I always hated my hair. As a six-year old at school, I’d pull my fingers through my curls to destroy the long ringlets that my mother had so painstakingly created. In high school, when I rebelliously demanded autonomy over my own hair, my mother and I fought every day.
Standing in the bathroom doorway she’d mock, “Try Elmer’s Glue.”
I would slam the door and return to slathering. No matter how much Dippity Doo I used, my wavy hair refused to lie flat against my head. My ponytail, vigorously brushed into a straight mane, swished down to my shoulders for only a few seconds. With a life of its own, it twisted and writhed, happy only when it had revived its Medusa spirals.
A curse, I thought. A blessing, my mother insisted.
“Would you like to have your sister’s hair, straight as a poker, and be doomed to a life of curlers and perms?”
I did feel sorry for my little sister who often went to bed with her hair wrapped around hard plastic rollers. But I felt more sorry for myself, whose dark unruly mop was my obstacle to achieving the girl-next-door look of TV sitcoms.
I decided to cut my hair my senior year of high school.
“Wait,” my mother begged. “Don’t spoil your graduation picture with a new hair style.”
I refused to listen. My father, who understood my need to play out some of my fantasies about fitting in, had given me money. I made an appointment at Bloomingdale’s. Surrendering, my mother accompanied me to the posh salon. She said nothing when the hairdresser saw the length of my hair and assumed I simply wanted a trim and shaping.
“No, I want it short, no waves, no curls,” I said.
“The artichoke cut,” my mother suggested. “I think she has the face for it.”
“Yes,” I agreed, not having any idea what that style looked like.
“Please give us the hair you cut off because I would like to save it,” my mother said in a funereal voice.
I hated my high school graduation picture. My artichoke cut looked great for about a week. My dad said it looked better on me than on Gina Lollobrigida. I was furious. “La Lolla,” as she was known, was an earthy, bosomed Italian movie actress dubbed the most beautiful woman in the world – which simply meant the absolute sexiest.
Why didn’t he say I looked like Audrey Hepburn? She had a short haircut too. I wanted to become the American girl next door but, in chopping off my hair, I had only succeeded in somewhat resembling an Italian sexpot. When my artichoke leaves grew, they twisted and turned and by the time I sat for my senior portrait I was again Medusa head, with short tangles instead of long ones.
I gave up. Over the years, I experimented with short, chin length and shoulder length hair, realizing finally, and ironically, that my hair, loose and natural, was what suited me best. When big hair styles like the bouffant and beehive became popular, I, like most of my friends, resorted to using a “fall,” a hair extension. Mine, however, was different; it was real. A stylist, adding a few synthetic strands to the hair my mother had saved, created a foot long mane that perfectly blended with the color and texture of my natural hair.
Coiling my removable hair piece into a thick braid, I often wound it through my own hair, securing it to the top of my head with a half-dozen bobby pins. The result was a mass of hair that not only added a couple of inches to my height but created the illusion of a Rapunzel whose untwined hair would stream to her ankles.
Eventually, life as a single mother and full-time career woman left no time for fussing with my hair. For the last thirty years I have worn it short and curly. I have a quick, no-nonsense hairdo which earned me the nickname, Betty Boop. Colleagues and friends tied to the demands of maintaining more complicated hair styles often voice their envy.
“How lucky you are to have curly hair.”
And guess what? I am now considering abandoning the monthly root touch up and letting my hair go white
A white-haired Medusa, La Lolla, or Betty Boop.
I think I’m going to love it.