What color IS my hair, anyway? On being rubia in Chile

I was born with blonde hair and blue eyes. The blue eyes quickly darkened to brown, but I held on to my blonde hair until I was around 3 or 4. I am 2 1/2 in the picture below.

Thanks, Mom, for giving me such a fashionable haircut šŸ™‚

Since then, I have always self-identified as having brown hair. Light brown hair, if pressed to be specific. But really, it depends on how much sun my hair has been exposed to. In winter, I have solidly brown hair. In the summer, light brown with some lighter streaks.

Here I am (far right), age 7 or 8. My sister and I clearly have brown hair. My brother is blonde.

That is, until I moved to Chile. Now, I am blonde. Rubia, in Spanish. I have been described as such hundreds of times. Yes, my hair is lighter than the average Chilean who doesn’t take a bottle of peroxide to their hair every month. But blonde?

Junior Year Prom. My hair actually looks kind of reddish in this picture? But not blonde.

Yep, blonde. Confirmed this morning by a creepy man waiting for the bus as I walked through Plaza Italia. As he banged some empty soda bottles against the bus stop, he sang:Ā Mira la rubiecita linda como camina la rubiecita linda (Look at the cute blondie look at how the cute blondie walks).

I posted about the singing man on my Facebook this morning and some discussion ensued. Some said hair color is aĀ euphemismĀ for skin color. I am pasty pale, but that doesn’t change my hair color! Most of the rest of the conversation centered onĀ Eileen, who has dark hair and white skin, as to whether anyone would call herĀ morenitaĀ (answer: no) which is what Chileans call people with a darker complexion and dark hair.

This was just this past August. My BFF has blonde hair, I have brown.

It doesn’t bother me per se that people call me blonde here; being blonde is a quality that a lot of Chileans strive for, as it is considered a beauty ideal. So really, every time someone calls me blonde, they are paying me a small compliment.

However, I do find it inaccurate. According to Wikipedia (obviously the expert on everything) I have pelo castaƱo. I’ve never heard a Chilean use that term though. Maybe I should start to bring it back.

Next time some creepy guy starts singing me a song, I’ll have to correct him: Mira la casteƱita linda como camina la casteƱita linda.Ā 

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24 thoughts on “What color IS my hair, anyway? On being rubia in Chile

  1. Yeah, but your hair isn’t brown like Eileen’s is brown. I bet it even gets blondish streaks in the summer sun.
    But the real issue is just what exactly rubia means, and when it comes down to it, I don’t think blond is the right translation. I think it’s one of those things we’ve been taught and hang on to but should probably give up because to most Chileans, you are “rubia”–and, believe it or not, do am I (when my hair is not flaming red)!
    I’d have to say it has more to do with coloring. Fair hair, fair complexion… A true blond is often called “rucia” here (more as a nickname than hair color description).
    And Eileen continues to be the quirky one with dark(ish) hair and pretty fair skin.
    So just accept it Abs–you will continue to be the rubiecita linda to all those guys out there–even when they’re not singing to you!!

    • Yeah, it’s true, perhaps blonde isn’t the best translation for rubia. But how would you describe the hair of someone “rucia”? Pelo amarillo? I think they would say “Pelo rubio”…but maybe there is a difference between having “pelo rubio” and being “rubia”.

  2. Yeah, but your hair isn’t brown like Eileen’s is brown. I bet it even gets blondish streaks in the summer sun.
    But the real issue is just what exactly rubia means, and when it comes down to it, I don’t think blond is the right translation. I think it’s one of those things we’ve been taught and hang on to but should probably give up because to most Chileans, you are “rubia”–and, believe it or not, do am I (when my hair is not flaming red)!
    I’d have to say it has more to do with coloring. Fair hair, fair complexion… A true blond is often called “rucia” here (more as a nickname than hair color description).
    And Eileen continues to be the quirky one with dark(ish) hair and pretty fair skin.
    So just accept it Abs–you will continue to be the rubiecita linda to all those guys out there–even when they’re not singing to you!!

    • Yeah, it’s true, perhaps blonde isn’t the best translation for rubia. But how would you describe the hair of someone “rucia”? Pelo amarillo? I think they would say “Pelo rubio”…but maybe there is a difference between having “pelo rubio” and being “rubia”.

    • Lana I think we have the same color hair. And so yes, according to Chile, you are rubia. Now if someone called Lina rubia, that would be just as surprising as calling Tania rubia!

    • Lana I think we have the same color hair. And so yes, according to Chile, you are rubia. Now if someone called Lina rubia, that would be just as surprising as calling Tania rubia!

