Thursday, December 18, 2003

Clichés and Vanities

There are faces that only a mother can love, and I know that my mother loved mine. But hope springs eternal, and that's why she has so often sought to improve me. It all started in grade school, four or five years into my ugly phase. We had our first seventh grade "mixer" (This was Catholic school, so, yes, they were still called mixers.) and I didn't want to go. But Mom bought a whole outfit and laid it out on my bed, as if it were being modeled by a hipper, flatter me. From bottom to top: Yellow slouch socks. White pants, stylishly tapered at the ankle. A blouse with fat, vertical, yellow-and-white stripes. A matching yellow mesh scarf (to be worn around the head, Madonna-style). And giant, triangular, yellow plastic earrings.

Would you believe? I was a hit. And I started to like mixers after that. Mom could be counted on to at least give me the appearance of cool. Later that year, she picked out a Hawaiian outfit for a classmate's luau and slathered my freckles in blush.

By the summer after 8th grade, I still wasn't improving much. And so Mom decided to "highlight" my darkening brownish-red hair. I was trusting in a way that most soon-to-be 14-year-olds are not. And so I didn't even get upset when an inevitable highlighting mishap required an emergency trip to the drug store, this time for an all-over dye that would cover up the streaks. She would touch up this all-over job every couple of months.

By 10th grade, at Mom's urging, I was as blonde again as I'd been at age three.

That was 16 years ago, and I've been blonde ever since. Once or twice I've tried to go redder or browner, but the color always washes out again. And so that's how I've looked for a long time now. Pale hair to match my very pale skin. (Don't even get me started on Mom's efforts to make me fake tan, or the fake-tan handprint that accompanied me to the junior prom.)

A college friend (with glossy black hair) once opined that blondes get more credit for being good-looking than they deserve. "It's a crutch," said Ilana, of people who lightened their hair. "Thank goodness," I remember thinking privately. After all, why not let the ordinary-looking among us work with what we've got?

But it's a drag running chemicals through my scalp every 5 weeks (no matter how adroit I've become at doing so). And there are few successful blonde women in academia. (The only ones I can think of are "personalities," are over 50, and are tenured.) So, yesterday, I decided to get back to my roots. Today I stare in the mirror at someone who looks very much like she did when she was twelve.

Mom gave up years ago on making me beautiful. But she won't appreciate this step backward. Meanwhile—much as I hate to admit it—my new, darker 'do has me feeling a bit smarter.

And also a bit more invisible.


At 10:04 PM, Anonymous allysa said...

nice post


Post a Comment

<< Home