Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hair

When I was a kid, I was jealous of everyone's hair. My mother, sister and baby brother all had very thick, curly hair. My other brothers, father and I had thinner, straighter hair, which was fine for the guys, but my hair never did anything that I wanted it to do. I started out as a tow-headed kid, but by the time I reached the age of caring, it had darkened into what was a washed out blond/light brown mix, and I had a cowlick on one side of my forehead, so parting my hair in the middle wasn't a practical option, and it all just hung there, doing absolutely nothing interesting -- not curling, not being straight, just being blah.

The first hairdo I can remember aspiring to was the afro. Oddly, it wasn't the beautiful women of the time that inspired me, but rather guys like that dude from Room 222 and Clarence Williams III. I was a bit of a tomboy, back in the day, surrounded by my brothers (I think I even had a bit of an mullet for a while). It didn't take me long, though, to realize that my limp mane was never going to be up to such a magnificent hairstyle.

Once I realized I was a girl, I used to watch reruns of the Mod Squad and wanted to have hair like Peggy Lipton's -- shimmery and straight and symmetrical. My cousin had that hair (hi, Ruthie!) and she could drag a comb through it in the morning and and then it looked great all day. I struggled with tangles and knots and never did achieve a look.

Finally I just gave up on having cool hair in high school. Instead, I spent hours upon hours at the mirror in the bathroom with increasingly heavy arms, teaching myself to french braid my own hair down the back of my head so that I could just make it disappear. (This skill later turned me into quite the popular girl in my college dorm. I was the go-to stylist for anyone with a date and no time to wash, dry and curl their hair after class. Give me a few minutes and a couple of elastics or barrettes and I could turn your head into a multi-braided masterpiece!).

And then there was the era of the big hair. Coifs went from flat to larger-than-life faster than anyone could say "Farrah Fawcett." My hair, formerly too wavy to do the flat iron thing, was way too fine to get worked up into anything epic. I remember getting ready to go to a dance with my friend Mark during my sophomore year of college and after taking the hot rollers out of my hair I gave it a hopeful shake and a toss, and then he just looked at me and asked, "are you going to go out in public like that?"

This was when I started getting perms. Stinky, brutal chemical treatments that burned my scalp and turned my hair to the texture of wheat. I'd spend a week looking like Roseanne Rosannadanna, then have fabulous curls for a few weeks, and then, inevitably, my hair would go flat again -- only now with that crispy texture that you can only get from repeated perming.

It wasn't until my friend Terri let me in on what she went through to keep her kinky hair looking good that I realized that not only was I not the only one being tortured by my hair -- there was an entire sisterhood out there -- but that my problems were just the tip of the iceberg. The relaxing, the straightening, the avoiding rain and humidity and heat... countless hours and dollars... I had had no idea. It all made my struggles with the cowlick and fine, limp hair seem rather tame by comparison.

We've all fought the battle. Some certainly more than others, but we've mostly kept our exertions and expenditures to ourselves. Until now. Chris Rock has taken on the topic in what looks to be a fascinating documentary about the pathology of good hair (follow the link to see the trailer and a short clip of Pam Spaulding talking about hair). It's been picking up awards and generating quite the buzz so far and is due out at the beginning of October. Woot. I can't wait.

(BTW, eventually, I just gave in to my hair. I didn't want to fight with it anymore. It's thin and pretty much straight with a bit of a wave here and there. I part it on the side and I keep it long enough so that I can pull it back in an elastic when it starts to annoy me. It is what it is.)

11 comments:

Keera said...

My hair can never hold a curl, cannot be parted any other way than on the left, actually grows sideways, is baby fine and mousy brown. It therefore went through a decade of perms (remember root perms?) as well as various products to blow-dry lift and staying power into it. No number of elastic bands, bobby pins or combs will keep it in place (rather amazing, that: It always works its way free.). One day I gave up and let it all go back to plain, straight brown. That's when I discovered something: I had (and have) healthy, shiny hair. I need no conditioner. People keep asking if I color it. Nope, the even, ash brown color is mine.



