Part I. Breaking Blonde
We had just finished our last improv show of the year. Our graduate-school group, “PhD” — aka Pure Human Debauchery — had reached peak musical comedy. Scott pirouetted so hard he almost thew his back out, Katharine’s vibrato literally blew the front row away, and Noah delivered a soulful guacamole ballad. Susan got through an entire show without a concussion, Sarah managed to sing and wrestle me to the ground all at once, Michael defied his parents, I was a German school teacher with warm benevolent dictator vibes, and Jason perfectly matched his piano accompaniments to each character. It was our best work all around.
The after-party was in full swing and a small group of us were sitting in a circle. I put my feet up on my boyfriend, Sam’s, lap and lay back in the chair feeling content and proud of our group. We started chatting and Sarah began describing her latest project — donating her incredibly long and lovely hair.
“The one thing I’m having trouble with is describing my hair color. How would y’all describe it?” Sarah looked around at us for feedback.
“Brownish — blonde!”
“Blondish — brown!”
“CHESTNUT!” Sam launched himself forward in his chair like he had guessed correctly for a prize.
We all turned to look at Sam. That was literally the most perfect, most poetic description possible. I didn’t even know Sam knew that color.
I felt a wave of jealousy well up in my chest and prickle over my skin. I sat up in my chair and looked at him as my right eyebrow slowly rose into a pointed arch. “Chestnut?”
Ok, Emily, relax. Sam was just being helpful.
“Well, yeah. It has some brown tones, some gold tones, and some flecks of red,” Sam said innocently.
I sat forward and without even realizing what I was doing I yelled out, “SO DOES MINE!”
Now everyone turned to look at me in awe and a little horror. I sat back in my chair and folded my arms defiantly across my chest. “It does! You just can’t see it anymore.” Sam squinted his eyes and surveyed my head. “Nope, I don’t see it.”
I had been dyeing my hair blonde for so many years, any trace of my hair’s former self was completely gone.
The conversation quickly pivoted away from anything having to do with hair, but I continued ruminating and huffing loudly.
I swear I’ve shown Sam pictures of me as a kid. Doesn’t he remember that I have all those colors and tones? Doesn’t he know that I’m a chestnut, too?
I interrupted whatever conversation had moved on without me.
“Sam — what color is my hair?”
“Um — — blonde?”
“Yes? Isn’t that what you want?”
I sat back in my chair again in embarrassed silence. What the hell was wrong with me? Why was I mad at Sam for accurately describing my friend’s hair color? Why did my blonde hair, which I had painstakingly developed for 10 years with hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars, feel utterly and completely wrong?
For the first time in my life — I regretted dying my hair blonde. All I wanted was to be seen by my boyfriend, without all the bleach and curated perfection. I wonder if Sam even knows what I really look like. Do I even know what I really look like?
But Emily, this is what you always wanted. Everyone calls you Elle Woods! Your blonde hair is why people stop you in the street! It’s what every man first notices about you. It’s what people love about you! Isn’t it?
… Isn’t it?
So why doesn’t it feel good anymore?
“You’d actually look really good as a chestnut.” Noah’s comment snapped me out of my daze. “But I know you’d never give up the blonde. It’s who you are.”
Right. It’s who I am.
I knew in that moment that I didn’t want to be this way anymore. But I also knew I wasn’t ready to let it go. I had an identity to uphold. Being LA Barbie blonde was my lifeblood, my superpower. I couldn’t give all of that up.