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I was not blessed with beautiful hair. In fact, whenever I settle into a hairstyle that seems to be “with it” and “chic” the styles change, and I am obviously dated and out of step with the rest of the glamour giants of the world. I have spent small fortunes on products that have all promised to produce the “look” currently in vogue. None of them have transformed me into the enchanting goddess of beauty that I obviously am on the inside.
Problems began for me when I was five years old. My grandmother was a hairdresser and owned a beauty shop in the thriving metropolis of Gilmer, Texas, population of 4000. She and my mother liked to experiment with the straight-as-a-board pixie locks that crowned my head. I always saw myself as a Snow White version of Shirley Temple. I desperately wanted long hair. But every time we would make a trip to Gilmer I would lose an inch or two off my mane. And to make it even worse these two mad scientists who claimed to love me would give me the latest Toni perm that always caused frizzing. Never, ever did I look the way they promised and the horrible-smelling solutions were called permanents because that’s exactly what they were. My head stunk for weeks and looked about as good as it smelled.
When I was in sixth grade the Beatles were all the “rage” and I got my hair cut in the Mary Quant style that was very popular. I went through mountains of Dippity-Do to make my sideburn wisps of hair curl just like Twiggy’s did. Again, remember my hair is naturally straight and I had to plaster the chunks of hair to the side of my face with the pink goo to get them to curl. I slept with them taped to my cheeks to “train” them to stay in place. I didn’t dare break into a wide smile because I was afraid it would mess up my “in” do.
In junior high, the style to die for was the flip. Again, Dippity-Do saved my social life. I had bangs and I constantly argued with my mother about how long they should be. This was the late sixties and even though I was born too late to be a full-fledged hippie, I wanted to express a bit of rebellion with my bangs. I was constantly told, “As long as you’re living in my house…” and my bangs were whacked to a “sensible” length.
I also spent a huge amount of time during these years drying my hair. I would roll it with ugly metal contraptions that had a bristle brush in the middle and then attach my head to a flowery Revlon dryer cap that increased to three times its original size by filling up with hot air.
The “hippie” look completely took over my high school by the time I was ready to graduate. We “non-conformists” looked exactly the same…long, stringy hair, parted straight down the middle. With my straight mop, I was finally in vogue.
My best friend was not so lucky. She, like Peanuts’ Freida, was blessed with naturally curly hair. We found the solution to her problem by religiously reading Seventeen Magazine. We simply ironed out the kinkiness. Oh yes. She would lean over the ironing board with her hair draped over the flat surface, and I would press out the kinks with her mom’s hot iron.
Of course, the curls would immediately return whenever she broke a sweat, so, we tried rolling her locks on juice cans. I didn’t want her to feel all alone so I joined her in this nightly ritual and we actually slept with a head full of metal that could either draw fruit flies or pick up a satellite signal. The painful practice did absolutely nothing to change my curls but I was sure that if I sacrificed in the name of beauty, my hair would be gorgeous.
By my college years, Dorothy Hammill had worked her magic at the Olympics on ice as well as the beauty scene with her Short ‘n Sassy wedge do. I am 5’9” and have always been a giant but I thought that Dorothy’s do would make me reek with her cuteness and spunk. So the long tresses were chopped off and I bought all of Dorothy’s signature products so that my hair would look exactly like hers.
Cap dryers and overnight rollers on the head were “out” and the blow dryer was “in.” With their exit also went a few hours of sleep because many of us had to wet and re-wet, then dry and re-dry to get each unruly strand to fall exactly into place. This do lasted as long as it took me to grow my hair to a sensible length again.
When I became a mother my hair was no longer a priority. God very wisely blessed me with two sons. I will never be able to play out my Miss America hair fantasies on the head of a daughter. Whew!
Both of my boys were outdoorsy types. They played football, competed in tons of track meets, and loved to jet ski. Of course, I never missed a game or meet, so I adopted the windblown look, whether I wanted it or not.
Now, my biggest hair challenge is to remember to get up from the computer long enough to brush out the tangles. Last year I had a big hair metamorphosis. After 30 years of coloring and covering up the gray, I quit. Cold turkey. Who’s the trendsetter now? My hair and I have finally settled into a copacetic existence. It does what it wants to and I don’t mess with it so much. We both are happy.
But, as I see people at the gym or in a public restroom gelling, spiking, and poofing the strands that adorn their heads, it takes me back to the days when my mane was my main concern.
In the words of the wonderful musical Hair:
A right of passage that we all must endure…oh, yeah.
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