(No, this is not an ode to the essential pop-punk album by New Found Glory…but that is an excellent album, if you’re into that genre.)
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
That phrase is such a lie. I’m sure we all know that by now, but I learned it early on in life.
See, I was a preteen when the “blonde jokes” were at the height of their popularity.
How do you confuse a blonde? Put her in a circle and tell her to go to the corner.”
I mean, it’s sort of funny.
Unless you have blonde hair and are even just a hint of gullible. Which, incidentally, I was. I also was a new student at a new school in 6th grade. Perfect combination.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of humor. Give me a comedy over a romance film any day. I’ll pick watching The Office or Parks & Recreation over dramatic television series nearly every time.
But the problem I had with those blonde jokes wasn’t that they weren’t funny. They could be entertaining at certain points.
The problem was that as a girl with blonde hair, I believed the jokes to be true.
As a kid in elementary school, I was tested for learning disabilities. I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder with the Hyperactivity (basically, ADD but the technical diagnosis was as I stated) as well as learning disabilities in math and writing (Ha. Take that, testers!). My intelligence is in the gifted range, but the learning disabilities affected my grades and overall performance in school. I was in a fragile state.
So when the unaware and typical preteen boys told blonde jokes in school, it felt very personal, even if it was unintentional. If I didn’t get a joke or missed something in a conversation I heard
Karen, you’re such a blonde.”
I was so ashamed of my hair. I wore it up a lot to distract from the color. When I was teased for being a dumb blonde, I defended my hair color as “LIGHT BROWN”. I pointed out other girls with the same shade hair as mine in an effort to distract them from my blondness. Nothing changed.
The worst part of the whole thing was that I truly believed I was dumb. Logically, I knew my hair color had absolutely nothing to do with my intelligence. It was as ridiculous to believe my hair color made me less intelligent as it is to believe that those with a certain skin color are better than other groups of people. It has nothing to do with who I was as a person, but I let myself believe it anyway.
It was a terrible time.
That shame and utter hatred of my hair color followed me all through middle and high school. The blonde jokes petered out eventually, but those comments stuck with me for a long time. School was still a struggle, but I found a love in English. I began to write and eventually that became my biggest strength in academics
But then sometimes, I would play up the dumb blonde act for attention. It worked and I liked the attention, as much as I am ashamed to admit. In the moments afterward, I’d berate myself for stooping to such a low level. Even though I was well read and educated, I acted like I wasn’t. What if those jokes weren’t really jokes? What if I was really dumb and just thought that I was smart somewhere deep down inside?
Finally, as a junior in high school, some friends and I decided to change something about our hair. I think we did it as a youth group girls bonding time. Everyone decided on highlights.
Here was my chance to FINALLY break free from years of being the dumb blonde. I chose a dark reddish brown.
It was a good look on me, to be honest. It brought out my blue eyes and contrasted with my pale skin well.
I didn’t hear blonde jokes anymore. I do think I was taken a bit more seriously. I wasn’t called a blonde ditz.
But, as I am sure you have guessed already, I didn’t feel better. Changing my hair color didn’t change my perception of my intelligence.
I wish I could tell you my perception changed really rapidly. That I had some lightbulb moment of “Oh, you ARE smart!”. It took awhile to get there.
There was one time when I knew I wanted to go back to college. I was working in Canada at a vey conservative Mennonite mission. Typically, (not always, but in some circles) college is looked down upon. As my time there was winding down, I mentioned I was considering college after I moved home. One guy had the audacity to ask why I would ever go to college when women are supposed to stay home with their children.
I was livid. Nothing convinced me to go to college more than that generalization of what a woman is supposed to do. I do know after that moment, I decided to drop the dumb blonde act. I think it was a whiplash moment for the staff I lived with. Gone was the ditzy blonde girl and in her place was a girl who read a lot and liked history and had opinions on politics and religion and society. It was the fire I needed.
I think sometime after that, it clicked that my hair color didn’t dictate my intelligence, I did. I control how much I push myself to engage in deeper conversations, to search out answers to questions I have, and to keep learning.
After many years of growing up and nurturing, I came to embrace my blonde hair color. Sometimes it takes years to overcome the things we have despised about ourselves for so long. By now, I can hear the rare blonde joke and roll my eyes, confident in myself and who I am, blonde hair and all.