Coco Chanel said that when a woman cuts her hair “she is about to change her life”. That was certainly true when I walked into a salon last autumn and demanded a full head of honey highlights after years of dying it an increasingly dark red. Am I having more fun? Yes. Lots. More than you, probably. And yes, gentleman do. So please know what I’m about to say is not hyperbole: going blonde is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Hands down. I can’t stop thinking about how awful it would have been if I’d died without knowing how it feels to be this wonderful golden hue. It’s glorious.
I’d always been fascinated by great women who transformed their locks and their lives with a bottle of peroxide. Madonna. Lady Gaga. Marilyn Monroe. Brigitte Bardot may have thrived as a dark-haired ingénue, but would she have permeated the global psyche without that honeyed beehive? No. There is always the fear that one will be taken less seriously, of course, but people had been taking me far too seriously as it was. Dolly Parton says she’s not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because she knows “I’m not dumb” and “I’m not blonde”. Emboldened by this fine rhetoric, I decided it was time for a change.
And boy, did I need it. Last year was one of the worst of my life. I don’t mind revealing that I had a rather serious mental health breakdown. I’m afraid I even ended up in hospital at one point. It was grim. Ashamed, I withdrew from friends, social media and public appearances. It’s strange looking back because it’s so far from where I am now, thank God. But the truth is, I don’t think I’ve ever been more of a danger to myself than I was in the spring of 2017.
One of the main triggers came from the anxiety of being with someone special. I never saw what healthy relationships looked like as a child. It’s something I really struggle with.
The bigger the love, the bigger the problem. And I loved Alex deeply. I never dreamt it would be possible to date someone like him. As a trans girl, I grew up believing that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I saw the public discourse and got the message loud and clear. I was a freak and always would be. I was disgusting, ugly and ridiculous.
Unloveable, in a word.
And then along came this charming, intelligent man, full of life and energy. His smile felt like the sun. It wasn’t the first time I’d been in love, but I still felt like an imposter, that I wasn’t supposed to be there. That I didn’t deserve it. I’d just gawp at him in awe sometimes. Where I come from, trans girls don’t get taken home for Christmas to meet handsome men’s families. They don’t get wined and dined and transported to heaven every evening, or moonlit trips to Venice. But there it was, happening, to me. And I couldn’t handle it. Holding Alex’s heart was like being handed a Fabergé egg. I couldn’t stop shaking. Sure enough, I dropped it. But it wasn’t because I didn’t care. Quite the opposite.
By the end, I’d become someone I didn’t recognise. I behaved appallingly. I sabotaged us.
A week later, my cat died.
My whole world was disintegrating.
So I thought, sod this – I’m going blonde. It was either that, or mad.
It’s not love if you don’t change your hair. I knew it was cliché and avoided it during previous breakups, but I was desperate. I wanted to feel different. To look different. To be different. Ultimately, I didn’t want to look like Alex’s girlfriend anymore. Because I wasn’t.
“I knew that deep down inside you were definitely a blonde,” says Craig Purves, the hairdresser and colourist with thirty years’ experience – and friend – who delivered me to this golden place. “It was obvious you wanted to do it. As a hairdresser there’s nothing worse than someone coming to you and shilly-shallying about with what they want to do.”
I may not have shilly-shallied, but I was nervous. As a trans woman, I’d spent years willing my hair to grow. It seemed like the ultimate symbol of femininity, which – unlike clothes or make-up – was something that came from me. I was grateful to discover I have such long, thick hair when it finally grew. It’s my crowning glory and I was terrified of damaging it. But better to lighten your locks than curse the darkness and if that meant losing a few inches, so be it. I’d lost my man and my cat. I could spare a few split ends. In any case we live in the libertarian world of Olaplex now – where you can pretty much do what you want to your tresses and get away with it, for a price.
But what about me? For years, I’d been the girl with red hair. It suited me. Truth be told, I’d always regarded blondes with suspicion but I’ve come to rather respect them now that we are salon sisters. I see ashy tresses on the train and know just how much work has gone into them.
Has it changed my life? Yes. There are more important changes to be worrying about. The catastrophic threat to human life posed by climate change, for instance. But I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a revelation. A year on, the joy and novelty remain. Going blonde may seem superficial, but it’s taught me so much about myself. Primarily, I’ve come to the conclusion that being blonde is rather fabulous. And that I’m rather superficial.
Oh, and I loathe brunettes.