When I was a toddler, I had white-blonde hair. It was my one redeeming quality.

 As I got closer to entering grade school, my hair started getting ever-so-slightly darker. This was simply not acceptable. Not at all. Not in any way.  My mother, frantic to maintain my über blonde locks, started washing my hair in lemon juice, a treatment that was reputed to make hair lighter, but that was guaranteed to burn when it got in little eyes.  I despised this ritual.  But my mother persisted, and I endured, considering the fact that my hair was what made me acceptable.  I learned this early on.  No blonde hair, no approval.  It was the only thing about me that gave me any value.  The point was completely and painfully clear.

I went through years of lemon juice treatments.  My hair kept getting darker.  Soon, it was a dirty blonde.  This was not good.

My brother had dark brown hair.  He was accepted.  He was a boy.  Evidently, that made all the difference.  Boys didn’t have to be blonde to have value. 

At one point, my mother took me to a beauty shop to see about having my hair dyed blonde (in her perception, restored to the correct color).  This was some time ago…back then, the procedure of lightening one’s hair was difficult and often less than successful.  It wasn’t something young girls did.  But my mother was so desperate to bring back my white-blonde locks, she was willing to try anything.  Even more shocking, she was willing to spend the money – on me – to have it done.  The women at the beauty parlor were not willing, however.  They said I had too much red in my hair.  That it would probably turn orange.  I was saved from the nasty peroxide process.  My mother’s disapproval was palpable.

When I was a teenager, I thought about saving my meager allowance to buy a blonde wig, but I didn’t believe that would satisfy my mother.  I opted to buy drugs instead.

 When I was in my mid-twenties, I went blonde.  I mainly used “Sun In” because initially, I only wanted to add some streaks and highlights.  But eventually, I was applying it to all of my hair and was bleaching it out to a fairly pale white color.  It looked pretty awful, but my mother loved it.  My approval rating soared.

Unfortunately, the color got harder to maintain over time and the roots were looking really dark when they grew out.  I got tired of the “fake blonde with roots” look and of always having limp, damaged hair.  So I finally went to a professional and asked to have my hair dyed back to my natural color.  At the same time, I had all the damaged ends trimmed away.   This is when I discovered my hair had turned a rather dark auburn.  The change was a bit shocking at first, but I came to like my natural color.  It somehow suited me. Or so I thought.

The next time my mother saw me, her anger was evident.  She let me know it looked absolutely horrible, that my hair was far too dark and was completely unflattering.  In fact, she wrote me a 20+ page letter criticizing my choice of hair color (my NATURAL color, mind you), expressing her complete disbelief over what I had done.  She considered my auburn mane to be a betrayal.  A slap in the face.  I was defying her.  Letting her down.  I was yet another disappointment in her life that was already overburdened with disappointment.  Tragically, in her estimation, everything that was wrong with her life at the moment was entirely my fault and probably had a lot to do with me not being a blonde any more. I had totally disappointed her.  I should be ashamed! 

I tried to explain that I had simply decided to embrace my natural color, but you would have thought I told her I had murdered someone.  I finally gave up trying to communicate with her on any topic at all.  There was no point.

I have never gone back to being a blonde, in spite of the fact that I no longer had any value whatsoever to my mother.

 Over the years, my hair has actually gotten somewhat lighter again.  I’m now coloring it to cover the gray and I’m using a color that is slightly darker than my current natural shade.  I may switch to a lighter auburn in the future, but I’m still content to wear this color that has been mine since my early 30’s.  I own it now.  I have made peace with not having light, wheat-colored hair.  If my hair were to turn blonde again in my old age, I fear, if she were still alive, I would disappoint my mother once again.  I fear I would go darker…for the 3rd time in my life.

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