How writer Carly Lewis faked her way to realness, one hair appointment at a time.
It was during the finale of a drawn-out, painful breakup that I decided to go blond. My ex once told me that he preferred brunettes and had wished that the woman he’d dated before me would go back to her original dark hue. If I’m being entirely truthful, part of going blond was about defying his gaze. As we hooked up a final time, he grumbled that I looked “so hot” with blond hair. His disingenuousness was delicious. Beauty was now on my terms.
For years I’d been telling Carla, my hairdresser, that I wanted to try out life as a blonde. I wanted to explore what I could do in the cloak of unrecognizability. It would be a challenge, she warned, and require maintenance and a commitment four times as costly as my current regimen. As a forever-dark (sometimes almost black) brunette with long Morticia Addams hair, I used to fantasize about my theoretical blond self, but, fearing change, I’d always back down. At last, emotionally restless and hoping to reinvigorate from the outside, I went for it. Carla cautioned that it would take several appointments to gradually achieve the lightness I desired. Three hours later, I was a honey blonde. That night, I went to an event; a former colleague didn’t recognize me and walked right by. I was camouflaged; I was new. And a month later, I went nearly platinum.
When asked by Harper’s Bazaar whether she preferred herself with dark or light hair, Kim Kardashian replied: “Blond. Brunette is who I am obviously; it’s my core. Blond Kim is this alter ego; she has a vibe to her that I love.”
Similarly, beneath these locks of mine, I am still the same hard-working, serious woman who values privacy and time spent alone. But society’s presumption that blondes, especially faux blondes, are leisurely, adventurous and easily amused has drastically changed the way people treat me. The attention I receive from men has tripled. I am interpreted as an easy prospect by those who see my hair as a signal of social enthusiasm. With blond hair, especially when my dark roots reveal themselves, I look wild – so much so that when I decline male attention, I am met with a look of surprise that seems to say “You’re blond; shouldn’t you be more fun?” In professional settings, I have to work harder to be taken seriously because my hair suggests that I – like model Soo Joo Park, singer Debbie Harry and many other righteous bottle blondes before me – have more fun than anyone.
Dying my hair has also recalculated my social currency: Bartenders serve me faster, shop girls are more attentive, strangers ask me where to find the good after-hours clubs and people of all genders perceive me as being an aspirant It girl. I’m not, but being blond has afforded me the impression of being audacious – ironic, given how long I wavered about making the switch.
A 2012 study conducted by French psychologist Nicolas Guéguen found that compared to brunettes, blond women receive more romantic attention, unsolicited help and, in the case of serving staff, better tips from men. Last year, a study from The Ohio State University revealed that blond women are more likely to be in the highest IQ category than other categories. “Stereotypes often have an impact on hiring, promotions and other social experiences,” says Jay Zagorsky, the study’s lead author. Stacey Staley, founder and creative director of Toronto salon Blonde, adds, “This idea of the dumb blonde is very passé – we’re over that now.”
Still, I’d be lying if I said going blond hasn’t forced me to recontextualize myself: Could I be a common hot girl after all? (And, after long rejecting such trite beauty ideals, do I want to be?) Might the confidence and ambition I’ve held quietly inside manifest themselves in my actions, thanks to an image that suggests I embody these traits?
Nikki Kennedy, a colourist at Good Day Hairshop in Toronto, says that post-transformation life changes may come from within more than we realize. “I don’t think it’s a matter of perception on its own,” she says. “When we go blond, we tend to project more of ourselves. In a way, it’s performative.” Has going blond brought my steeping confidence to the surface? Perhaps it’s my emboldened personality, not my lighter hair, that others find alluring.
I love this bolder version of myself that going blond has led me to. Eventually I’ll go back, and I will love that dark-haired woman just as much. But for now, I’m content. It took a little fakeness to find the real me.
Icy blond hair needs love. Coddle it with these prods:
Stacey Staley, founder and creative director of Toronto’s Blonde, says that the upkeep required – the violet shampoo, the reparative masks, the toning treatments – to keep dyed blond hair healthy is worth it, according to her clients. “Blond takes a lot,” she says. “But it also gives a lot. There’s something magical about being a blonde.” (Renowned hairstylist Guido Palau, who bleached the hair of 18 runway models for Alexander Wang’s spring/summer 2017 show last September, appears to agree.)
1. TRY TINTING IT. L’Oréal Paris Colorista Semi-Permanent Colour #Purple400 and #Blue600 ($17 each) takes platinum in a candy-coated direction that lasts for four to six washes.