My Hair-Raising Journey
This memoir is dedicated to my writing group
I was born with black hair. Unlike my beloved cousin Annette, my mother didn’t have to cover my bald hear with cute bonnets. She could tie it with ribbons and braid it, but despite her and my paternal grandmother’s best efforts, they could never make me look like Shirley Temple. The image above is as close as they got, and it held up just long enough to take this picture.
Growing up, all of the adult women I knew had beauty shop hair. After their weekly visit, their hair sprayed into place much like a steel helmet, they slept with hairnets and didn’t touch their hair between appointments. At some point, my mother stopped the ritual, replacing it with weekly manicures, and was shocked that she could style her hair herself.
Sometime in my awkward pre-teen years, my mother resorted to a Toni home perm to deal with my in-between hair. Those who have had this experience will remember the awful smell, the burning sensation, and the less-than-stellar results for those unfortunate to go the DIY rather than professional route. I looked in the mirror after the process and saw Clarabell the clown. After puberty, my hair developed a stronger wave. Neither straight nor curly, my mother took me to her beauty shop for haircuts and my hair became very similar to hers. I remember sleeping in huge rollers and teasing my hair during high school in an effort to look like Annette Funicello.
Can you tell which one is me and which is my mother? (Hint: I just started to drive)
College was liberating in every way, from trading my girdle and skirts for jeans and Weejun penny loafers to growing out my hair. I tossed those rollers and discovered my hair was actually pretty straight. Unlike my curly haired friends who literally ironed their hair with a clothes iron, I just needed a quick blow dry to create a shoulder-length flip. I kept it that way until I had my first baby.
1968: Pre-kids, pre-bangs, just long and straight
Evidentially, pregnancy hormones brought back that neither-here-not-there quality to my hair. Luckily, the shag was in style in the early 70s. I regretted the bangs, which I have to this day, but have to admit it was a pretty flattering, low-maintenance style for me. Thus, I shagged my way through the birth of three kids, but (of course) my hair changed again. A friend recommended Mr. G and I faithfully went to him for haircuts, putting up with his snarky, sarcastic personality as he shepherded me through the big hair era by convincing me a perm was the way to go. That was definitely low maintenance but probably too much hair for a short woman. When my daughter married in 2000, he did a decent job giving her an up-do, but I ended up looking like Lanie Kazan. A friend and lots of hairspray tamed it down a bit, but I didn’t feel too happy about how I looked for this special event. It was time for a change.
The shag, followed by Big Hair
Have you ever broken up with your hair stylist? It’s not easy after many years, even though most of these years have been mediocre at best. But there was a stylist whose child attended my preschool, and his reputation was good. I spent hours crafting a letter to Mr. G (thank you for your service), which I’m pretty sure he never read. He probably didn’t care all that much, but I needed a change. I made a critical mistake, however, by selecting someone from my school parent population. My new guy never understood what I wanted and convinced me to embrace my wavy hair. I tried to explain my vision, but he had his own. Plus, his was a fancy shop with separate people to wash and color my hair. Lots of tips and twice the cost of Mr. G, and I still didn’t love the haircuts. It was easier to break up with him, however, because I had back surgery and his kids left the preschool. No letter this time. I just stopped going there.
And then, I got lucky. A friend whose hair I admired recommended her stylist, and I finally found someone who really got my hair and how I wanted it to look. Of course, my hair was thinner (happens as we age) and wanted to revert to its straighter version of itself. And even though she was a bit of a character and fond of embellishing her life, it was worth it to listen to her stories because she gave me the best haircuts I ever had. Sadly, she disappeared during the shut down phase of the pandemic. I don’t remember what I did then. I know I tried to color my hair at home, which was as bad as my mother’s Toni home perm. I snipped here and there, trying to follow her line. Once people were going masked to salons with plexiglass all over and masked stylists, I decided to try my daughter’s person. I could walk there and it felt pretty safe. She listened to what I wanted and the result was fine.
And here is where my saga ends. I am a 78-year-old brunette (LOL) at peace with how my hair looks. I ponder letting my gray hair take over, but something always stops me. My mother stopped coloring her hair in her 80s, and I will probably follow her example. For now, my hair is thinner and less wavy than it used to be, especially in my big hair days. It is simply styled in a shortish bob, which I see is back in style these days if I called it a French bob.