• Mon, Aug 4 - 1:15 pm ET

I’m Afraid Going Blonde Will Make People Think I’m Ugly

“What’s going on with work?”

“I’m going blonde for a story next week and I’m ridiculously excited about it.”

“Oh god, why? Don’t do that. That just–it won’t look good.”

And so went the conversation between myself and the attractive bartender at one of my regular spots. I laughed and replied, “Well, I guess we’ll just have to see!” even though I didn’t find it funny at all. I left the bar feeling rather dejected–a very different emotion than the initial elation when I finally scheduled the appointment with the salon. Suddenly, I didn’t want to go through with a decision I had been so thrilled about previously because I had been told it would look unattractive, a prospect that dictates an unfortunate number of my choices.

By now, you may all be a little sick of hearing about my hair. About a month ago, I asked you folks to tell me what I should do with my hair because right now, it’s long and boring and brown and shapeless. For nearly a decade, I had unnatural-colored hair; it was mostly shades of blue, but there were bouts of Ronald McDonald red, pink and purple, yellow blonde, bright orange, and ombre pink (Tenth Grade Sam somehow hopped on that trend early). The past couple of years have primarily consisted of growing out my hair and keeping it chestnut brown, and while I am really into how long it’s gotten, I also miss trying new things.

I wound up deciding to go blonde, so tomorrow Thursday I am heading to Hairroin Salon here in Midtown and going blonde. And I am mildly terrified, which is weird because I am (A) very excited about the opportunity to finally go blonde via a pro salon and (B) very aware that hair grows. This stems from my internalized fear of being perceived as ugly.

Back story: I haven’t mentioned this in a while because I admittedly got a little depressed when writing about it frequently, but I was bulimic for about a decade. In one of my first pieces for The Gloss a couple years ago, I detailed all the lovely (i.e. revolting) consequences I’ve experienced as a result of my binging, purging, and self-abuse. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anybody that bulimia is awful for your body in the long run, but it also has a lasting effect on how you view yourself. I can’t say for sure if it is permanent yet; at this time, it is pervasive and constant.

Since I stopped being actively bulimic (I’m honestly not sure how else to describe the state I’ve been in for the past couple of years), it is rare that I feel genuinely disgusting in appearance. Even though I am at the highest weight I have ever been, I don’t actually hate myself or how I look. This is in part because I put much more energy into focusing on my abilities, intelligence, and self-worth than on how I look, but I would be lying if I pretended that how other people perceive me, particularly those whom I am attracted to. I don’t feel ugly, but I don’t feel pretty on a regular basis, either. I am well-aware that it should not matter whether I feel lovely or not in front of other people, but that is a state of mind easier instructed than performed.

When we are young, many children–particularly little girls–are taught lessons in a very specific way. We’re told that if we look or act a certain way, nobody will like you.

Click to the following page to read some of these examples, as well as the beauty decisions real people told us they have avoided for fear of being less attractive.

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  • Alexis Rhiannon

    GET IT GIRL.

    • Samantha Escobar

      Thanks Alexis! :D

  • Katie

    I know you don’t want reassurance or what have you, but my thinking is that people hear blonde and think a specific kind of blonde and how that would look bad. Like I would look ridiculous with Daenerys blonde hair. Or epic. But my eyebrows aren’t dark enough for that….anyway. You will just look more awesomer.

    • Samantha Escobar

      Oh gosh I hope it didn’t sound like I was like, DON’T REASSURE ME AND I SHALL REJECT ALL COMPLIMENTS. Because seriously, thank you, that does make me super happy to hear :D I think you are right–people hear “blonde” or “redhead” or “pink” or whatever and think of either a specific shade they hated on somebody or just a shade they never seem to like in general. Like, whenever I hear the phrase “orange car” I just assume the speaker is referring to that horrible metallic bronze-orange shade that is weirdly popular with PT Cruiser drivers, but I am certain there are beautiful bright or pastel orange vehicles out there! That was probably a weird example, but what I’m saying is that I know what you are saying. Saying.

  • Jinx

    This fear is (unfortunately) real and all too common. I’ve wanted a pixie cut since I was 12 but I’m afraid it’ll look ugly and people will hate it, and that’ll ruin it for me even if I like it on myself. My mom/sister/friends always tell me I should grow my hair long, dress better, and be more “feminine”.

