Too Dumb To Be Blonde


A brief history of my adventures in hair color:

February 2012—Dyed my virgin-ish golden brown hair some awful shade of dark brown that glowed neon red in direct light like terriers' eyes in photos—with whatever box dye was on sale. I assumed the one box would be plenty for my waist-length hair, so the back section only got traces of color. Let it be known that no matter what color of brown the box promises—ash, chestnut, cocoa—all of it will be some variation of red. I was trying to “find myself” at the time—“myself” being a failed attempt at Adriana Lima. I attempted to shampoo her out with Color Oops, which didn't work, then went to a salon for corrective color removal, which didn't work either.

April 2012—Acceptance. I had it redone at some rockabilly hair salon in Austin, which unsurprisingly does a really great cool dark brown. That same day I also got awful bangs to balance out the nice new color. I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that I'd never have my perfectly sun-bleached natural hair ever again.

April 2013—After a year of dark brown with touchups every three months, I went back to my natural color. It took Marko at Sally Hershberger 10 hours’ worth of highlights. Promised myself I’d never dye my hair again.

November 2013—I went blonde. Marko's light touch and the modest color change that resulted confused me into thinking that bleach wasn't so bad after all. Besides, this wasn't really my natural color anyway. I had the woman known for good blonde, Aura Friedman, give me full highlights, and then another round a few days later (I have a lot of hair). The color was nearly dead on to the inspo image (Cara's ashy, yet somehow still golden blonde), but I could tell during the blowout that things would never be the same.

February 2014—Almost three inches of roots coaxed me back into a salon, where I went a bit darker—I called the shade “brown sugar” but it was more like Lipton Iced Tea. Either way, better than the blonde.

June 2014—I’m black-coffee brown once more courtesy of Saint Kimberley Pierce at Ion after a lowly #tbt reminded me of how nice it looked. Plus, filling in the microscopic bleach-burned crevices in the hair shaft with dye molecules is supposed to make hair feel and look healthier overall—I’ll take it!

So I’m realizing now that in a span of two years, I’ve had five distinct hair colors. I never thought I’d be one of those women, but here I am! Not to say that there’s anything wrong with regularly changing things up, but a woman that finds a great color and sticks with it oozes a sort of Von Teese-ian self-assuredness that I doubt I’ll ever know.

Dita’s naturally blonde. If you’ve ever clicked through one of those before-they-were-famous slideshows you’ve probably seen her high school portrait: the black mesh top, the bright-eyed smile, the enormous gold statement earring bested only by the perfectly golden side-parted swoosh growing out of her perfect teenaged head. It’s blondes like this that give rise to the dumb ones. I’ll explain.

No woman is inherently more or less intelligent based on her hair color, that’s obvious. But all the (my) blonde idols—Young Dita, Kate Moss, Monica Vitti, Brigitte, Gemma Ward, Amanda Seyfried, Anna Nicole, and most recently Anna Ewers make it look so easy, so effortless, that it turns non-blondes’ (my) naiveté dial up to 11. I thought, “I’m a smart girl. Toner, Shimmer Lights, deep conditioner, fuck chlorine—got it.” Despite all the information supporting the contrary, I figured it’d be a couple of product swaps and an extra deep conditioning treatment every week and I’d literally be golden. Dumb, you see?

I didn’t take into account that I’d essentially need to portion out around $200 every month or so for professional touch-ups. Maybe you remember the DIY Brazilian wax—I prefer to do professional-only things to myself both for my finances and because it makes me feel delightfully smug. Yet, I was too intimidated to try an at-home bleach job, so in grew the roots. And then the color—for the first three weeks it was a nice butter shade, but then things started to look plastic-y. Constantly wondering, “Is this cool blonde that I have? Or is this warm?” I tried the purple stuff, the stuff for golden blondes, everything my colorist had recommended, and every other goop marketed to blondes, but nothing seemed to make much of a difference. I wasn’t even learned enough in the blonde spectrum to know if what I had was acceptable or not.

