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The Blonding of America
By Betty K. Aberlin

I was born a platinum blonde, blue-eyed girl child into a family of mostly brown-eyed, black-haired Russian Jews. Even when my hair turned what is termed mousy brown, I could still have passed for a gentile had I not known it my duty to own up, although in truth I was only as Jewish as "fight if they call you a Yid" and "Remember the Holocaust."

Having kinky hair, an absent father, and a bubble-ass, I was occasionally teased as though my father had been Black, and I early-on identified overmuch with non-whites, since it seemed evident to me, even as a child, that they were really the chosen people, i.e. chosen to bear the inequities of racism and injustice, and sanctified by redemptive suffering.

I had heard bottle blondes and blonde bombshells spoken of with contempt. I wasn't allowed many movies, and so missed all those legions of fair-haired glamour gals. I did pine for, and get, a Toni doll—you could set her long, white-blonde hair with a solution of sugar-water. Ads told me, "blondes have more fun," but I felt sure that I would be betraying all those souls who had died in the concentration camps by emulating the Aryan so-called "super-race" by whom they had been judged inferior.

(Speaking of genocide, would it have been any harder to ignore African famine or to bulldoze over living, wounded Iraqis had people been, say, blonde and blue-eyed? But I digress.)

I let Jean Harlow, Peggy Lee, Ginger Rogers, Doris Day, Brigitte Bardot, and later Marilyn, Meryl and Madonna be blonde. I took comfort in a John Guare line about a woman who was "too honest to dye her hair."

And then, in my late forties, I began to go through puberty and menopause at the same time. My first spiraling white hairs appeared, and all around me, women were going blonde rather than gray. I tried to resist. I knew how expensive the touch-ups would be. I knew that I would be considered more valuable as a blonde. I had spoken to some natural blondes who said that I would be thought of as dumb. I found that some of them actually considered themselves to be superior to non-blondes. I had met ash blondes and money blondes. I lived in Colorado for a while. I had heard about Sweden....


I finally bought this yellow wig. I now feel like an Orthodox woman—it's like the wig of invisibility. I put it on, and I don't even notice the homeless anymore. All I have to do is concentrate on plucking up enough courage to exchange a glance with someone. People tell me it makes me look younger, which I don't have to tell you is quite a plus in this culture. I mean, it's not really quite kosher to age in America if you're a female being; it just reminds people of their own mortality and that. just. won't. do. Anywhere from seventy-five thousand to one hundred and seventy-five thousand children may die, and massive, inexorable, gradual starvation will--

Oh, excuse me: bulletin from my subconscious.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, plastic surgery or no, Joan Rivers vs. Barbara Bush...Hillary, Hadassah, Tipper & the Breck girls.... Goldie, Gwyneth, Britney, Halle, Serena, Lil' Kim & the implants.......the Blonding of America.

The wig is kind of fun. It's warm in winter, only I wish I were just a tad dumber. 'Cause under the wig it's Nightmare City: war in Jerusalem, the dining room scene in Brazil come true, Big Brother voicing the little Skull 'n' Bones Dubya bring it on dummy, the United Corporations of Acirema, proliferating porno, the boffo prison business, AIDS—I just can't seem to stop thinking. I know I shouldn't bother my formerly pretty little head about it.

Hey, isn't it great how the women in Russia will have more than three shades of lipstick to choose from? Great, huh?

I was having my acrylic nails done by a young, pregnant Korean woman. She had a Bible on the ledge beside her, and in the shop were three white women customers, all with streaked-blonde hair. The first smiled experimentally at herself in the mirror beyond the manicurist. The second with her free hand held up the loose skin under her chin, and the third just stared out into space, with her nails drying under a wind-machine beside which was a Vogue magazine featuring an interview with a young Ku Klux Klansman who was running for public office.

Later on that evening, I saw a yellow school bus, filled with Chasidim. On the sooty back window of the bus, someone had drawn a swastika. I'll tell you...

it certainly feels a little safer....

being blonde.

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