After months of hemming and hawing and hyping myself up, I am now a blonde.
I know I’m, like, the last xoVainer to jump on the blondwagon but believe you me, it’s not for lack of trying. After seeing photos of Soo Joo Park a few months ago, rocking platinum hair that strangely looked magical yet natural, I thought “I can do?” Annie even put me in touch with Soo Joo’s colorist (who also blonded Annie), but ultimately, she was not the one to do the job.
“It’ll take a few hours, “ she advised, booking me for a Friday afternoon.
A few was an understatement, perhaps. It took NINE HOURS, you guys. If you want to go from “black as the night” to “white as a ghost” in one session, you can pretty much clear your schedule. Also, bring painkillers. And snacks.
Now, I wasn’t all that afraid that the bleach would disintegrate my hair and I’d leave the salon bald, considering I was in the hands of professionals who have gilded the heads of famous people (and famous people are generally way more finicky about their appearance than me). I had come to terms with the fact that there would be some breakage. I have a thick head of hair so I’ve got plenty of backups. I accepted the definitive likelihood of my ends (especially the bits that had some perm left in them from about 15 months ago) would be unsalvageable.
I was casually warned that the root-bleaching process would sting--oh so casually, like a sunburn or a chemical peel. Since I was advised to not wash my hair for a few days before my appointment and to put coconut oil in my hair and scalp to protect from the chemicals, I came to class prepared, over-achieving to the point that Zoe had her assistant “lightly” shampoo some of the oil out for fear that the bleach wouldn’t be able to penetrate through it (I really doused it on). Not my shield, noooooooo!
After blow-drying my freshly shampooed hair, Zoe wheeled her cart of bleach behind me and sectioned off my hair.
“Well, here goes. No turning back now,” she remarked as she dashed the first glop of bleach on my hair. She systematically painted each section with bleach, separating them with little cotton rolls and then wrapping plastic wrap over the whole thing.
“We do the roots last, since the heat from your scalp processes the chemical quicker than the rest of your hair,” she told me. How clever!
Since I have SUCH a full head of hair, I’d wager there were maybe three dozen little cotton pillows on my head, buttressing the bleach-soaked strands, making me feel like my head weighed 20 more pounds. It takes a deliberate will and strength to hold up your own head, suddenly made heavy by the same substance that is emitting fumes which, in turn, are making me doubly light-headed. Beauty problems.
This first process took about four hours to complete. I watched my cling-wrapped hair go from black, to copper, to orange, to yellow, to yellow, to yellow, to flaxen, all under purple goop. Cool.
I was grateful when I could be rinsed, regaining my normal levity. I sat back in the shampoo seat, suddenly freaked out when Zoe’s assistant flopped a side section of my hair over the lip of the sink next to my face and it was SO LIGHT. Like damn, I had no idea it was even possible. I took a finger and pet it. It had a strangely soft slug-like texture.
I felt a little itchy sensation from the bleach that touched my earlobe, which was barely bothersome. Such a faraway omen of what was to come next with the DOUBLE process.
You can bleach dark hair and get it light, but in order to avoid that amateur yellow, brassy tinge, you’ve got to tone it. Hence, the double process. Once my hair was twice again blow-dried (literally cringing at all the abuse my hair is taking today--heat styling followed by chemical treatment, followed by more heat), I could notice all the spots where my hair didn’t take to the bleach as much; there were yellow spots in the mid-shaft, presumably drier parts that absorbed and held onto the coconut oil more than the other parts. Zoe made sure to point this out to me. Whoops.
“It’s fine, that’s why we go over it twice—to cover all the areas that didn’t lift as well. Also to do the roots,” she told me, diving in for round two.
OK, you guys, let me level with you. I like to think that I’m a pretty pain-tolerant person and can suck it up like any 12-year-old kid who gets bullied in front of the girl he likes (which, as The Wonder Years have taught me, is the highest of stakes). I can take vaccinations like a champ. I can stub my toe in front of a child and bite my tongue. But nobody told me that bleach on scalp equals TOTAL BURNINATION.
It was fine at first, feeling slightly warm and tingly. And then about 10 minutes in, the tingle became an itching, and the itching became a searing, and I was pretty much chanting “BEAUTY IS PAIN AND PAIN IS BEAUTY” not unlike that part in The Matrix when Neo is all, “There is no spoon.” The spoon is my scalp on fire. THERE IS NO SCALP ON FIRE.
It certainly didn’t help that I had forgotten to eat barely anything before my appointment and had only a clementine in my purse for sustenance. Low blood sugar levels plus new and unique sensations of extreme discomfort make for just about the worst party ever.
“It only feels this bad the first time, “ Zoe offered, trying to put me in perspective and back in the ring, so to speak. I have no doubts she deals with wailing clients all the time who were not aware of what they were getting themselves into when they asked her to make them platinum. Oh, you wanna be BLONDE? Can you HANDLE GOING ALL THE WAY? It’s a feat I will no longer underestimate. I'm currently rocking back and forth in fetal curl just imagining going back in to get my roots touched up.
I pretty much lost track of time, but it probably took maybe two hours to cover my head once more around. At this point, everyone had left the salon. It was, like, 9pm and the cleaning crew was shuffling around us, trying to do their job.
Zoe plopped me in one of the shampoo chairs, awaiting the processing chemicals and my time to rinse and release. The massage-y chairs were a relaxing respite and distraction from my head feels. At one point, I even dozed off, dreaming of the time I would rise from the fire unscathed, naked, with three baby dragons on my shoulders.
