The New Girl Could Be You
The New Girl Could Be You

Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of female writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find here each week, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.

I have a vivid memory of an ad campaign that appeared in a copy of Seventeen — or possibly Sassy — when I was in high school. It read, “The New Girl in School Could Be You.” It was an ad for Weight Watchers, which seems crazy to me now, but this was the ’90s, and Kate Moss had just proved that the only thing holding us all back from being professional models was our weight. (She’s only 5-foot-7! There’s hope for all of us!) It was a different time.

Looking back on it now — as I transform into a new version of myself, one without the dark hair color I’ve been applying for decades — I appreciate the ad’s special genius: There was no girl in it at all. It was all close-ups of boys’ faces, and they were all wearing the most important boy expressions — amazement and approval, a general heeeeey girl look. They were staring directly at you as you flipped through your magazine. It exposed what was at the heart of every self-improvement campaign directed at girls: Disappear just enough and you’ll be worth seeing. Change enough about yourself and you will be loved. Cut off your toes and your foot will fit the glass slipper (and fitting will feel so, so much better than having toes, obviously).

The instinct to hide imperfections is a strong one. In my case, the imperfection was my hair, which turned silver when I was in my mid-20s. I inherited the trait from my mother, who got compliments on her hair everywhere she went. But when it began happening to me, my reaction was not a jubilant fist-pump, but rather a series of panic attacks over how I was going to hide it from everyone. What followed was a fully committed long-term relationship with L’Oreal Excellence No. 4 Dark Brown. Not even my best friends knew we were together.

The first time I showed another person my natural roots it was my husband, a little more than a year ago — a mere 10 years into our relationship. I wish I could say it was because I had finally grown out of the insecurity I’d felt as a graying 25-year-old, but the reality is that I was whining loudly on the couch one night about having to color my hair when he asked, “Is it even that different than your real color?” And spontaneously — just to prove how very hard my life was — I parted my hair with my hands and showed him my roots.

I don’t know exactly what reaction I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t the one I got. It was as if I had revealed to him that I was, in fact, the last Jedi. And had been! The whole time! He couldn’t understand why I had been hiding my secret powers. “Your hair is that color naturally and you’re dyeing it?” The look on his face was one of wonder and amazement … not unlike the faces of the boys in that Weight Watchers ad about the New Girl — except I was the True Girl.

It still took me a year after that to totally ditch Excellence, and when I did, something bizarre happened: A wave of happiness hit, so intense that I felt drunk for two full days. My theory on this is pretty straightforward. In the body, stress is stress — whether the source is a playground bully, the media or your own vicious mind, stress suppresses your ability to produce feel-good neurotransmitters. If you stop being an asshole to yourself, you ease some of the stress and can produce those beneficial chemicals again. 

I thought leaving Excellence would be a hard road, lined with second thoughts and many hats. But so far, my hair has been compared to a hooded merganser (think mallard duck meets The Sopranos’ Paulie Walnuts), a modern Bride of Frankenstein, a baby skunk, and a black-and-white cookie. I love all these things. A guy singing “What a Wonderful World” on the street downtown even parodied the lyrics with some words inspired by my hair:

Whoa cool hair / That shit is dope

Bright shiny top / Silver and some dark spots

And I think to myself / What a wonderful world

I have friends who color their hair for the exact reason I stopped: It makes them feel good, and they like the way it looks. Keep on keepin’ on, if that’s what does it for you. For me, dyeing my hair was a way of hustling for acceptance. I got some, but never enough to feel that I was passing as a real-life New Girl.

Because here’s the thing about the school of perfection: The credits do not accrue; you do not advance. You are graded on curves that shift as dependably as sand dunes. It is an education in accounting, in constantly re-evaluating your sense of worth. Dropping out by accepting my true hair color gave me room to breathe. Glass high heels just don’t allow for that kind of movement (and good luck dancing at the ball in those fuckers). And that guy singing Louis Armstrong was right: This shit is dope.

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