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Pigment Envy

Updated on December 5, 2011

Blonde Isn’t Always More Fun

I knew something wasn’t right from an early age. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I sensed that my general shell was different from the rest. I’d figured out that I was overweight pretty early on, which was distressing enough, but then came the issue of my overall pigmentation, or rather the lack thereof. I remember starting school in the fall and all of my classmates were sporting bronzed skin on their slender limbs…. It just looked neat. And completely foreign.

As child I recall desperately wanting to be Cher. I would drape a dark towel over my head, imagining that I had this black cascade of hair down to my *ss and so shiny it was almost reflective. I would pretend I had her tawny skin and black batwing eyelashes. Well, at least I go the prominent nose right.

Extremely pale hair and skin are supposed to be recessive genes. Everyone said I’d grow out of it and eventually be able to acquire a tan and hair that had varying streaks of interesting colors. But by the time I was in my early teens I knew they were full of it and that I was stuck with see-through skin and some flat sprouts of corn silk sitting on my head.

There was junior high. As if I wasn’t tortured enough on a regular basis, the Oak Ridge Boys had just come out with the song, Elvira. My classmates thought it was just hilarious to line up on both sides of the hallway and serenade me as I walked to class with that little ditty’s lyrics changed to “AAAL-BI-NO!” Followed up with, “Hey, Whitey! Did you fall into a tub of bleach?” And people wonder why I have anger issues and an affinity for red wine.

When I got older, it was teenage doofuses charming me with, “Hey – are you gonna let me find out if you glow in the dark?” (In case you’re wondering, I do if there’s a blacklight in the vicinity.) Or, “Does the carpet the match the drapes, Baby?” (If you’ve ever known a natural blonde in the Biblical sense, there’s your answer…)

Tanning booths hit the scene in high school. Although I was blonde, I was bright enough to figure out they probably weren’t a good idea, given my history of ultraviolet misfortunes. I’d already had dozens of sunburns by then. The tops of my ears were nothing but pink scar tissue from repeated blistering and scabbing smites from the sun. When I was fifteen, I thought it would be a good idea to roll up my jeans to the knees, sit on a rock, and expose my shins (which hadn’t seen the light of day in probably 3 years) to about 2 hours of mid-summer afternoon sunlight by a lake in North Dakota. That week at my grandparents had the end result of me saying “Eh?” a lot, scaring the crap out of myself by reading The Shining, and acquiring a second degree sunburn that eventually formed one giant, connected blister on each shin with the approximate dimensions of a Cosmo magazine. I won’t make you part with your last meal by describing the ensuing chain of skin events once those blisters broke, but let’s just say medical gauze and Exorcist-style screaming were involved.

I remained fascinated and envious of those with darker hair and skin. It all just seemed so natural and effortless. Their skin didn’t seem to be as sensitive to anything and everything. When they got a zit, it didn’t necessary flare like a beacon. They could go without makeup and still look just fine, whereas my face without the ruse that is cosmetics leaves the impression that I need a blood transfusion or possibly immediate hospice care. Darker hair also always seemed so much better behaved than its pale counterparts. Brunette locks always seemed to possess both weight and obedience; all the strands appear to coalesce and move together in sleek flips and waves at their owner’s direction. My hair is constantly backlit by fly-aways – each hair trying desperately to escape in different directions, often leaving me look as if I’d made a valiant attempt to electrocute myself, despite direct orders to the contrary issued by hairspray and a curling iron.

Of course I’ve tried to mitigate the disaster that is the sorry mess hanging limply from my skull. I’ve had perms. Lots of them. I had the long poodle and the giant curly Madonna-bob, both of which sooner or later reduced my hair to vanilla cotton candy until the majority of it broke off or fell out. I’ve done my part contributing to the economy by purchasing a million different styling products to make my hair “full of delicious body, bounce and shine” only to end up with a lighter wallet and a lot of bottles on the counter.

