don’t expect much. When I wow them with an on- point comment or get the highest grade on a test I feel special. And special, and a sister, and a daughter, and a surfer, and a friend, and a good student is what I am. All that and blond too.