The plastic-ness really came through in the texture. When Marko lifted me from almost black back to my natural color with a salad bowl of strategically applied bleach, he promised me that my hair’s natural body would return in a few weeks, and it did. Wavy, soft, shiny—good as new. After around 10 weeks, I came to terms with the fact that this would not be the case with the blonde. My hair was exhausted, frail, just lifelessly flopping here and there. (Reference my tiny author photo if you're curious—leave it to Emily Weiss to make deteriorating blonde hair still look OK.) It was like a burnt-out old punker getting a job at Starbucks: it had given up. At one point I envisioned myself in that fabled Tarzana, California hair salon with an electric razor going full-on Britney and starting over from scratch, awkward growth stages be damned.

Then came Kim, who took me to a warmer version of the black-coffee shade that looked too harsh in comparison to my blue eyes—a look befitting only of the singer from Evanescence. Oh, also Liberty Ross. First came a greenish base layer to correct the neglected blonde leftovers, then the glossy darkness. I was feeling pretty good, and walked back to the office that day blaring “Back in Black” as if it were the theme song to the opening credits of the rest of my awesome life.

I do want to go back to Kim, but time more than money or smugness left me with two months of light brown root growth (my hair grows remarkably fast) and a slight orangey fade. DIY ways fall hard and I soon found myself found me wielding some demi-permanent color (Wella Color Charm in Medium Ash Brown, because the online reviews promised that the color would turn out quite dark), volume 10 developer, and a set of plastic gloves. I followed directions for the most part, and ended up with the same beautiful glossy brown that she gave me the first time, which I’ve been maintaining with Aveda Black Malva Color Conditioner—a total Godsend for unnatural dark brunettes. It’s a neutral black gelatinous conditioner that I use mainly in my roots (the ends are so porous that they pick up way too much color), and is absolutely worth the slightly stained tiles and towels. Just leave in for five minutes while you shower, and rinse. I used to use the red version when I was finding myself as a second grader–and she was a child Geri Halliwell. It left a lovely, and quite potent red tint that washed out after two or three showers.

Though with the enormous amount of room for error with DIY dye jobs—especially on previously color-treated hair like mine, I can't in good faith recommend that anyone reading should dye their's at home, as it's what sparked my 2.5 years of hair color struggles. I imagine if not for that first carefree go at boxed color, I'd have spent the beginning chunk of my twenties mastering ukulele or some other highly marketable skill. Instead I studied blogs and beauty forums, product labels, Yelp reviews... Which is why I type this, in hopes that another young girl chasing dreams of Adriana Lima through Google search "best home hair dye" will gain some clarity on hair color: see a professional or don't do it at all. Go nuts with that Aveda stuff, though. Really, it's good.

—Annie Kreighbaum

Photos by Brayden Olson.

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  • Guest

    I honestly don't get the fixation with blonde hair. Even women of color (and I am of color myself so I feel I can speak to this) are doing it now! Personally, I think it comes from some sort of deep-seated self loathing.

    But I am not a shrink, nor do I play one on TV.

    • Talia

      Yeah as a natural blonde I don't get it either honestly. Nobody really looks 'bad' with their natural hair color, but it's so hard to find a good flattering fake blonde and keep it that way.

      • Layla Corcoran

        I look terrible with my natural light brown ashy mouse hair. It's TERRIBLE. I will never NOT dye my hair.

    • wilddarts

      completely agree with you!

  • Haiku Jew

    If "blondes have more fun"
    then brunettes might be jealous
    don't dye over it.

    • Talia

      Imma always says
      Girls pay $ for blonde like mine
      So I shouldn't dye.

      • Haiku Jew

        Your imma was right
        her beauty advice is good
        I ignore my mom!

  • JY

    How well would the Aveda conditioners lighten virgin dark hair?

    • ITG Annie

      They just deposit color. If you have highlights or lighter hair the Chamomile will add gold tones, but it won't lift color out of dark hair.

    • Talia

      They wouldn't lighten it at all. For that you need some kind of peroxide or dye.

