Natalie Goldberg said in her book Writing Down the Bones that when all else fails...and you can't come up with anything else to write about... "write a hair story." I used that as a prompt for my creative writing class every semester for years, and it never failed to trigger some great stuff from the students.
I remember one girl in particular who said her hair was a metaphor for her whole life. She was a lovely girl, quiet and reserved, with beautiful long, curly red hair. She looked at her curls in the same way Materfamilias does in a post she wrote about her curly hair. (You can read it here.) My student said that her curls created a false identity....that she was deep down not really a curly haired person. And especially red, curly hair. She said her red hair was always creating problems for her, in that people constantly had preconceived ideas of who she was or who she should be.
I have curly hair too... and I have longed for straight, shiny, sleek hair my whole life, it seems. My hair and I have battled for control of the curl for many years. My hair is also thick and I seem to have rather a lot of it (according to my hairdresser.) So when I was a child and my hair was long and it was my mother who was the main "battler," she scraped it back into a thick ponytail and cut my bangs very short. Honestly, in some pictures I look like I'm almost bald!
|1961 grade 1|
The picture above was taken the day of my cousin Eleanor's wedding. That's me on the right; with my hands folded and my toes pointed out, I look like my grandmother Sullivan. My other cousin, Edie and I were flower girls. Aren't those dresses adorable? They were made from chocolate brown velvet. Our shoes and ankle socks were dyed gold and we carried little gold baskets of flowers. I still have that gold locket somewhere. But I digress... it's hair we are concerned about here. And mine was definitely scraped back and secured in a tight pony tail that day.
When I was a bit older and had had my ponytail cut off ...I sported a style we called "the shag." I now think that my hair looked kind of cute in grade 9 ....but back then I so wanted it to be straight. Alas, this was the early 70's, before blowdryers and long before straightening irons.
|Fall 1970, grade 9|
|Spring 1972 ... grade 10|
This is me in grade 10, a few months before the big hair disaster.
In the fall of 1972, I read in Miss Chatelaine magazine about something called the new "short cut." The magazine showed a model whose hair was layered all over and a bit tousled, in a kind of pixie cut, but longer. I was convinced that my hair would look perfect if only I could have that cut.
So my friend and I caught the bus to the mall and I went into the walk-in salon. I assumed, I guess, that all hairdressers were created equal and that the tired-looking, middle-aged lady whom I spoke to knew exactly the article I had read in my copy of Miss Chatelaine. But, in fact, she had probably been on her feet all day and was not in the mood to listen to a breathless 15 year old, who could not quite explain what she was talking about... all for a $10.00 hair cut. So she nodded and set about my curls with her scissors and then with styling gel and rollers. Rollers! When she was done, I looked a bit like a round-faced Sandra Dee. Oh my hair was short all right, but it was cut all one length, in a very short bob, with fat kiss curls and curled-under, poofy bangs. No tousled layers, no pixie cut ....I looked like a throw back to the early 60's. And I wasn't confident enough to complain; I just tearfully handed over my $10.00 and rushed out into the mall.
"Ohhhh, my hair looks ridiculous! Everyone's staring at me!" I wailed.
"Well," said my friend in an annoyingly, calm reply, "that might be due to the fact that you have your coat over your head."
I was so upset when I finally got home, that my mother actually let me stay home from school the next day. This was huge! My sisters and brothers and I never, but never, stayed home unless we were sick. And if we were sick at the end of the week, we even dragged our sick selves to school on Friday because the rule was: "If you're too sick to go to school on Friday, you're too sick to go out...all weekend!"
So the day after the hair disaster, I stayed home from school, and I washed out the styling gel and the kiss curls, and Mum went at my hair with the thinning shears from my step-father's home barber kit. We then snipped a bit at the sides and over the ears and when we were done, why, it looked lovely. It was still very short, but the top was lighter and it kind of curled softly and even looked, well, a bit tousled.
Afterwards, my mum and I went up the hill to the orchard behind our house and picked apples. It was a beautiful, fall day with the sun shining and I was playing hooky and I had great hair too! Isn't it funny that I remember that day so vividly and when I mentioned it to my mum a few years ago, she had no recollection of it? To me it was one of our best days together.
These days what with blow dryers, straightening irons and a myriad of "products" that can absorb humidity and make my hair smooth and shiny, I sometimes win the battle for control of the curl.
Unless, it rains of course, or snows. Or is foggy. Or windy. And let's not even mention those times when my husband and I travel to tropical climates. Or go canoeing.
But I do still win the battle ... sometimes. Maybe that's the metaphor for my life? I'm the eternal optimist.
What does your hair say about you? Have you got a hair story?