SOME YEARS AGO, MY hair began getting blonder. It happened after I had lived roughly 2 1/2 decades with very dark hair that, try as it might, never fit the image I had chosen for myself. Mine, it is important to understand here, was a generation raised on movie magazines whose very existence depended on a never ending stream of cover photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds. They were the essence of American beauty, the grownups of our dreams, and if we found out rapidly that there was no legitimate way we could acquire the same complexions and bustlines and eyes they had, well, at least we could copy their hair color.
This gave rise to no end of experiments at slumber parties and to no end of new hair colors showing up in school on Mondays. My first attempt to become Marilyn Monroe occurred during this period and it was a dismal failure. I poured on the purple toner that was supposed to transform my hair into a golden halo, and waited for hours for something to happen. The problem, it turned out, was that brown hair has to be bleached before it can be toned blond. Well, I'd heard enough stories about people's bleached hair falling out or turning green; I went to Plan B. Instead of becoming Marilyn Monroe, I became Elizabeth Taylor. (By that point, no one wanted to be Debbie Reynolds.) This required an investment in a bottle of black tint, which was supposed to impart a haunting raven lustre to my hair. It did that, and it also imparted a raven luster to my scalp and to the entire shower stall, a fact with which my mother haunted me for weeks afterwards. My Elizabeth Taylor stage lasted until the next weekend when I washed my hair and had to clean all the black dye out of the shower. There are, after all, limits to what one will do for beauty.
A decade later, however, my hair got blond again through a day-long process known as frosting, in which some of the hair is bleached and some is not. While this is a vastly more painful process than bleaching, it is vastly more respectable. You are a frosted blond, not a bleached blond. And since you still have some dark hair, dark roots do not stand out among your blond tresses, revealing to all the world that you did not acquire your lovely blond hair color by totally natural means. My hair continued to be frosted for most of the decade that followed. Early this summer, however, as the hair that was to be bleached was being tugged through tiny holes in a rubber cap, as tears were gathering in my eyes from the pain, I told the hairdresser that this was the last time. I couldn't stand it anymore. "Next time," she said, "we'll do the whole thing."
I did not think that was such a terrific idea until three months later, when it was time to do the frosting again. The choices were clear: I could revert to brown or take the plunge. Vanity, of course, prevailed. Three hours later I emerged from the beauty parlor a new person.
She was not, initially, a person I felt comfortable with. She had very light blond hair. She still had dark eyebrows and eyelashes. She had also forgotten to mention to her family what she was going to do.
My son the 15-year-old was standing near the family room door when I came home. "Hi, Mom," he said, heading into his bedroom. Double take. "Hey, Mom. Wow. That looks really nice." That was the time for him to ask for his own car.
The baby, who at 2 is still known as the baby, was playing on the back deck. She looked up as I walked out. "Mom?" she said, hesitantly, moving towards me. I picked her up and she held onto my shoulders, smiling with relief. Then with both hands she fluffed at the blond curls. "Magnifishent hair," she exclaimed.
My husband merely scowled.
Not long afterwards, the 6-year-old arrived home. "What happened to your hair?" he asked with alarm. I tried to explain. He looked it over and shook his head. "I don't very much like it," he said as tactfully as he could. "Are you ever going to have your other hair again?" This was clearly more traumatic for him than I had figured.
In the days that followed I had to do such things as show up in the office with the new hair. "Some people will do anything for a column," was one of the funnier lines. Good friends didn't recognize me. My father liked it, but my mother, perhaps interpreting this as a personal rejection of the hair with which she had endowed me, has said nothing.
It has been six weeks now since the transformation and I cannot tell you if blonds have more fun. I can, however, tell you that I am finally getting used to it and I think I now know why.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting down and combing my 6-year-old's hair. He was standing up. Suddenly, he stood on his tiptoes and peered over the top of my head.
"MOM," he shouted out in glee. "YOUR BLACK HAIR'S COMING BACK!"