    • Samantha Escobar

      There are few things more openly criticized than a lady who wants a pixie cut. I’ve seen so many articles (though I typically just don’t give them the clicks/links because I hate them) that detail the idea that women look dumb with short hair, which is absurd because there are so many famous and non-famous women whose pixie cuts are just the best of the best. Short hair seriously works with some people’s style, personality, lifestyle, and routine! Honestly, I hope you do go for it eventually because with a name (even if it’s a username!) like “Jinx,” you would undoubtedly look great with it.

    • Jinx

      This made me smile, thanks!

  • ZanBrody

    I recently returned to my natural light blonde hair after like 10 years as a fake brunette because the upkeep was just too much. I’m astounded by how comfortable people have been in aggressively telling me that they hate it. I think when you make extreme changes or are experimental with your looks, people feel like you are less attached to your looks in some ways? I can laugh it off, but you know…it’s my natural born appearance. It’s a little jarring to have work colleages weigh in on how it doesn’t suit my coloring.

    • Charmless

      I had the same problem! And when I changed my color again, people breathed a collective sigh of relief and had no problem telling me how much better I looked now that my hair was no longer offending their eyeballs. I will accept “I’m not used to seeing you as a blonde!” because adjusting your mental image of someone takes time (my ex-boyfriend once lost me in a store because he forgot I had just cut my hair). but you’re not doing either of us a favor by being so blunt about your distasteful opinion of my appearance.

    • Samantha Escobar

      Ughhh why would anybody feel the need to act relieved at your hair? That makes me so annoyed (at them, o’course). I think if somebody were to say, “Oh hey! This is a change” or “I’m not used to this yet” then it would be much less offensive, but it’s like when people say a person looks “SO much better” after losing weight–it’s just not necessary. Congratulate the person on making a change, but don’t critique whatever they used to look like. Blah.

    • Samantha Escobar

      Definitely true–I think when you switch around stuff or do drastic changes, people assume it means you aren’t as invested in your looks, and therefore may have less stake in how others feel about it. I know I’m guilty of assuming people with a lot of tattoos probably care less about how folks perceive them (and I really should already know that’s not true since I have tattoos and clearly still care). I can’t believe people would talk about your hair like that, especially in front of you, as though your decision is supposed to be in accordance to their feelings. Next time, tell them that if they want your hair brunette so badly, they can pay all your hair bills indefinitely.

  • Elyne

    Being insecure is normal, but don’t let it stop you from the things that you really want to do. Ofcourse it’s easier said than done. If i have a moment like that I just tell myself – screw it I don’t care what people think. It’s not always working but sometimes it does help. That being said good luck i’ll bet you look amazing.

    • Samantha Escobar

      Thank you :) Honestly, I think if I didn’t go through with it because some people said it wouldn’t look good or that blondes are supposed to be skinny to “pull off” the lightness of the hair (a notion I’ve heard a surprising amount since arriving in New York), I would wind up seriously regretting that.

  • LittleBird

    Thank you so much for writing this!! I can relate to this kind of “fear” 1000% and I never really talk about it. It’s common, but not right and it sucks…I love what you said about the negative impacts of what we are told. I’ve been working really hard to try to dig out where this message came from in my own life, that I MUST be a certain way. I want to know whose voice that is in my innermost mental loop, criticizing endlessly, because it’s not my own! Sometimes when I wear a new outfit or try different makeup, I can’t shake the feeling that some stranger is going to come up to me and say “Why are you wearing that?” “Nobody wants to see that! Gross!” Etc. (Something which has never actually happened). Or alternately, that I’m going to be sexually harassed/threatened that day and it will be “all my fault for standing out.” (Which has happened. It was of course not my fault, though) So I don’t really break too far out of my shell with my “look.”

    Logically, I know that most people are decent people who would never go out of their way to be rude. And that I shouldn’t care if others think I’m pretty or not, anyway. But oh, I do… It’s just so hard to reconcile with every day.

    I did buy my first pair of shorts this summer for the first time in 13 years (and wore them in public) Shit’s too hot to care *as* much! :D Anyway, you’re going to be a knockout with your new blonde hair. You got this!

    • Samantha Escobar

      Re: Shorts. OMG. I had that same thing happen when I was in college! I didn’t wear them for 6-7 years and then one summer, it was so hot and we didn’t have air conditioning so I was all DGAF and wore shorts. And nothing bad happened! I am so excited for you because (A) Hell yeah it’s way too hot to not show some skin and (B) I bet you look killer in ‘em and (C) you deserve to wear whatever the eff you want.

      Isn’t it weird how much strangers’ opinions matter? Like, logically we all know that other humans on the street will probably see us for 10 seconds and then never again, but it’s still weirdly terrifying to walk around near them and wear shorts or unkempt hair or sweatpants because we’re afraid of how they’ll feel about it. Ugh.

