My Hair

4 May


When I was a child, I had short, curly locks, something akin to Shirley Temple’s. My immediate and extended family fell in love with the look. Unfortunately, that favorable interpretation of my hair was not to last.

As I grew, my mother took me to a beautician in Collegetown named Peggy who cut my hair in short to medium length hairdos. It started to get bushy, so Mom had her thin it. My hair seemed to become bushier and shorter with the thinning. I was often upset with the results, but my mother remained fully in control of my hair. Peggy was a good hairdresser, but I was starting to look like a nerd, what with my short frizzy pin curls and speckled glasses.

When I reached adolescence, any short-to-medium-length hairstyle that I wore tended to fluff out in humid weather, which is pretty hard to avoid in Ithaca, New York. Once during the summer I found myself at my great aunt and uncle’s cottage on Wanasink Lake in the Catskills. My Great Aunt Becky, who was always fond of her own opinion, compared me to my Cousin Karen who was lolling in a lounge chair beside me. My hair was then to my shoulders in its time-honored fluff-out. “What happened to those beautiful curls? ” Then she looked over at Cousin Karen, and said, “I like your short pixie-cut. It’s always attractive and always neat.” Karen smiled smugly.

On the bus I became the target of the boys in the popular crowd. I was friends with a girl the boys called Flame because of her bright red hair. I’m embarrassed to admit that I remember her nickname but not her real name. I washed my hair once a week like I always had, but that didn’t seem to be enough for the boys who made fun of me for supposedly having dirty hair and for being Flame’s friend.

The change in my hair and my attitude came with my last short hair cut. At fourteen I found myself at the Westgate shopping plaza in Lakewood outside of Cleveland, having what was to be my last bob. I cried all the way back to my grandparents’ house and made a vow to never again get another cut. My mother couldn’t understand why I was crying. I thought I looked like a matron from one of those housekeeping ads back in the fifties.

Around the same time I started growing my hair, I switched from contacts to glasses. I also learned to set my hair with pink curlers that were two inches on the diagonal. The change in my appearance was remarkable. Although I did not immediately become Miss Popular, I did start receiving stares when I walked down the street and when I passed construction sites. I had also suffered anorexia, which got rid of any baby fat I had left, but then I gained weight, so that I looked slender rather than starved. In other words, I did not look like Raquel Welch, but was 100 percent improved from where I had been. The sheer weight of my hair pulled it down and made it less likely to puff out, and I had a halfway decent figure.

In short, or should I say, in long, my curly, thick hair became part of my identity. That was, in part, because I looked better with long hair, but also because it made me a part of my generation style-wise. The line from the Broadway musical, “Hair,” “Oh, give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair,” became the mantra for those of us who grew up in the Age of Aquarius. When I’m asked why I don’t cut my hair, now that I’m older, I respond that I don’t look good with short hair. I can’t get a bob like Victoria Beckham, because my hair simply will not hang that way. My sister-in-law, Rhonda, has the kind of hair that has an edge when it is cut short. I would end up with a frizz ball if I tried that. And I have that old concern: I am still from a certain generation and cutting my hair would feel like selling out.

I have developed very specific relationships with hairdressers over the years. My latest and longest is with Shannon Sweeney Starkweather, an Irish lass and farmer’s daughter, who lives in Candor with her husband and three children. Once when she was suggesting layering my hair, which I have tried, I said, “I don’t want to look like a soccer mom,” forgetting that she is one. She took it in good humor and laughed. I trust her to do what I want, which now involves coloring my hair. Nora Ephron once said something to the effect that the ability to have one’s hair colored is the reason that we don’t see as many people around who look older. Why not take advantage of the fact that hair color has improved so much over the years?

3 Responses to “My Hair”

  1. DH May 4, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    Curly hair is trendy now; even I am curling mine after many years with the straightener! You should try one of the new curling products– so easy to use. Makes your curls interesting instead of frizzy. I like this one that my stylist recommended but there are many out there.

  2. I’m reasonably happy with my hair now. It was when I was growing up that I had problems. I go to Shannon once a week. She uses a blow dryer and a curling iron and sometimes I have it set. I got lazy at Stout. That was when I started to go to Sarah Renae.

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