    • Katie

      they don't

  • Katie

    Annie you BABE

  • Talia

    Blonde is so weird. Even natural blonde is high maintenance. Everything makes it brassy, and grease shows up like handprints on a white sofa.
    Drunk people pet my hair at parties, and I have to pencil in my eyebrows or be featureless in photos with flash. People at my office joke that I'm a 'diversity' hire since everyone else is brunette. When people find out that I'm not only naturally fair but Jewish jaws drop. Blondes have so much fun being told that they could have 'totally survived the holocaust' lemme just say that.
    On the bright side I can highlight it myself with lemons, a few laps in a pool, or a day at the beach. I don't have to bleach it before putting manic panic in it. People will constantly assume I'm ten years younger than the age on my ID, and when I start to look old I'll be a white haired old witch. I can start conversations at art openings and parties with other natural blondes based on our shared lack of pigmentation, because seriously we're so special :).

    • Emma Hager

      I rely on my pool workouts and bumming at the beach all day, everyday in the summer to keep this blonde ship assail. It's so funny you mention this....I guess "naturally" blonde is hard to really measure since there are so many controls in the experiment not yet standardized, like sun exposure, geographic location, and so forth.

      • Talia

        The way I see it, I'm just helping my blonde be the best blonde it can be, naturally. ;)

    • Kelly Bee

      I'm doing the platinum thing right now, but I'm naturally an ashy blonde, and also Jewish. I've heard that Holocaust line a lot; it's delightful (not). Haven't heard it quite as much as "you don't look Jewish," which I also don't like.

      • Talia

        It's so strange how people have no compunctions about things like that right? Sigh. I could go on about how messed up comments like that are but this isn't the place.

  • Emma Hager

    Annie, brilliant essay! I love "Annie pieces."

    My hair has been blonde since day one. Starting out as the typical white-blonde color when I was younger, switching over (much to my dismay), to a more dusty, golden blonde somewhere around the onset of puberty. As it continues to get darker, I fear that minimal sun exposure (hats, early sunsets, etc) during my first real, upcoming winter will just send the hair on its merry way to that charcoal-y color. The year-round sun exposure is honestly what's keeping much of the blondness afloat at this point. Here's hoping for a miracle.

    P.S. Sometimes I think you look like Susan Dey, especially as you are positioned in the third photo. (and sometimes Camille Rowe is a spitting image of Dey.)

    • ITG Annie

      How have I never come across Susan Dey before!? She's beautiful :D thanks Emma! <3

      • Emma Hager

        She's familiar with hair maintenance, too

  • Rosa

    So what's your plan for your hair now? Are you hoping to go back to your natural colour eventually or keep it darker?

    • ITG Annie

      Eventually back to my natural color, yes! I was going to include this in the article but felt I had rambled on about myself far too much in one day.

      I'm going to keep chopping off the bits that were blonde while it's dark, along with using a demi/semi permanent color at the roots to keep things even, then once the really crunchy lengths are gone, I'll go back in to Marko (or Kim!) to have the color taken out and the whole thing toned/highlighted to my natural color. The growing out phase will probably last another six months.

      • Rosa

        I had to grow out blue/black hair dye in high school and it SUCKED.
        I remember your hair looking beautiful when you had it highlighted first time around (I think?) the photos when you sat on the edge of a building on xovain? That was so pretty! Inspired me to grow my hair which is at boob length now yay!

        • ITG Annie

          Ooh ya I'm glad I didn't go so dark—I've always been told that blue blacks are the hardest colors to remove. And yes that was when Marko took all the dark stuff out! <3

  • Clever Girl Reviews

    I've been dreaming of blonde hair. When I was a baby I had white ash blonde hair. In HS it got this weird blonde/strawberry/brown sugar color. Think JLO at her lightest but with more red. Since I had dark eye brows that were thick like Brooke Shields, I finally had a mental freak out and dyed my hair black cherry. I've been missing the blonde of my youth. I *think* my natural color as an adult is a light ash brown with strange red highlights. I just know I need a fresh look and I'm not sure what to do. My husband wants me to go full on Christina Hendricks red but I think that will look terrible. I'm currently using a medium brown with a smidgen of red in it. It looks natural on me but I've been this color for 10+ years. Maybe I'm just having some kind of "30's" hair crisis.

