My hair and I have a long history of mutual disrespect. For decades I have tried to torture it into doing unnatural acts. In return, it has steadfastly refused to do a damn thing for me at any time.
To be fair, my hair has suffered a series of abominations that would make a saint falter. I have lived through the seventies and eighties, after all, both decades not known for kindness in coiffures.
My earliest school photos show a serious struggle with bangs. I remember my mother’s intense concentration, her face three inches from mine, to get that arrow straight bangline that would make a picture perfect. I tried, I really tried, to stay absolutely still as the sewing scissors skimmed my forehead. But there was always that last-second flinch that meant we had to start over again. And again. And again, until my bangs were about a half-inch long, and still not quite straight.
Soon after starting school I got a pixie cut. “Pixie” indicates a certain level of cuteness, but unless you’re Emma Watson or Halle Berry, the adorability ain’t happening. The pixie cut was a capitulation that nothing could be done with your hair, and you might as well get the same ’do as your brother.
In the early seventies, the pixie morphed into the shag, which was essentially a pixie with gummy worms of hair that trailed down your temples and neck. It was especially efficient at sweat direction in August. Who looked good in a shag? Hmmm. Well, I’m thinking that if you saw someone with one now, you’d think “they are very brave” – either for fighting cancer or for just not caring what other people think.
Nearly every issue of Young Miss and Seventeen Magazine would have great tips for “salon-quality results you can get at home.” But their instructions for the “perfectly-layered cut” (combing all your hair over your head and cutting straight across) and a “headful of natural curls” (twisting thirty sections of hair into tightly pinned knots) never quite lived up to the promise.
Come the eighties, perms were the thing. We all wanted hair like Amy Irving. Except for the people who did have hair like Amy Irving, who were trying their best to straighten it into submission. “Body waves” were supposed to give your hair soft, loose curls and the illusion of thickness. They turned mine into a crispy pad of vermicelli, so bad that instead of the typical comforting comment of “it’s not as bad as you think,” my friends would stare at me blankly and murmur, “what the hell did you do?”
My hair is very fine (and that’s fine like “way too thin,” not fine like “problem-free”) and absolutely limp. Even the product-filled years of the nineties, with gobs of gel, fistfuls of Final Net and mountains of mousse could not persuade the stuff to behave. My hair might as well carry the Viagra warning to call a doctor if any stiffness remains after four hours.
Finally, after decades of wussy wedges, bogus bobs and failed feathers, I gave up. My hair is what it is. My “trip to the salon” today consist of standing on a newspaper, handing my husband the kitchen scissors and telling him the approximate number of inches to lop.
I don’t blow-dry, I don’t curl, I don’t spray. I toss it behind me and pretend it’s not there. I leave it alone.
Well played, misanthropic, unsociable, reclusive hair. Well played.