If you want to truly embarrass a woman, make her witness a cavalcade of photographs of her hair styles going back to childhood and proceeding forward to present day. (That is, if you don’t care whether you ever see her again or not).
My sister and I were talking yesterday about this. We both had appointments for haircuts later in the day. Both of us had reached that critical juncture where we just had to have a change. Mind you, I’ve never been so happy with my hairdo in my life, but that has nothing to do with it. About once every six months or so, something goes haywire hormonally, and you just have to do something. Nine times out of ten, whatever you do makes you dreadfully unhappy, and if you don’t wind up crying at the hairdresser’s, you wind up crying at home. Men are completely dumbfounded by this behavior. “It’s just hair”, they reason, “It’ll grow back”!
When my sisters and I were very small, my mother used to cut our bangs. (I think she left the main haircutting up to a professional, but she felt that keeping our bangs out of our eyes was part of good grooming, in the same category as keeping our clothes clean and keeping our shoes polished). Well, she would take a white business-sized envelope and hold it with one hand across our eyebrows. With the other hand she would cut straight across the top of the envelope. The results are all too apparent in a family portrait taken when I was about four years old. All three of us had the same haircut. The only problem for me was that I had curly hair. No matter how hard they plastered down my bangs, you can see that they were rebelling, as was the rest of my hair. My sisters, thankfully, had straight, shiny dark hair that looked a little better that way. Not much, but a little.
As I got older, it became apparent to me that curly hair was a liability. Everyone in my seventh grade class was ironing their straight locks to make them straighter. Not only was my own hair extremely curly, but it was also frizzy, and there were mountains of it. I ironed my hair to make it, well, flat. So now it was flat, curly and frizzy. And of course, ruined by the heat of the iron. Very attractive.
I did what all curly-haired girls of my generation did. I set it on beer cans. I plastered it to my head with Dippity-Do (a pink, gooey gel that dries on contact). I sprayed it with Aqua Net. All of this was to no avail whatsoever when it rained. Just as Cinderella’s carriage reverted to its pumpkin state at midnight, so my hair reverted to its Medusa-like state in rain. And there was lots of rain in Pittsburgh. It was humiliating.
In high school I discovered straightening. After every hairdresser in the world had told me “The Big Lie” – that having curly hair was a blessing and most girls would kill for what I had – Elfie, God bless her, a lovely young German émigré who was my mother’s hairdresser, took pity on me. She explained to my mother that having curly hair is one thing. Having what I had was quite another. I begged to have my hair straightened, and my mother relented.
Finally, I had what passed for “normal” hair in 1960s America. I still have my tenth-grade class picture, somewhere. It shows a smiling young girl with hair that is only a little too stiff and poufy done in a perfect pageboy with the bangs swept over to the side.
Then I went to college. You must remember that I graduated high school in 1968. So when I went to Boston University, I wanted to be part of the new, enlightened generation. I abandoned my “straight” look (both metaphorically and literally) and let my “freak flag fly”. The curl, the frizz, the wild untamed look came back with a vengeance. I let my hair grow unfettered down my back. Mostly it grew wider and wider. I topped it off with a campaign hat, when I was in the mood. I wore sandals and Indian print skirts. You must remember that it was a total look. Seeing a head shot of me in my college days could not do justice. But that’s okay – I’ve destroyed all of them.
I didn’t straighten my hair again for a very long time. I wore it a little tamer after college, but essentially, it remained in its natural state. Sometimes it was long. Sometimes it was ultra-short (my “mod” look). When Art and I married it was long and curly, but I used the right kind of products on it to keep it from frizzing too much.
Got sick of it. Cut it short. Way short. Art (and this is another reason I had to marry him) loved it either way. But a couple of years ago my hairdresser introduced me to “Japanese” straightening. This process made my hair so straight, shiny, and bouncy that I look like a Pantene commercial! I can’t tell you how much I love it. For a girl who was plagued all her life by looking as if she had stuck her finger in a light socket, this is Nirvana. I was going to let it grow down to my waist.
But (sigh) like I said. We girls get restless. Yesterday I got it cut so that it’s just above shoulder length. Now it has a curious resemblance to my high school graduation picture. Don’t get me wrong – I love it. But don’t show me any pictures five years down the road, okay?
© Robin Munson, 2005