Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Good Hair Day

We've just returned from an overnight trip to England. We had fun -- or as much fun as a family with an angsty, brooding 13-year-old can have, which is a surprising amount, actually, even with the odd sulk -- or two.

Our youngest is a champion sulker. I can't help but brag here: she has always been well ahead of her age group, having started sulking at seven months, way before the average onset during the terrible twos. People told us she wasn't really sulking, but believe me, you had to be there -- she was.

She is also contrary. Bear in mind that like every other adolescent, this kid can go through hot water like an SUV chugs fuel; if I don't come banging on the door, she will happily spend up to an hour in the shower. Once we got settled in our hotel room, my husband and I agreed that for once we could take a break: we didn't have to monitor the kids' shower time so rigidly.

But she wouldn't take a shower. Why not? Because she didn't have her hair straightener with her and could not risk getting her hair wet.

Words almost fail me here as I struggle to express how much I hate hair straighteners, hair straightening products, hair irons (or whatever they are called) and all the advertisers who promote their consumption and use. I hate all of them with a burning passion. I hate them on behalf of every poor deluded female out there who thinks her hair ought to conform to some stupid beauty standard someone else thought up. These products are noxious and fiddly and hair-damaging and expensive -- and largely ineffective, as if you've got hair that is bushy, curly or kinky, it can be beaten into temporary submission, but it will never be sleek. And I could kick myself all over Scotland for ever allowing my eldest to buy an electric hair straightener.

When I initially said yes to a hair straightener, I figured it was just a stage. I thought that our eldest, who is lazy, would soon tire of all the fuss and bother of daily hair straightening. I reasoned that the reactions of others -- "Ewww, what have you done to your hair?" -- would make her see reason and persuade her to leave her naturally curly hair alone. Boy, was I wrong: she still uses it. What did happen was that the youngest started thinking that her hair, also naturally curly, wasn't slick and sleek enough. She began begging her sister to straighten her hair -- and bellyaching on the days that she didn't have time to do it. Quarrels began in earnest: "You promised you'd straighten my hair!" -- "Buy your own straighteners, you little freak!" And so on.

I come from a family of bushy-haired people. My sisters and I used to take turns ironing each other's hair, which was silly, because no sooner did we get it wet than it went right back to its natural state: bushy and untamed. I am largely Caucasian, but it was Angela Davis who first gave me the idea that hair didn't have to be sleek. My apologies to Ms Davis (I know it infuriated her to be known mainly as a hairdo), but I'm betting that along with the musical Hair, her Afro inspired thousands of other bushy-haired women of all races to just let it go. To forget all the muck they put on their hair -- the permanents and cream rinses and the endless chemical preparations and compressions (I slept with a headscarf on for a solid year when I was 14) and just let it be.

When I was 17, I gave up. I grew my hair out and stopped putting Dippity-do on my cowlicks and ironing my hair and having it thinned at the hairdresser's. And to my joy, it looked just fine.

Two years later, I got on a cable car in San Francisco and saw a girl I hadn't seen since high school. I recognized her right away, but also registered what I'd never before realized: how beautiful she was. Her hair was a mass of ringlets and it was as bushy and wild as mine. We both gasped and exclaimed, simultaneously: "Your hair!"

This poor girl had gone through high school with hair that looked like a mess of limp, damaged fabric. I'm betting that swimming classes worried her as much as they worried me. She'd spent untold ages straightening her hair and like mine, it just looked awful. And once she got away from high school, she did what I did: she gave up and let her hair do what it needed to do. And like me, she never looked back.

All of this -- and more -- went through my mind as I tried to talk our kid out of the car where she had installed herself with a book. She had passed on the chance to have a virtually unlimited nag-free shower because of her hair, but somehow it had managed to revert to its wavy, bushy state anyway, and she was not getting out of the car lest the good people of Ironbridge see it in all its wilful glory. Provokingly, her hair is nowhere near as bushy or cowlicky as mine was, but never mind: it was not fit for public inspection, even if those viewing it were all strangers.

Sighhhh. What's the use of acquiring all this hard-won wisdom if you can't pass it on to the younger generation?

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39 comments:

Christy said...

Ha! I had fine, poker straight hair until my second pregnancy (who'd have thought hormones could change the texture of your hair?) and spent many any hour sitting in a salon getting perms. The day I told my mom that I was giving up on the idea of curly hair, she practically mourned.

marshymallow said...

