I stood back and opened my eyes. I stared wide-eyed into the mirror, taking in my new style. Three bottles of bleach and two days later, I was now a blonde. My transformation had taken a lot more time and effort than I had anticipated, but the effect was certainly dramatic. I had gone from being a mysterious brunette to a bubbly blonde, or so I had planned. I was always pretty adventurous when it came to my hair, but that usually translated into getting a different cut. My recent move to the South had suddenly provoked an interest in converting to a blonde. I originally grew up in Northern California, right outside of San Francisco. When I relocated to South Carolina two years ago, everyone I encountered had a preconceived notion of what a “California Girl” should look like. I guess it was just as well, I had an image in my head of what a Southern girl looked like, and for the most part, I was right. All of the women I met were bright, wholesome, and curvy with deep dimples. They were all naturally tan from venturing outdoors, and they looked like they could certainly keep up with the boys when it came to having fun. They all expected me to resemble Paris Hilton or Pamela Anderson. They pictured a blonde beach bunny with blue eyes, or a shopaholic fashionista. I was neither.
I had to remind them that I came from Northern California, which was like a completely different state in itself. I didn’t grow up on the beach, I didn’t surf, and I had never been blonde. My family was Hispanic and French, but my new friends in the South couldn’t put their finger on my nationality. To most Northern California girls, this was something we had grown accustomed to. Our cities boasted large Asian and Hispanic populations, but we also got quite a bit of people from all over the world moving in. Our majestic redwoods and the Sierra Nevada mountains provided quite an alluring backdrop for a variety of inhabitants. Northern California was like the extra concentrated version of the Melting Pot that was America. The eclectic mix of cultures resulted in a completely different woman than our L.A. counterparts. Most people couldn’t figure out what we were mixed with, and we found it flattering to look so unique. Up north our beauty was defined by how little makeup we wore, instead of how much. Our women were in no hurry to paint their faces because their family backgrounds had already colored them beautifully. Our style was a lot less “All American Farmer’s Daughter” and more “Exotic Bond Girl.” We had almond shaped green or brown eyes, long black hair, and warm, olive complexions. The women in L.A. spent a lot of time frolicking on the sandy beaches, so they felt the need to slave for hours in the gym, perfecting their bodies. The women in San Francisco spent a lot of time out and about in the foggy city, so the more layers of clothing, the better. The women in L.A. were surrounded by celebrities, so the pressure to fit in with Hollywood came at the high price of Botox and surgery. The women in San Francisco were surrounded by a different kind of celebrity; the artist. We learned to think like the Poet and the Painter, whose mentalities had leaked into our psyche. We learned to view ourselves as works of art in the purest form. We preferred the natural to the fake, the modest to the manufactured. Northern California girls shunned fake nails, fake tans, fake hair, and fake breasts. We accentuated and celebrated what our cultures blessed us with.
As I stood there looking into the bathroom mirror, I thought of my mother, and each one of her sisters. I remembered the family reunions, overflowing with an abundance of raven-haired beauties. My lips were fuller, my skin was darker, and my eyes weren’t blue. Blonde wasn’t my style and it never would be, and I felt silly for trying to see if I could fit the California stereotype. I was earthy, intellectual, creative, and a very brunette Latina. The California I knew and loved was fertile ground for women just like me, who embraced the fact that there really is no ideal beauty. I admire the women who make stunning blondes, but I wasn’t one of them. One bottle of black hair dye and one hour later, I was back to myself.