Life In General: Hair Wars

For much of my life I’ve been at war with my hair. At first glance, you might not understand why. After all, I have plenty of it, which is something many women my age do not. It’s retained it’s original color very well, with the exception of the topmost roots which require periodic touch-ups at the salon. It’s easy to style, and I can walk out the door nicely coiffed in about 15 minutes start to finish.

But I’ve not always been properly grateful for my hair. Growing up in the 1960’s, long super straight hair was in fashion, and my thick, naturally wavy locks did not conform in any way to the type of look I envied. (My short, stocky figure didn’t either, but that’s another story for another day.)  Think Cher, with her long, black hair and bangs. That’s the look I so desperately wanted to emulate.

I was about 12 years old when I went to war with my hair. I wore it LONG in those days - to my waist long. But the real war started with my bangs. My mother insisted on cutting them SHORT, well above my eyebrows, and this never bothered me until one of my friends called attention to it one day. “Why do you wear your bangs so short?” she asked me. “They look stupid."

Naturally after that comment, I became obsessed with them. I devoured the photos in 17 and Young Miss magazines.  Every single model had straight bangs that not only covered their brows but brushed the tops of their very eyelashes. My mother would have none of it. “That’s the craziest looking sight I ever saw,” she pronounced when I showed her the photos. “Those girls can’t even see with that long hair hanging in their eyes!”

Out came the scissors. Snip. Snip.

Worse even then their length was their natural wave that dipped even more sharply the shorter they were cut. In a desperate attempt to straighten them, I invested in rolls and rolls of pink Scotch hair tape and plastered them down with it every night while I slept. I woke up each morning to a tangled heap of pink tape on my forehead and short bangs that still flowed in two different directions on my forehead.

The waviness was of course not limited to my bangs. About midway down my back, my hair flowed in gentle waves to the base of my spine. When I was little, my mother rolled my hair in metal rollers to make banana curls, and then brushed them gently out to create fluffy waves. When I think about them now, I realize how beautiful they were. Back them, they were a total embarrassment.

Remember: Think Cher. Stick straight, top to bottom.

I read somewhere (probably in 17 or Young Miss) that if you separated your hair into sections and wrapped it tightly around your head every night, fastening each section to your scalp with bobby pins, this would pull the waves taut enough to straighten the hair out.

So now my nightly routine involved not only the pink taping, but about 30 minutes of hair wrapping.

Don’t ask me how I slept in those days.

My parents finally let me cut my hair short when I was in ninth grade. At last - the sleek pageboy I had been wanting since seeing a picture on the cover of Vogue. But short wavy hair has its own problems - it gets frizzy in the rain or humidity and the waves become even more difficult to tame. To add to my woes, my hair had become very oily, and I had to wash it every single day. I spent a lot of time in the mornings pulling and tugging away with blow dryer and round bristle hair brush.

My poor hair. It’s a wonder I have any left.

But I’m happy to report that this longstanding war with my hair is now officially over. In the last couple of years, I’ve surrendered. Even though I still wear it in a modified page boy - or “bob” I think they call it now - I don’t worry too much about pulling it super straight. And, though I never would have believed it, I sometimes go two or even three days without washing my hair. It’s no longer the least bit oily - in fact, it’s dried up in a way all too common amongst women my age. But this means that it looks and feels perfectly acceptable without being shampooed and blown dry every morning. My current stylist knows how to cut it in a way that takes advantage of the natural wave, and I don’t mind when it doesn’t lay perfectly on each side of my face. 

In fact, at my age, I think something a little softer, freer, and less severe is more flattering. Which is really kind of a motto for the way I want to live the rest of my life right now. No more taping, wrapping, pulling, curling, no more desperate attempts to wrestle something into a shape it clearly didn’t want to be in. 

At first, I worried that this tendency to let my hair “go” was the beginning of a slippery slope to old ladyhood. Would velcro shoes, elastic waist pants, collared sweatshirts, and support hose be next? I’m not worried about that anymore.  I realize that this comfortable acceptance of my hair is part of the wisdom of being a certain age.  In it’s most natural state, it fits who am I - a woman who feels comfortable and confident in her own skin (and hair).