:o) My parents tried everything to get me to take shorter (and less) showers, but i hated going out in public with what i was convinced was the most disgusting, greasy hair ever. I had to shower every morning, even if only to mow the lawn. College changed that - sleep became more important, and quite a few people seem to completely ignore soap while in college so i don't stand out at all.

Tabitha said...

Don't worry, Mary. Your kids will see the wisdom in your words...ten years from now. :)

I've got baby-fine hair that's not quite straight, not quite curly. And if it's too long or not cut right, it hangs flat against my head. So I did the same as Christy and spent too many years getting permanents to put some curl into my ridiculous hair!

But now, I've finally discovered that the right cut makes it look just fine. I curl nothing, straighten nothing, and just let it drip-dry right out of the shower.

But I would surely love to have your curly hair. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Only very rarely can wisdome be passed on, and then usually only to folks the same age or older than you.

Eryl Shields said...

I had very straight hair when I was young and hated it. Now, for some reason, I have kinky hair and hate it! Can't win. I can't use gels and mousses because they make my eyes water so I just have to grin and bear it. A decent cut does make a difference but I'm too lazy, or disorganised, to get it cut more than about twice a year.

I guess the young have to make their own mistakes, your hard won wisdom is a benefit to you alone. And fashion is terribly influential on them.

My fifteen year old niece is a whiz with hair straighteners, she actually uses them to make lovely undulating waves, I'm always impressed when I see her do it.

problemchildbride said...

I have very straight hair and I've always longed for a bit of kink or curl or wave. I tong. If I'm going out in the evening, I do the reverse operation of what your daughters do. I tong.

We always want what we don't have.

problemchildbride said...

Like Christy, said, i think hormones might play a part too. My mother had straight hair until menopause, when it went quite mad and curled all over the shop.

Mary Witzl said...

Christy -- I dreamt of having your fine hair; I yearned for it. There was a certain look: dead straight hair, very fine and thin and long. All the girls who could manage this were deeply envied. All I can do now is look back on the time I wasted trying to make my hair do what it never could: lie flat.

In Japan, I had a 'straight permanent' once. It went badly wrong and I came out looking like a poodle.

Marshymallow -- Wow: you and my youngest daughter could be twins! When I had to take my eldest to look at universities recently, I was bowled away when she came downstairs in jeans and sweatshirt, with her hair tied back. She had noticed exactly what you did: that grooming among university students isn't necessarily the be all and end all. I could have wept from joy.

Tabitha -- My hair isn't curly, it's just bushy and wavy and awkward. I have cowlicks in strategic places, resulting in weird bubbly bits of hair that stick out at funny angles when my hair is cut short. Growing it long helps, as the weight of the hair makes it almost straight, but it's a pain to brush out...

I had the best haircut of my life done in Baltimore, by a Spanish man, over his kitchen sink. No one has since come close to doing such a good job, though I live in hope.
And I must stop myself from longing for your baby-fine hair...

Charles -- That is true, of course, but it is one of the most vexing things about human nature I can think of: that we can't profit from the wisdom of others until we are almost too old to gain from it.

Eryl -- I hate the smell of most hair preparations too. I can't get over how women are expected to use them; like you, I find that gels and mousses make my eyes burn. And they do little for the overall health of your hair.

I'm impressed with your niece's ability too! I wonder how big her parents' electricity bill is, though...

Sam -- Aiieee -- another woman with long straight hair who doesn't want it!

I can almost guarantee you that you wouldn't want my waves. They don't wave in the way I want them to wave, see; they go one way when I want them to go quite the other. But you've given me something to hope for, and I'll be watching my hair every day now waiting for it to do something wild and crazy.

Anne Spollen said...

Over the weekend, I had to buy my son a hair straightener. No, make that HAD - he wouldn't go into the ocean with me for fear of his natural curls coming back. When I pointed out that no one else was on the beach, except for a few grizzled fishermen, he retreated under towels and stopped speaking.
Talk about pregnancy hormones...
Yesterday, he went to friends bd party, again all boys. What did they spend about an hour doing? Straightening each other's hair...

Anonymous said...

