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I Went Platinum Even Tho Gen Z Calls It Cheugy
Credit: Courtesy/InStyle

"JUST DO IT!" is what I would say to any reader who may have stumbled across this story after a cursory search for "blonde hair transformation," and who is desperately seeking a sign that they should bite the bleach blonde bullet. Just. Do. It

I was in your shoes a month ago, wishy-washy reader, throwing search terms into Google Images in the hopes of finding the Goldilocks of blondes: Some stranger with my same complexion, my same features, my same sense of style. I needed some indication that if I were to dye my hair, I'd wind up on a Pinterest #inspo board and not a "what NOT to do" TikTok, a walking cautionary tale. There were a few almost-matches — olive skinned half-Asian women with icy blonde hair or a honey-toned blowout. Somehow, though, I could never picture the color on myself. No filter or photo-editing app could convince me I wouldn't look washed out — or worse: Like a tryhard. 

Friends and family warned against it: "Are you sure?" they asked, masking their disgust with feigned concern for my feelings. Even the stylists who trimmed my hair (when I wasn't doing it myself) gave me "honest feedback," sounding the alarm about the cost of care, the frequency of touch-ups (every four to six weeks), and the damage my thick curls would endure under the siege of bleach.

Much like a toddler, though, being told "no" only made me want to do it more. After years on the fence — years consulting my friends every few months, just in case they changed their minds — I finally took the plunge. (Actually, I asked our lovely beauty editor if she would be interested in assigning me a story, which would thus force me to go through with it once and for all, and on a deadline.) 

The most important step in the process, I was told, was to find the right professional. On the recommendation of InStyle's own beauty experts, I reached out to veteran colorist Lucille Javier, who specializes in color transformations, to book an appointment at Mark Ryan Salon in New York City. At our initial consultation, Javier assured me that she'd have no problem lifting the color from my coarse, virgin strands in one (very long) session.

Though my hair was pretty healthy before I sat down in the chair, I was unsure how the bleach would affect my dark brown curls. Like most women, I have my own version of salon PTSD: When I was 18, I got my hair colored for the first time. I trusted the colorist in my small town when she assured me that she knew what I meant by "ombré," only to be left with orange tiger stripes framing my face. I haven't colored my hair since.

But in the hands of Javier, who came armed with images and videos of previous clients, I felt safe, if not still a little nervous. 

We settled on a warm maple shade, something that might be described as "natural" as opposed to the more common preference for a color with cool undertones. (Yes, this is the same shade that Gen Z called "cheugy." And?)

On Javier's recommendation, I didn't wash my hair prior to the appointment so that my scalp's natural oils would protect my skin from the bleach. I apparently took the advice more seriously than most — forgoing a wash for a nearly two weeks — because to both my and Javier's surprise, the bleach wasn't at all irritating once applied at my roots. 

The process took six hours to complete (I'm told I have a lot of hair), including the quick trim to fix all the uneven ends I had botched when cutting my hair myself, and a blow-dry. Here's where it's important to note my session was complimentary, because no matter what you're getting done, that many hours in a salon chair will cost you.

By the end of the appointment, I couldn't take my eyes off the mirror. I was shocked, ecstatic, nervous. I flinched everytime my own hair fell in front of my eyes, wondering what mystery blonde kept getting too close to me.

In my head, I heard my mom's voice telling me "it looks nice" in a pitch several octaves too high — her signature indicator that she did not think it looked nice. I imagined one of my more blunt friends telling me it was "a look" without further explanation. (I wasn't wrong, she later called it "a vibe" when I posted it on Instagram.) I could hear the inner monologues of fellow subway riders, the most judgmental people on the planet, at least in my head. For a moment, I wondered if I had made a mistake.

But making the decision to bleach my hair wasn't ever really about the way blonde hair would look. It wasn't about fashion or beauty trends, or participating in the counterculture (or even the culture culture). Especially when you're a natural brunette, going blonde is personal. Looking in the mirror after I left the salon, armed with a list of purple shampoos, hair masks, and oils, which I was instructed to use religiously, I felt more like me than I had in months

Last year, when I hacked away at my hair with a pair of Sally Beauty shears, giving myself a chin-length bob, I had the same kind of revelation. Was this haircut particularly flattering? Maybe not. Did I look like a little boy? Absolutely I did. But I kept the curly shag because it was a statement. Because it made every outfit — even sweats — feel more intentional. It wasn't for everyone, but I'm not for everyone, either. 

The older I get, the more I realize that being palatable to the masses isn't — and shouldn't — be the goal. Some people may not "get it;" others will stop you on the street to ask where you got your hair colored. Not to sound too cheesy, but to me, those aren't the opinions that matter. Mine is. 

So, go ahead. Book your appointment. Do it.