Having my head finally doused with water was a unique and all-encompassing happiness that I can’t remember feeling since I had to harangue Time Warner all day to hook up my internet and it finally got taken care of after three botched attempts. It’s the little things, you know?
Zoe painted a gloss onto my roots to give them a gritty shadow, meant to make it appear more “natural,” but in my case, depth. I mean, ain’t nobody buying “maybe she’s born with it” on me.
Grateful to be released into the wild as a blonde, I left the salon at midnight and got home to scarf down whatever food was available in my apartment. I took off my beanie and ran my fingers through my hair… which were stopped abruptly by my strangely matted roots. I mean, I know my hair felt a bit dryer and slightly rubbery, but this tangled mess was due to the chemical casualty that was my red hot scalp. I thought I had pretty tough skin, but apparently not--my scalp was covered in blisters.
Vigorous Googling lead me to believe that this isn’t a totally uncommon reaction to bleaching your hair (you’re dumping chemicals on your head skin, for Christ’s sake), but that I definitely needed to nurse my head with Neosporin and olive or coconut oil. While they weren’t painful and there wasn’t any pus (sorry), which would indicate an infection, having a head of scabs is just an icky sensation. I KNOW YOU’RE UP THERE, BEING GROSS AND STUFF.
The next day I returned to the salon, at the behest of Zoe, for a deep-conditioning treatment and a haircut with one of their stylists, Dante. She would’ve done the treatment after the bleaching, but considering we ended at midnight, I think everyone just wanted to go home and binge-eat snacks. I have no clue how Zoe pretty much flitted around to bleaching my head for nine hours while simultaneously working with a team, custom-coloring hair wefts for Herve Leger’s NYFW show (for which the call time was 4am the next morning), but goddamn if that woman don’t work. I don’t think I saw her even eat anything. Personally, I’d be a monster without snack intervals, but she never dropped her smile for a second. Olympic gold medal to Zoe for being the single most indefatigable positive human I’ve ever crossed paths with.
I met Dante as I was back in the shampoo sink saddle, my head tilted back, with conditioner globbed onto my hair.
“I would’ve liked to have seen it dry first,” Dante commented with a slight furrowed brow, sipping an iced beverage through a black straw. You can always ascertain the fanciness of an iced beverage’s origins is by the black straw. So exclusive. All the other stylists and colorists who were at the salon yesterday, saw my hair and ooh’d and ahh’d over the insanely lifted color that Zoe was able achieve on me. They see this kind of stuff every day but still remained genuinely impressed and supportive of each other’s work.
Sitting in Dante’s chair was basically a session of Real Talk with one of the realest tell-it-like-it-is New Yorkers I’ve met in a while. He assessed my newly bleached locks with the unflinching demeanor of a doctor who tells you “Welp, you’re going to have to lose that.” He was still pretty open to whatever I wanted to do, for which I offhandedly suggested chopping off the bulk of the ends and making it into a messy bob.
“Alright, yeah, that’s the best way to go--like, no layers and have the ends be really f***ed-up looking,” he said, sizing up my hair. Five to six inches would be falling to the ground all around me. Any stylist who uses “f***ed up” to describe what he’s about to do to your hair would normally be met with an enthusiastic “Nope!” and a quick dash to the nearest exit, but I appreciate that he didn’t sugarcoat the fact that I, in no small way, pretty much fried my hair to hell, but it was totally possible to work with its new texture rather than against it.
After some sectioning off, I noticed that Dante was gingerly touching my hair part.
“Um, so your scalp is pretty, uh… this is just everywhere,” Dante remarked evenly, trying not to freak me out about the state of my dome. But I was like, it’s cool dude, I KNOW. He avoided combing my scalp as he daintily detangled my wet hairs. A quick chop-chop and I was now the wearer of a blonde bob. A blob.
I’m all about the no-part, so while I normally air-dry my hair with a middle part, as soon as it gets that two-day grease going, I really like flipping it over to one side, so it looks all '80s like some Edward Scissorhands version of Alicia Silverstone in Clueless or Drew Barrymoore in Poison Ivy.
It still hasn’t fully set in that I’m a blonde now, like I’m in some different signifier of people who are referred to by the color of their hair. It’s weird, but in a good way. Honestly, what’s weirder is the missing length of my hair that no longer drapes over my shoulders, but lightly grazes them. The couple days after my blonde job, I’d catch my reflection and think, “WHAT THE” before momentarily realizing oh yeah, Sable, you did this to you.
I’ve already picked up a bottle of Clairol Shimmer Lights as the gospel of blonde preaches, as well as upped my coconut oil game. Seriously, NOTHING makes your hair feel better than a coconut oil sleepover.
When I washed my hair maybe five days post-coloring, I made sure to douse my head in coconut oil and shampoo with this purple stuff that smells like the cheap Chinatown sidewalk version of Chanel No.5. The darker the purple in the shampoo, the better for toning (don’t worry, it foams white after some lathering, and rinses un-purple). My hair felt and looked like it finally stopped being scared after that first wash. Currently on another five-day shampoo strike.
Now that I’m a member of the blonde-high club, tell me, fellow flaxen maidens, is this really going to be a bitch to maintain? Will I have more fun? Will I ever suck it up and touch-up my roots? Will it hurt less than the first time? What can I get away with now as a blonde? Are there union fees, etc.?