“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.

Examples of how kids are taught that their attractiveness to others is important to how they choose to look:

  • “Boys don’t like girls who sit like that.”
  • “Do you really think a good guy will like all that metal in your face?”
  • “Nice girls don’t wear shorts like that in front of boys.”
  • “Boys don’t like short hair on girls.”

Some of these statements were well-meaning, I’m sure, but they still serve up the same tired message: females exist to please men, and therefore should cater their appearances as such. These types of social pressures absolutely extend to men, but given the history of the beauty industry and the females we are shown on television or in films (people actually find it unrealistic if a non-thin woman is declared attractive), it is difficult to argue that women aren’t given heavier body policing. Therefore, a great deal of us wind up making decisions on how we look because we are afraid of how people will see us.

I took a quick poll on my Facebook to see how friends felt about the topic, inquiring as to whether or not they have ever decided not to make a specific beauty choice for fear that others won’t find them attractive. Here’s a smattering of their responses:

  • MN: “I wanted to get a sleeve but thought it would contradict the sweetness of my face and figured people would be like ‘what is this bitch tryin’ to prove.'”
  • LH: “Red lipstick. Sometime I feel like it’s more of a flashy accessory rather than an enhancer. I want to wear it to look bold and womanly but fear I look like the Joker or something haha.”
  • SS: “This doesn’t exactly answer this question but I think it’s related. I always feel weird about wearing new accessories that aren’t something I typically wear. Like a hat, or flashy earrings or something. One example: [in high school] I almost always wore pants. Occasionally I wore a skirt instead, but every time I did people would ask why I was all dressed up. I hated it! It’s nice to be complimented on wearing something new or different, but being questioned about it is annoying and made me uncomfortable. This kind of thing doesn’t bother me so much anymore, and I think there are less people I see regularly now that would actually say anything, but it definitely affected how I dressed in high school, and a little bit in college.”
  • TS: “I was pretty much terrified of any sort of real haircut forever. I was always a bit scared that my gigantic head would look funny. Finally took a chance back in April and shaved the sides off and ended up loving it. I also was never a fan of dying my hair entirely a dark color because I always thought I was too pale for it to look good. I’ve been proven wrong on this one as well.”
  • AG: “I’ve never felt like this. I’ve always looked the way I wanted to because it made me feel inspired. Although, I once stopped wearing lipstick around a guy because he hated to kiss me when I wore it, but then I just wore it whenever he wasn’t around.”
  • PI: “Yes! Mostly related to various hair cuts and styles I’ve wanted to try.”
  • ES: “Dying my hair blue. I’ve done it before but then when I wanted to do it again I stopped myself because of my internship and broadly being afraid of not seeming professional. But blue hair, it’s been too long!”

Another friend of mine noted that he has been debating removing his beard since it’s hot, but can’t decide still, which reminded me that there are many men out there who grow out beards because the know that it is often perceived as more masculine and attractive (not that this is why the friend has not shaved, but it did bring up that idea to me). In fact, some have even gotten beard transplants as a result.

We have all been told which bathing suits supposedly work best with our bodies, as though plus-size women can’t wear bikinis, or that it’s better to be muscular rather than thin, and so on and so forth. We get told that our face shapes don’t work with pixie cuts (and that men won’t even be attracted to short haired-girls, like it even matters), or that if we have red hair, we can’t wear red. And even though logically, we may be smart folks who know better than to listen to the dictations of silly magazines or jerk critics, it is so difficult not to internalize these stupid imaginary rules.

As a very pale lady with a BMI that’s riding the line between “average” and “overweight” (I am approximately a size 10/12), I think I kept my long brown hair this long despite being bored of it because I felt like I could hide behind it. Having long hair allowed me to take the focus off my undefined jawline and wobbly arms; instead, I could just make my hair enormous and curled so I felt glamorous rather than gross. My impending transformation into a blonde with–in all likelihood, due to how damaged the bottom of my hair is–a chin-length cut is making me afraid to have a lack of distraction from the rest of me.

For the record, I’m not asking for comments on what I look like or reassurances! If I need compliments, I can take a well-angled selfie and post it to Instagram with a crazily flattering filter like everybody else. I suppose I just am still wondering how normal this fear is, and how normal it is to let it affect what you do with your own appearance.

However, despite my new-found apprehension: I am trying to look at it the way I look at people who criticize women for wearing “too much makeup” (or as my ex called it, “whoreup”): if somebody doesn’t like it, or would rather me make decisions about myself based entirely on their feelings, I suppose that that is a good filter. It’s like seeing the phrase “Bitches just don’t like nice guys” on an online dating profile–it’s an instant sign that this person has an idea of how important their opinions are and how others should respond to them.

So, friends, I shall be putting on my big girl pants and heading to the salon tomorrow. I’ll be going super light and taking tons of photos (before and after shot time, hooray!), then walking past that silly bar with my head all sorts of high. High and really, really blonde.