Changing Places: After enduring strong chemicals and many salon hours, the author learns what it means to be a golden girl. (Keith Barraclough)
Changing Places: After enduring strong chemicals and many salon hours, the author learns what it means to be a golden girl. (Keith Barraclough)
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Fade to Blonde

I ended up leaving the wedding early. On the way home, though, a thought struck me. About a week before, I'd been on the phone with one of my Latino friends from business school, and told him I'd gone blond. "Then you can get a job at Sin City," he joked, referring to a local strip club frequented by young, working-class Latinos. We had both laughed. Being compared to a stripper hadn't bothered me -- there's something so unapologetic and edgy about the stereotypical stripper look. But the idea of being confused with a blonde who might be trying to pass was horrifying. The problematic blonde, for me, was the woman at my table, who, despite my own complicated feelings about being blond, I immediately assumed was trying to hide her ethnicity. But then, where did that leave the bleached-blond Latina? If your hair is "not the right tone," then you're tacky, cheap, orange. And irony, as Iris's experience showed, is no protection. But if your privilege -- both of skin color and of wallet -- allows you to execute the transformation too well, you're trying to pass?

Damned if you do; damned if you don't.

AFTER THE WEDDING INCIDENT, it was all work and no fun, as my poor locks strained under too many chemical processes. I wasn't sure I'd really gotten to the bottom of the blond conundrum, but I knew I'd had enough. A second wedding gave me just the push I needed to go back to brunette. My roots had long been showing, as my boyfriend himself had pointed out. The blond hair had to go.

I did what many a Latina has done in moments like this: I called my cousin. As a real-life hairdresser, she's subjected herself to various hair color incarnations. When she came to save me with a color rinse and shag haircut, she herself was sporting a tongue-in-cheek platinum mullet with deep purple on the sides. "You'd better really be ready to go back to being brunette," she scolded me. She said she'd had too many clients come in claiming to want some change, only to end up crying in her stylist's chair. "These women," she sighed, shaking her head. "In the end, they just can't handle it."

And there it was. I, in fact, do have a deep connection with her customers, Latina and non-Latina alike. I didn't like this change. The change in status from being more Obviously Hispanic to Ethnically Ambiguous, at best. The misinterpreted intentions. It was all too stressful.

I'll stay brown and proud, muchas gracias.

Though I'd still love to try those blue contact lenses . . .

Belén Aranda-Alvarado is a brunette marketing manager in New York City, where she lives with her daughter, Natalia -- also a brunette. Her e-mail is belenarandaalvarado@yahoo.com.


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