How pop culture and Michelle Pfeiffer inspired my quest to become an alpha blonde
Like everything else in my life, it’s fair to blame pop culture as the catalyst for my quest toward blondeness. I grew up on a steady diet of Nickelodeon, and grew weirdly fond of the likes of Angelica Pickles and Helga Pataki, two bold bullies who had a certain thing in common (besides pigtails). As I grew, I began to notice a certain trend in pop culture: yellow-haired women were mean, but also very, very strong. This made a lasting impression on a young Mary Grace. I later was introduced to Michelle Pfieffer, and I wanted to be her character in every movie: an alpha. The women she played were always HBICs (Head Bitches In Charge) with a stress on the B. So growing up I figured all I needed to be powerful was to be A) exceptionally cruel and B) blonde.
For all intents and purposes, I already was. I was the blondest child in Greek Church (spoiler: there wasn’t much competition there) and my hair was light-ish enough throughout my adolescence; all I had to do was zero in on that attitude. Though snark was ingrained in me even at a young age, shyness dominated my personality, until a platinum rock goddess changed my whole world.
I started to listening to Hole as I entered my teen years, and Courtney Love pushed me to be loud, to be aggressive, and to not fear being hated. She was the ultimate alpha, and after brief dalliance into purple-hairdom in middle school, I was ready to re-join the world of the blondes. My mom would kill me if I bleached my whole head, DIY-style, so bangs (in a yellow chartreuse hue), bleached tips, and red lipstick would have to do.
During this rebellious timeframe I had kinda-sorta stolen someone’s boyfriend in a very 10th-grade-drama way. His ex posted Hoku’s “Another Dumb Blonde” on her Myspace and I, having a punk rock moment, sarcastically repurposed the moniker on my leather jacket using some pink duct tape. It was the first time I was able to equate my blondeness to a personal sense of evil, and with that smug cruelty came that power. I had become The Notorious Blonde. This was exhilarating.
And then, all at once, it was exhausting. Believe it or not, being labeled a blonde HBIC (minus the H, I and C) did a number on my already fragile teenage self-esteem. I resented my fringe, I resented my blondeness, and even though my hair was tip-toeing into caramel territory, I resented my reputation as a flaxen-haired villainess. College offered a fresh start, and since I still looked up to notorious women, I decided to get some black dye and baby bangs to channel Bettie Page.
This is the part where I ruin my entire life.
Once you dye your hair black, you don’t go back to blonde without a literal battle, and I learned this the hard way when I was over my Bettie phase (I did not make for a good pin-up girl). Still determined not to bleach my hair into Brittle Town, I lightened my hair in gradients. Long, painful gradients. My feelings of emotional powerlessness during those years couldn’t have been coincidental. After two years, I had reached a sad, brassy, amber color. I shelled out veritable gazillions of dollars on de-brassifying products (Lush’s Daddy-o and Marilyn became bathroom mainstays), but it was no use. I decided the best move was to grow out my natural color and start fresh.
The good news: by this point we were entering the age of ombre, and my lack of hair maintenance was decidedly “on trend.” The bad news: going back to my roots revealed that my Greekness had overtaken me and marked me a mid-range brunette. Dear God, no.
Eventual highlights (and a bleachy, side-swept yellow-bangs redux) helped, but I couldn’t hide it, I was of the brown-haired people now. “Maybe this is the universe punishing me for dyeing my hair black,” I’d think to myself, panicked. “Maybe this is karma getting me back for stealing Jennette’s boyfriend.” I always came to the same conclusion: “In some way, I de-Samsoned myself and lost my golden power. No amount of dye or red lipstick will make me an alpha again, and I am a goddamn idiot.”
Then, a bi-annual Buffy the Vampire Slayer series marathon stirred me. If the all-about-power Buffy Summers could stop apocalypse after apocalypse as a tiny blonde, maybe I just had to summon my inner alpha blonde and aggressively reclaim my hair color. Then I could use my power for the forces of good and occasional acquisition of drinks. Inspired, I brought some some choice picks from my Hairspiration board to the salon.
“Your hair only really picks up red tones, but we’ll do the best we can,” my hairstylist informed me.
“I’m going to murder everyone,” I screamed, internally.
So I write this with my hair existing in honey waves, especially orange at the roots, clashing against my black eyebrows and olive skin…definitely frustrating, yet not not blonde. But by this point in my quest, I guess being blonde has kind of come to mean something different anyway.
When I sought to embody the cartoon playground bullies with hearts of gold to match their heads, the punk rock queens with bad reputations, or Michelle Pfieffer in every movie, I mistook cruelty for confidence. The final chapter of Blonde and Back Again: A Mary Grace Story, has me realizing that being an alpha, an HBIC, or whatever other powerful term you want to use, is all about what’s internal rather than what’s on my head. Given the choice, blondeness serves as a total confidence boost (and aesthetically, I think it contrasts well with all the black lace I wear — very Stevie Nicks, y’know?), but I can be powerful regardless of what color my hair is.
…still, so help me God if I won’t try my best to achieve some level of balayage perfection by my 25th. So help me, God.