      Anyway, thank you so much for your response! (And all your comments, which are always awesome.)

    • LittleBird

      Haha, yep, nothing bad happened! And you’re so welcome! I’ve been reading (and lurking) on the gloss for a long time. :) I really appreciate all the other commenters, they’re lovely– and the writers for taking the time to respond to their readers.

  • loser_sneeze

    “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses”- said way too many assholes

    • Samantha Escobar

      How about “boys worth your time won’t make stupid rhymes”? Okay, I know I sound like a silly aunt (and clearly you already know those people are assholes) but I really wanted to respond to those tools in rhyme form. Glasses are awesome–and literally necessary.

      Fun fact: I’ve needed glasses since age 3, but it didn’t get truly necessary until the second grade, but I had seen so many cartoons and kids’ shows where the kid with glasses gets picked on, I was too afraid to wear them. I just squinted through that whole year. I can blame second grade me for all my future wrinkles, ugh.

    • loser_sneeze

      Yeah, I’ve had to wear glasses since age 8 and my vision is atrocious. I wear contacts most days but I am perfectly content to wear my glasses as well. And dudes will still talk to me. But I still remember my mom saying it so obviously that little rhyme made an impression. Sigh.

  • JennyWren

    Not unusual at all. Whenever I cut my hair into a pixie people will rave about how good it looks, but I STILL can’t shake the feeling that it is somehow “unfeminine” and that I will look more appealing with longer hair. Of course, when I have longer hair I often feel unkempt and frumpy, so there’s no winning!
    I think the weirdest though was when I got bangs and someone I worked with said “it suits your personality better.” What?

    • Samantha Escobar

      You really can’t win! There are times when I wish I could just shave off all my hair because it would make the whole decision of “WTF DO I DO WITH THIS” over and done with.

      Also, how can bangs suit your personality? IDGI. I mean, maybe if–nope, can’t think of anything, whatsoever.

  • FemelleChevalier

    I think it’s perfectly natural. I just (impulsively) dyed my hair a month ago—not too crazy because it will look unprofessional—and everyone was like, “whoah…”. I received both good and kinda bad comments from people I’m close to, but nothing I can’t handle.

    And I’m not trying to reassure you or anything, but I genuinely think that you’ll still look pretty as a blonde. Just an observation, albeit a limited one.

  • https://twitter.com/perfctlyflawd1 JenH1986

    I have been blonde (currently rocking that look) and brunette and red and blue and green and gray (no pink or orange though). I’ve had long hair and a bob and I shaved the sides of my head once and I’m currently rocking a pixie. It appears people “prefer” me to be blonde with a bob length cut. But every now and then I like to mix it up. I’m of the “it’s just hair” camp. Meaning if it’s awful, I can cut it or get it fixed later. I can also say I’m a pasty white girl and I’m hardly skinny but I think I rock the blonde well. So I’m sending good vibes your way I’m sure it will look amazing and I cannot wait to see photos!

  • Holly

    First of all, maybe the bartender was just awkward and needed something to say and for a lot of people, for whatever reason, that something is often negative. People need to feel like they have a say in things. Also, my husband and I were discussing blonde hair on people and how other people perceive those people (people, people, people). I think that people give a few attractiveness bonus points (those totally exist) to people with blonde hair. I think it’s just a thing, society, blah blah. So, there’s some really superficial, unscientific advice for you. Thirdly, I was also bulimic for nearly a decade. I’ve since gained nearly 80 pounds. And not the evenly distributed kind of pounds. I look puffy and misshapen and, well, like I’m recovering from an eating disorder. My metabolism has checked out. I have PCOS. I had trouble having a kid. Etc, etc. I definitely know how hard it is to deal with the after effects of the disorder. Sometimes, I think that if people who have dealt with it showed up in high school auditoriums talking about what happens to your body when you stop making yourself sick after so many years, less kids would feel inclined to try binging and purging for crash dieting. I also get worrying about how others see me, attractiveness-wise. I wear stupid clothes because I worry more about my huge stomach being covered by ridiculous amounts of fabric than I do about being happy in something I find cute or fun. I have wanted rainbow (or at least some fun colored) hair for ages but I know if I get it, I won’t look as cute as someone who is thin and pretty would if they did it. I think my rainbow hair will emphasize unattractiveness. So, your feelings are totally normal, or at least normal in the sense that lots of other people feel the same way.