  3. I’m *blonde*, as well. To be fair, I’ve noticed that my hair has lightened some over the past two years. Who knows why. However, in the US, I still have brown hair – dishwater blonde at best. (What a horrible way to describe it: dishwater.) I used to try and educate Chileans, but to no avail. I’ve stopped. Last weekend, a woman asked me if I dyed my hair. I said I hadn’t in years. She then smiled and told me it was a pretty color and not to dye it.

    • But you are blonder than I am! I would describe your hair as “dirty blonde” (another horrible way to describe hair, sorry) Once I had a woman in the elevator of my building ask if she could SNIP OFF A BIT OF MY HAIR to bring to her stylist because she wanted to dye her hair the same. Um, thanks but no thanks?

  4. I’m *blonde*, as well. To be fair, I’ve noticed that my hair has lightened some over the past two years. Who knows why. However, in the US, I still have brown hair – dishwater blonde at best. (What a horrible way to describe it: dishwater.) I used to try and educate Chileans, but to no avail. I’ve stopped. Last weekend, a woman asked me if I dyed my hair. I said I hadn’t in years. She then smiled and told me it was a pretty color and not to dye it.

    • But you are blonder than I am! I would describe your hair as “dirty blonde” (another horrible way to describe hair, sorry) Once I had a woman in the elevator of my building ask if she could SNIP OFF A BIT OF MY HAIR to bring to her stylist because she wanted to dye her hair the same. Um, thanks but no thanks?

  5. Chilean relationship with blondes is complicated at best. On the one hand it is a sign of beauty, and on the other it means “light headed”. I have a cousin that used to dye her hair black because she got tired of people calling her “Rubia” (and she is a natural blonde).
    Now, what is even more interesting is the fact that here (Norway and scandinavia) the problem is reversed. Being blonde is natural and having dark hair is the exception. Depending on where you are it might be a good thing, or a bad thing (if you end up surrounded by some “arian” brothers that do not like dark hair foreigners).
    My grandmother used to say that my hair is “castaƱo”, however it seems that the term is disappearing. The new generations (wow, now I sound like my grandma) are not using the term and going more for simple descriptions as rubio, negro o cafĆ©.

    • Oh, it can mean “light headed”, aka dumb, in the US too. In fact, we have a whole genre of jokes about dumb blondes. I can imagine that in Scandinavia having dark hair would be the novelty. People always want what they don’t have, right? Oh, and I’ve never heard anyone use the term “pelo cafĆ©”…it sounds funny.

  6. Chilean relationship with blondes is complicated at best. On the one hand it is a sign of beauty, and on the other it means “light headed”. I have a cousin that used to dye her hair black because she got tired of people calling her “Rubia” (and she is a natural blonde).
    Now, what is even more interesting is the fact that here (Norway and scandinavia) the problem is reversed. Being blonde is natural and having dark hair is the exception. Depending on where you are it might be a good thing, or a bad thing (if you end up surrounded by some “arian” brothers that do not like dark hair foreigners).
    My grandmother used to say that my hair is “castaƱo”, however it seems that the term is disappearing. The new generations (wow, now I sound like my grandma) are not using the term and going more for simple descriptions as rubio, negro o cafĆ©.

    • Oh, it can mean “light headed”, aka dumb, in the US too. In fact, we have a whole genre of jokes about dumb blondes. I can imagine that in Scandinavia having dark hair would be the novelty. People always want what they don’t have, right? Oh, and I’ve never heard anyone use the term “pelo cafĆ©”…it sounds funny.

  7. hahaha este post me encantĆ³. Tambien fui rubia cuando chica y hoy tengo el pelo castaƱo. Yo si uso mucho ese tĆ©rmino cuando me preguntan de que color es mi cabello, porque no es cafe, no es tan oscuro y al sol tambiĆ©n paso como “rubiecita” sin serlo. Es definitivamente una ventaja aquĆ­ en chile, donde aparentemente todos aman a las rubias.

    Saludos!!

  8. hahaha este post me encantĆ³. Tambien fui rubia cuando chica y hoy tengo el pelo castaƱo. Yo si uso mucho ese tĆ©rmino cuando me preguntan de que color es mi cabello, porque no es cafe, no es tan oscuro y al sol tambiĆ©n paso como “rubiecita” sin serlo. Es definitivamente una ventaja aquĆ­ en chile, donde aparentemente todos aman a las rubias.

    Saludos!!

  9. Haha, wow. Blonde? That really is quite crazy. I get stared at a lot because of how pale I am and the fact that I have green eyes but I’ve never been told I’m blonde before. Very strange.

  10. Haha, wow. Blonde? That really is quite crazy. I get stared at a lot because of how pale I am and the fact that I have green eyes but I’ve never been told I’m blonde before. Very strange.

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