People with seemingly gorgeous hair do have their problems. One friend's hair takes an hour to dry, frizzes in humidity, and she has a sensitive scalp. She can do all kinds of things with her hair, which will hold a curl all day, but I'm grateful I don't need prescription shampoo.

Emmie said...

Will the pathology of hair touch on those, like myself, who have tried every unnatural hair color in the book? All I wanted was to look like a My Little Pony...

Emmie said...

Will the pathology of hair touch on those, like myself, who have tried every unnatural hair color in the book?

Ruthrocks said...

That is hilarious that you would mention my hair, I have HATED my hair forever. BABY FINE it was always called, more like thin flat and stringy!! I always remember back in the 90's when I worked with rather flamboyant clients. My co-worker complimented me in front of a client, and the client responded "honey, she needs to drag a comb through her hair!!" LOL We always want what we don't have!!

Keera said...

Ooh, you reminded me of my biggest problem: Greasy. It stopped being a problem once I realized I just had to wash it daily. (Thank goodness it doesn't take an hour to dry!) And: Always get a good cut!

alice said...

Emmie, I'm thankful you colored your hair, rather than acquiring that bizarre plasticy-fruity odor that is unique to My Little Ponies.



Ruthrocks, you're so right... I think there may have even been a period of overlap between the popularity of thin hair and big hair where I was getting my hair permed while Annie was off getting hers straightened!



Keera, I associate greasy hair with teenagers. I don't know if it's because they are oilier in general, don't shower often enough, or just don't care, but they're the only ones I ever notice with the problem. I've also heard, though, of people who have given up shampoo and hear that the oils can act as a wonderful natural conditioner. I'm intrigued, but not enough (yet?) to endure the ramp-up discomfort...

Keera said...

Some adults keep their pubescent greasy hair. I did. I'm still waiting for that drying out part "they" keep saying will happen with age.



Very interesting links re no shampooing! I have kept my natural bristle hair brush. Perhaps it is time to start using it again, though something tells me "no shampoo" may not be an option if you use styling products. I'm intrigued enough to try to find out. I finally understand why women of yore brushed their hair 100 times.

Julie L said...

Alice, reading your summary made me more grateful for my hair. Both my parents had good hair, my Dad's side more than my Mom's - though premature graying happened to both of them (me, too).



However, having good thick hair doesn't mean it's pain-free... my hair waves. What a picture *that* invokes lol! What I mean is that it zigs and zags where it wants to, no matter what I want it to do. I've been parting it on the right for years, but with my most recent haircuts, it's on the right, and there's nothing I can do about it. Except in front. There, it parts in the middle! Sigh.



For hair like yours, I think a good short cut (care free, of course) can be the ticket. The whole "blow dry it and forget it" thing. But what you're doing is the other option. When my hair is a certain length, I spend every waking hour at home with it tied back.

alice said...

Keera, I'm also intrigued, but so far, not enough to endure the breaking in period, which I gather can last a few weeks. Maybe enough, though, to try some different hair care products. I've long thought that my current regimen (shampoo + conditioner) is just a bad combination of stripping my hair of the good stuff and then (inadequately?) trying to put it back in.



Julie, I don't even have the patience for the blow dryer. I'm not sure if I own one anymore, it's been so long. That's one reason I let it grow out -- long hair demands no attention beyond a few trims a year to get rid of the bad ends. I keep it tied back if I don't have anywhere to go or if it's later in the day and I'm working out on the bike, elliptical and/or treadmill. Sometimes I braid it or put it in a knot instead of the lazy ponytail, but really -- how many people really notice, anyway? ;-)

Keera said...

I wish I'd of this earlier. I could have spent part of my summer vacation experimenting. :-)

Eleonore Delfi said...

Yet another interesting piece of info, keep em coming!