    • Luna

      I'm making a guess just from your profile pic but you could definitely pull off Christina Hendricks red!!

  • Gisele

    Annie you NEVER fail to make me laugh. You're mega charming.

  • Eliza

    I have naturally blonde hair, but over time it has darkened into this really-not-cute ashy-gray dark blonde color--does anyone else have this horrible tone? I am one person who can safely say my hair does NOT look better natural haha--it was white when I was a baby and just got progressively less pretty since (wish I could go back to my beautiful sixth-grade golden blonde!). I do light/bright highlights to keep the dream alive.

    • Mailbtch

      I'm in the same boat. I use John Frieda Go Blonder, which I know a lot of people hate, but has worked wonders for me.

  • Elle m

    you look lovely

  • katie

    Yes! Aveda madder conditioner for auburn hair like mine is da bomb and the only hair product to which I'm loyal!

  • Mady

    The brown hair looks great one you, and it helps that you're pretty! Dark hair tends to enhance facial features - if they're nice ones, then the brown makes people even more striking; if you're a bit on the plainer side, then blonde is usually a better bet - it's just a lot more forgiving. But there's something to be said for switching it up just for fun. It's only hair!

  • ModernGrace

    In my teens and early 20's blonde was my signature. but then I became a redhead. That took years to dye over and grow out. Never again... I love a good ash medium brown, but in the winter I will go as dark chocolate as possible. Shiny dark chocolate is the goal.

  • M

    Great article! I, too, have had many hair transformations in the past couple of years. I'm still paying for my platinum blonde hair days. I have naturally dark brown hair, and while the blonde worked for a while, the final bleaching resulted in lots of breakage and a straw-like, cotton candy texture.

    It's finally getting better (!) but it obviously doesn't feel as good as it used to. At least the mullety stage is over. While my hair is almost halfway down my back I have lots of pieces that aren't even to my chin. :(

  • ITG Annie

    I really really love the Leonor Greyl huile de palme, which is a pre-wash treatment that you leave on for about 15 minutes. It makes everything so soft and shiny. Then Kerastase Oleo Relax is amazing for smooth + shine, and shine sprays are amazing- Aveda actually makes a great one of those too, it comes in a blue bottle.

    I've tried at-home clear glosses and they didn't do much. In fact, I hate what they did to the texture, my hair felt so plastic-y afterwards. But if you go to a salon I'm sure they'd be happy to give you a color-enhancing semi permanent gloss to sort of wake everything up but not really change the color.

    • Aubrey Green

      Thank you! p.s. you look amazing and also look like Cara Delevigne in these photos. #eyebrowenvy

  • District Style

    I've always had my hair colored professionally because I knew if I left it up to me, it'd turn into a big mess. I have friends who are able to successfully dye their hair at home, but it's usually just enhancing their natural color (no drastic changes, no highlights) and the risk is low.

  • Mailbtch

    I am so glad I played around with hair dye in high school and learned my lesson--I always regretted dyeing or bleaching at the first sign of roots. Making peace with my natural hair color so I could have one less thing to be insecure about and spend money on was among the best things I did for myself as a teenager!

  • Sabrina Rice

    I'm naturally dark brown, basically exactly what you are now, but I've been jumping all over the place in the last two years: blonde, pink, purple, blue...but I've been longing to let it all grow out to my natural again. But, I have a little bit of bleach to get through before I do! You look gorgeous!!!

  • Ellie

    I'm a supposedly "smart" blonde and I could not even begin to follow this. I like the concept, but you went so many places with it, it was hard to keep up.

  • ff

    Giovanni Colorflage in Boldly Black is a much better start than shelling out the dough for Black Malva -- equal performance in my opinion, Aveda smells a little better. Both STAIN everything.

  • Rose

    annie my hair is in such a state i am just waiting till i get to NY and can put you in charge of it.

  • Danielle

    Geez you're gorgeous

  • Samira Motaghedi

    Awesome post! Thank you.


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