Hey, Blondie – you ever gonna dye your hair so that you can have artificial intelligence? So why not dye it if I’m unhappy with it? I don’t dye it because I’m cheap and profoundly lazy. Sure, in my goth days (although I’m old enough that it was called new wave or punk back then), I had chunks and tufts of black and purple in it here and there, but that was nowhere near the level of effort involved in keeping your entire head artificially colored. I flirted with red/strawberry blonde several years back. I’ve always loved red hair, and thought I’d give it a go and bought a $6 bottle of hair at the supermarket to make it the color of sunset and fire. It turned out beautifully, especially for an amateur job, and I loved it. Then two weeks passed and my white roots starting showing through and it looked like I was balding. I was going to have to touch up my hair color every two weeks? Are you joking? In the end, regular hair color effort and cost was never something that factored into my lifestyle, and I wasn’t about to start in my 30s.

I do, however, manage the effort required in having visible eyelashes and eyebrows. Applying mascara properly is a laborious process, as I don’t get to do the two-stroke brush-brush-and-you’re-done over the tips of the lashes like they do in the commercials. Since my eyelashes are white, I have to go all the way down the root with the black paste on a stick, wipe off the unavoidable smears on my eyelids, lather, rinse and repeat. I dye my eyebrows every 3 or 4 weeks using a box of Just for Men in Light Brown, a shot glass, and Q-tips. The box gives you a stern warning about using their product on the lashes or brows, but I haven’t blinded myself yet.

We of the absent hue are also at a disadvantage in that we can rarely conceal our moods or body temperatures. Embarrassment, anger, or excitement will produce an obvious flush that makes us lousy poker players. We also turn red when it’s too hot. Contrarily, a few minutes spent in refrigerated conditions turns our lips and forearms an odd shade of purple. It’s like being a freakin’ chameleon, without the cool eyes and crazy reflexes. Yes, I am aware of all the bronzers and self-tanners available. I tried the self- tanning stuff, and it was largely a disaster. The products in my price range stunk of slightly rancid fruit dipped in formaldehyde and stained all my clothes orange. And I just look dirty when I wear bronzer. I’ve given up that chase and have acquiesced to being pasty and blotchy.

It’s not all vanity at issue here. We Vikings also have to be on the lookout for skin cancer constantly once we depart our 20s. Then there’s the blue eyes. Blue eyes might be adored in a lot of love songs, but they’re also more prone to extreme light sensitivity, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts. And our eyes always come out looking like they belong to a demonic rabbit in photographs. Talk about pulling the shortest straw in the genetic draw.

And of course we’ve learned to be the butt of a lot of jokes. If you say you’ve never told a blond joke, or at least laughed at one, I will say you’re a liar. What’s interesting is that it’s perfectly PC to poke fun at the melanin challenged. In these times of hypersensitivity to racism and sexism, you can make any number of comedic references to the assumed stupidity and/or promiscuous proclivities of someone of assumed northern European descent. Don’t worry – I ain’t mad atcha – I honestly love blonde jokes. My all-time favorite:

Did you hear about the blonde that bought snow tires?

Yeah, they melted before she got home.

Seriously, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re probably not someone that fun people want to know.

I suppose being a near-albino does have its advantages. You can usually find me in a crowd if I get separated from my group at a concert or something. I can also be really, really lazy about shaving, as my body hair is perfectly clear and there’s not much of it. The only bad thing about this was the time someone once asked me why I had glitter on my legs. Turns out white stubble resembles fairy dust when the sun hits it just right.

At the end of the day, this is just me squawking about my appearance in general. As a woman of primarily Norwegian and German descent, I was not only denied looking like some Persian princess with regards to skin and hair, but also drew the card to be built like a linebacker. No, I’ll never be imagined doing the Dance of the Seven Veils or riding a proud mare with feathers in my ebony hair; I would be much more suited as some earthy barmaid during Oktoberfest, lumbering my way across wooden plank floors while effortlessly clasping eight full beer steins in each florid hand.

They always say that everyone wants the opposite of what they’re born with. Ain’t that the truth. I was also born poor. In the meantime, here’s to being born looking like Cher (before she destroyed her face with plastic surgery) with a trust fund to rival that of one of Donald Trump’s kids in the next life.


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