Is she or isn’t she?
Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.
The eternal chant. If it rained, if it was humid, if that Winter kid shoved me into the jets of a sprinkler… Me and my hair. Curling up. Refusing to lie down and take it like all the other smooth, straight tresses of the 70’s. How could anything that resided so close to my brain consistently fail to know what I wanted?
Kids today, they just don’t know. All the products and styling tools out there. And to meet me now, you’d never know. “Your hair isn’t really straight?” Oh, the battles I fought and lost growing up in the 1970’s.
For the longest time, I didn’t care. Hair was hair. Sure, Barbie had great hair. Cher had great hair. And the Brady girls (well, Marcia and Jan anyway) had great hair. But that was Barbie and Cher and Marcia and Jan. They were supposed to have great hair. They had all kinds of things I didn’t have. Barbie had a camper and a dream house and a friend who, if you turned her arm counterclockwise, got breasts and a waist. I had none of this. And that was okay. Especially that last thing, which would have been freaky and gross.
Then, one day… It mattered. It mattered in the same way that having a fall-out shelter when a nuclear blast occurred would matter. Maybe it was the “feathered bang” phenomenon that overtook the US. This was sort of like Farrah hair, but nowhere near as full. Straight hair, layered, and swept back. This effect could not be achieved with curly or wavy hair. Suddenly, the concept of “good” and “bad” hair came into existence. Mine was bad. My friend “P”’s was pretty bad, too (plus, she was trying to combat a roaring case of trichotillomania, which made things so much worse—she’d anxiously pull and tug at her hair, then blame the shampoo-maker for the baby-fist-sized bald patch she now had to hide).
“R” had good hair, but also body odor, or so I’d heard, and the fact that I’d only heard, and not personally experienced this did not stop me from making jokes—after all, I needed to divert as much attention as possible from my hair. “C” had great hair. I’m sure this is how she ended up with such an awful, yet well-deserved reputation. Who doesn’t love great hair?
My hair was mostly curly, but flat in a few places in wavy in others. Perhaps I simply didn’t know how to style it and transform it into a full head of long curls (my mother had completely straight hair and was at a mystified loss). Maybe it was just schizophrenic, and didn’t know what to do with itself. I certainly didn’t know what to do about it. Other than bitterly complain, which I did at every opportunity. Briefly I considered the life of a nun, but between my love of boys and morbid fear of a transfer into a leper colony I decided against this.
I didn’t not try the ironing trick. I had a phobia about being burned after a girl at our Catholic school caught fire by bumping into a candle. I slept (fitfully) on hairpins, which left odd dents in my hair (so becoming). I used something called a Curl Tamer (the pre-cursor to today’s flat iron). That actually sort of worked. But even then…
There was the weather.
We would be sitting outside. I would be feeling good about myself, for once (because at this point all of my self-esteem was completely wrapped up in my hair). And I would suddenly realize my bangs were disappearing. Slowly. Creeping upwards. Earlier they’d been hovering just below my eyebrows, and I could clearly see them, but now…
I’d reach up. Yup. Definitely flipping under. And maybe over, too. Dammit. The texture would change. The silky-smoothness would start to disappear. I’d wonder what I looked like from someone else’s perspective. It’s one thing to see someone’s appearance change after they’ve run around and gotten red-faced and sweaty for the effort. But I was just sitting there, morphing. Fiddling with my hair and unable to stop the inevitable. Going from a sleek, end-of-the-70’s teen to a wild-maned psychopath plagued with some sort of hair-touching tic.
Some nights I would go out, looking—I thought and hoped—reasonably not gross, and it was only after the weather had worked its special brand of magic on me that the cute guys would show up. I could not fathom that anyone found me attractive in my natural state, so I spent the duration of the night with the demeanor of an antsy, bomb-toting plane passenger.
Hair was such a thing back then. By extension, there was the giant comb. In the local neighborhoods, they were carried in the back pocket of jeans. At school, seeing as we were in uniforms, girls moved theirs to their knees socks. It was important that at least the top 2” be visible to passersby. Whipping out the comb and touching up those magnificent feathered bangs was a big deal. So it goes without saying not being able to achieve that look left one out of the loop. Out of the hair loop. Out of the comb loop.
It’s odd what haunts you from your childhood. I was always a little different. The funny girl. The one who was into music. The one who wrote. I never felt compelled to change. But the hair thing was/is an issue. Even when big, curly hair was the thing. Even when my hair would have been easily coaxed into the look of the time, I balked. Once I figured out the secret—the way into the loop—I vowed never to leave. If a stylist wanted to “play” with my hair, that stylist never saw me again. We all have our things. This is mine.
That, and balloons. I am inexplicably terrified of balloons.