"Well?" a friend asked over coffee the other day. "Is it true what they say? Do blondes have more fun?"
I had often wondered that myself. So two weeks ago, I decided to find out. On my 28th birthday I stepped into the beauty salon, delivered my brown tresses to the power of peroxide and emerged 2 1/2 hours later with hair the color and texture of Malibu Barbie's. I kept my eyebrows brown.
Being blond hasn't changed my life dramatically; my days are not spent in a madcap, zany series of adventures. Being blond has been . . . interesting.
I had told only two people of my plan, wanting the initial reactions to be fresh. They were.
I drove downtown to The Times that Saturday to pick something up and ran into another writer, who spotted me and shouted, "Oh my God!"
"Do you like it?" I asked, nervous, hoping this first response would be a positive one.
"I hate it!" she spat. "I saw that in London in 1980!"
I was crushed.
"Well," she said, "if you didn't want my honest opinion you shouldn't have asked me."
Two days later she called to apologize. "I'm sorry," she said, "but I'll never get used to this."
Two days after that, I was on Skid Row downtown covering a story. As I stood on the sidewalk a man sidled up behind me and said in a squirrelly voice, "Hey, blondie. Hey, blondie !"
I looked around to see who he was talking to before I realized it was me.
It took some getting used to, this blonde thing.
I began to notice I felt different. My confidence didn't soar, but an inexplicable sense of calm washed over me. While rushing to an appointment one afternoon I suddenly took a deep breath and relaxed. "It's OK," I told myself. "You're blond now."
The response from strangers could be divided by gender. Men stared, women offered bitchy up-and-down glances that said, "Who the hell do you think you are?"
At nightclubs and at Melrose Avenue stores I instantly felt accepted, by virtue of the fact that I was obviously not a natural blonde. I remembered how an ultra-hip friend of mine was once enraged at the thought of using colored mousse to have pink hair for a night.
"They think they're cool, using this stuff," she said, her lip curled in disgust. "If you're going to do it, you have to make a commitment to it."
Puzzled by the Attention
At two parties I attended, married men flirted with me while their wives sat in close proximity. I was puzzled by the attention until I caught my refection in the mirror and remembered what I had become. Blonde, I realized, is a state of mind.
"There is, however," cautioned a friend of mine who has been blond all her life, "a ditz factor to being blond."
Said another, "It's true. People think you're dizzy. I brought a cake in to work one day and everyone said, 'Wow, did you make this all by yourself ?' "
One friend, who decided at age 13 to chemically assist the blond hair she had been born with, told me she was discussing her family tree with some co-workers and mentioned her roots were in the East. "No, they're not!" someone screamed. "Your roots are in Clairol!"
A Mild Newsroom Sensation
I caused a mild sensation the first day I strolled through the newsroom. Jaws dropped and eyes popped and I marveled at how something as trivial as dying one's hair could cause people to stop dead in their tracks.
The comparisons to Madonna came fast and furious, due to the dark eyebrows. I was Madonna-like, Madonna-esque, Madonna-ish. A few people mentioned Marilyn Monroe and there were two nostalgia votes for Annie Lennox.
Not every response was favorable. One friend mentioned a likeness to Mike Score, the blow-dried blond from Flock of Seagulls. Another shook his head and said solemnly, "You're so pretty. Why would you want to do that to yourself?" He made it sound as though I had shaved my head and tattooed "Mom" across the top.
Female friends got a vicarious thrill by seeing me blond. Some confided that they'd thought about having it done, but could never go through with it.
Male friends responded in a eerily similar way. Once past the initial shock, they'd tilt their head back, raise one eyebrow and say with a mild leer, "But I like it. I really like it."
But almost everyone gushed over how brave I was. Another writer made this analogy: "It's the difference between performance art versus traditional art forms," she said. "Like, performance artists bleed, they don't act out what bleeding feels like."
Not the First Time
It never occurred to me that what I was doing was particularly brave. I thought the most courageous thing I had done was fork over $75 to my hairdresser. But then, this wasn't the first time I had experimented with my hair.
I was a fashion writer at the Houston Post in 1983 when I decided to dye my hair deep purple, or aubergine, as my hairdresser called it. Although I did get some startled glances from people at Safeway, that never even caused as much of a sensation as going blond.
After purple came my short and spiked period, my blond-streaked period and my bad perm period, the last making my hair look like a Shirley Temple wig from hell. All this from someone who never stepped foot inside a beauty salon until college. I was making up for lost time.
Now, as an unnatural blonde, I must deal with the Root Problem. A quarter-inch of dark brown hair is already showing, giving me a "streety" look, as one friend described it. I'll touch them up in a few weeks, a process I am destined to repeat until I tire of it and go on to something else.
Do blondes have more fun?
The jury's still out, I'm afraid. The other day I asked a blond friend if she thought it was true, if the fair-hair set really does have the edge. She paused a minute, then said in a conspiratorial whisper, "You know who I really think has more fun? Redheads ."
Maybe next year.