I’m not blonde anymore. I would never admit that out loud because of the essential qualifying word: anymore. I was blonde — once upon a time — from when I exited the womb until I entered high school. When my hair started to darken, a part of me died. So, I dyed my hair!
It always begins with some innocent, face-framing highlights. But then you start getting the reaffirmation of an identity you were afraid to lose. And I wanted to intensify that feeling, so I didn’t object to a full dye job that would obscure my dark roots. The upkeep is not ideal, but for some reason that I should probably examine in therapy, I want to keep my hair perpetually sun-kissed.
My identity has been inextricably intertwined with blondeness since before I could remember.
I look back at photos of little Eliza sometimes, who was known endearingly as the family’s “ray of sunshine.” There’s one of me dramatically strutting down a hallway in a pink feather boa. Another of me on my dad’s shoulders in green and white polka dot tights, tugging his ear. One of me decked out in winter gear, mischievously eyeing the camera as though I knew a juicy secret. For all she knew, she’d be blonde forever.
I became aware of my blondeness when I started identifying with the Disney princesses. My favorite was Cinderella, of course — when you’re little, you choose the character that looks the most like you. I used to shimmy off one of my shoes on the New York city streets and hop away, hoping to invite the salvation of a real-life prince. But instead of a dashing stranger returning my left Mary Jane, my parents would scold me and we’d hurriedly double back to make sure my shoe didn’t fall into a sewage grate.
I was already internalizing the messaging that implied my blondeness should attract attention. Television and film continued the narrative. Rapunzel’s long, golden hair gave her magic healing power. Miley Cyrus’ blonde wig transformed her into Hannah Montana. And shows cultivated a blonde vs. brunette dynamic too; Take Gossip Girl, where Serena is the Upper East Side’s shining it girl while dark-haired Blair falls into her shimmery shadow. I’d come home from school, flip on the TV and begin another kind of education about how appearances dictate social capital.
By middle school, my hair was turning what some people called “dirty blonde.” I prefer to remember it as honey-colored. Right around that time, everyone was showing up to class with newly dyed, electric blue streaked hairstyles. But every hairdresser I spoke to refused to bring their bleach and foils within a five-mile radius of me. Why? Because “people pay” to get hair like mine, I shouldn’t damage it.
It didn’t end up mattering. What magenta box dye would have destroyed in minutes, time slowly deteriorated anyway. High school rolled around, and I was no longer the same, bubbly blonde girl. My playful innocence shattered when I realized no prince would ever recover my missing shoe. I lost a bit of my spark as I grew up, as many of us do. Nobody called me sunshine anymore.
I wanted to feel like myself. I wanted to be special. I wanted to shine again. I felt like the “me” in me was hidden. I needed a little movie magic in my life, something to boost my confidence and help me find what I’d lost. I didn’t consider the messages I was sending by returning to my blonde-hood. Was I buying into outdated media tropes and harmful beauty standards? Why would a different hair color make me feel more valued?
I know that I’ve had my fair share of fun as a blonde. But I also pulled off an amazing Halloween costume as a 1920s flapper wearing a jet black wig. I’ve threaded silver tinsel through my braids and put emerald gems along my hairline for parties. Once, I wrapped my head in a colorful silk scarf and donned large sunglasses while riding in a convertible. The radio was blasting, and I remember throwing my hands up in the air in utter ecstasy. My hair was frenzied, flipping in the wind— and it didn’t matter at all what color it was.
I’ve come to the conclusion whether my hair is blonde or not, my spirit is, was, and always will be light and bright. My dye-ing wish? Do what makes you happy, but think about why it does. I’m going to keep getting highlights simply because they brighten my day. They’re like my version of a tattoo — they remind me never to let go of my vivacity. But thankfully, they’re not permanent. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll buy some magenta box dye and fulfill my wildest curiosities, knowing that even if my hair changes, I’ll always be me.