From Our Readers
September 24, 2015 7:51 am

“Mommy, it hurts!”

“It’s ok honey, we have to take pain for beauty.”

While I was a very precocious seven year old, the concept was above my grasp, but I had already developed a keen understanding of my mother and her rules of engagement, the primary rule of which was never question. I went silent, and the woman tasked with putting highlights on the head of a child much too young for them smiled at me in the mirror. “Almost done beautiful,” she promised, tugging another piece of my hair towards her, coating it in bleach, and wrapping it up in foil.

When she was done with that, I had to sit still while my scalp burned and my mother buzzed around chattering manically with the stylists about the vacation we would be taking, her new cowboy boots, and how excited I was to be getting my hair lightened.

I was, in fact, excited. I knew that beauty was everything; my little world revolved around it. Trips with my mom to the hair salon, the nail salon, any one of the dozens of strip malls (or, as she would glamorously call them, “shopping centers”) where she bought dozens of pairs of the famed boots, gauzy blouses, and the sequined dresses she wore out with my father on the nights the baby sitter came. I used to love to wander around her walk in closet, fingering the clothes, sticking my tiny feet in her heels.

Up until the age of 4 or so, I had light blonde ringlets, but as I had gotten a bit older, my hair had started to darken down to what she called “mousy brown.” I tacitly understood that this was a grave disappointment, had overheard her whispering to my father that they had been promised a blonde baby. Many years later, I would find the adoption papers and this memory went off like a light bulb, flooding one of the many pockets of my brain that are better left to dark and dust. On that day, I just knew that brown was boring, that my mom was bright with the idea of making it better, and that if my mom was bright I was better off.

I don’t remember what my hair looked like afterwards, nor do I recall the details of that particular vacation to some Caribbean island. My father must have given her some hell for it, because I was never made to sit in the chair and have my scalp burned off again, not until I was a teenager and asked for it myself.

It was my therapist who recently suggested, in an offhand, killing the last five minutes of the session way, that it “might be interesting” to go back to my natural hair color. The idea took hold and manifested itself weeks later in a visit to a trusted colleague’s colorist, who in a reassuring Italian accent assured me there is indeed a life after blonde and that I would make a bellissima brunette. I made an appointment, and am now watching the clock tick out on my beloved platinum hair.

It’s been about four years since I went blonde, and my life is very clearly demarcated by it. Before blonde, un-medicated, under-employed, unpredictable mess. After blonde, happily signed up with my mental health care team, a reliable and well regarded friend, wife, and employee. As ill-informed as it may have been to instill in a child, my mother’s mantra was there for me when I needed it; when all else fails, beauty can guide you home. When we speak on the phone, we talk in gold tones versus ash, highlights vs. double process. There is very little about me my mother truly cares to understand, but our shared devotion to our hair does a decent job at filling in the gaps.

When I told my wife and our friends about my big decision, they were floored. “But I love blonde Joanna!” my friend Scott exclaimed, and then, hastily “but I love brunettes too!” For years, “blondes have more fun” has been one of my central tenets of existence. Perhaps I’ll feel differently once I make the switch, but I have to say, I think it’s true; I have had quite a lot of fun as a blonde.

I know rationally that there is more to me than my hair, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. I’m also tremendously excited; excited to “get back to my roots” as you might say, to see the old me in the mirror and give her an enthusiastic hello. I am also looking forward to finding a way to fill the countless hours I am currently whiling away in the chair at the salon each month. Maybe I’ll take up knitting, or solve world peace; only time will tell.

I can tell you one thing for certain; I’ve never been so excited to see my mother. “Look Mom,” I’ll say. “It didn’t even hurt.”

Joanna Greenberg is a proud New Yorker. When she is not writing, she enjoys hiking, taking selfies with her cats, and going on adventures. 

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