It must be the curse of the young. If you have straight hair, you want curly, if you have curly, you want straight.
I am one of ones with the long baby fine hair...and a ton of it. I spent hours at a time in the salons for the perms in my teenage years. My beautician hated it...they would team up and have two people wrapping my hair and it would still take over an hour. And I did it every year - and fried my hair. I've long since given up on that nonsense. I wash and go. It hangs there straight unless the breeze blows then it gets a very messy windblown look.
Before you get too jealous of the baby fine hair, perhaps you should be warned that you can't do ANYTHING with it. Curling irons? Mouse? Gel? Doesn't matter. An hour later it looks exactly like it would have if you'd just left it alone.
However if you really want it...I do have 12 inches (about 30 cm) cut off about every 16 months and donate it to Wigs for Kids or Locks for Love.
Oh, yes, it also grows very quickly. The average 2 inches in a year thing just does not apply to me!

Mia

Katie Alender said...

I love to see women "wearing" their own hair. (Says me, who's been blonde and back again!) As with most things, if you act like you created your look on purpose, people will assume you did.

I remember once in 7th grade (this was 1989, when tall bangs were a must), I decided to wear a ponytail and not use hairspray on my bangs at all. The girls in gym class asked, "What is WRONG with your hair?" and were astounded that it was a choice.

Carole said...

My scalp is clearly visable between my fine, thin hair. I envy your daughters, you, and the entire nation of thick, coarse haired beauties out there.

ms.shoe said...

What fun reading this - you have quite a witty way of telling a story! Funny how 'hair ' does seem to be the topic of the day.

Mary Witzl said...

Anne -- You have made my day with that story about your son and his friends, I swear to God. Here I was thinking that my girls were full of vanity and wondering if it might have been different if I'd had boys -- and now I think maybe it would not!

One of my cousins has two boys and she claimed that they spent as much time in front of the mirror as any girl. I didn't believe her at the time, but after similar stories from other boys' mothers, I see that the gender divide isn't as pronounced as one might think.

Mia -- Thank you for commenting!

I also donate to Locks of Love. I sent them a nasty 18-inch ponytail in March, and boy, was I glad to get rid of it. (My posting about it is under 'Locks of Love' on the sidebar) My hair also grows fast, and like you, I have tons of it, so I seem to be made for Locks of Love. I've got a nice collection of their post cards now -- "Mary went to lengths for a child" was the caption on the last one.

I am glad you stopped having your hair permed! On the rare occasions I go to the hairdresser's, the smell of permanent solution is enough to make me faint. I can't even stand to think about how bad it must smell if it's on your own hair.

Katie -- I keep telling my kids this about creating their own look, but of course they're not going to listen to anyone as hopelessly uncool as I. Or as hopelessly bushy-haired as I am, for that matter. If only you could tell them!

And isn't hairspray just gross? It's always in an environmentally unfriendly container, plus, it makes hair feel like plastic. Boy, do I sound like Miss Natural or what.

Carole -- Believe me, I'm going to be preening and thinking of myself as a thick, coarse-haired beauty -- even when my mirror tells me a sadly different story.

Ms Shoe -- Thank you for commenting! It is weird that we both posted on the same topic. It must be something in the hair! (Sorry, I could not resist...)

Gorilla Bananas said...

It's interesting that you mention Angela Davis, because I believe that artificial hair-straightening by
black Americans was one the practices despised by the late Malcolm X. Maybe you should give your daughter the biography written by Alex Haley. I assume she's not black, but the point he made was a general one against people being ashamed of what they were.

Kara said...

as someone who as the straightest hair known to mankind...i can't relate to this story at all. but i'll tell you this, give me ten minutes with your kids in a room alone and i will have them convinced that what they're doing to themselves is wrong wrong wrong. oh...and the room also needs to have a couple couches, some snacks and the Thriller music video playing just for funsies.

laura said...

Do I dare admit to TWO straighteners?? My old, worn out one is at Hans' apartment, and I now have a new one here at home. For a blonde, I have a lot of hair and if I don't straighten it, I end up with BIG hair. When I was in high school and the hair products available today had yet to be invented, my hair was always 'wrong' so maybe the fact that I work at it today is a delayed reaction. Actually, it only takes minutes to do. I got a kick out of reading about your daughters! Been there, done that, and it wasn't fun.

Kim Ayres said...

Tell them if they keep overdoing the hair straighteners they'll end up looking like Mr Witzl...

Alice said...

I gave up at an early age. I tried to do the perm thing about twice, but my hair won't hold it and the highlights my sister attempted just fried things, so I'm as natural as you get and it all gets pulled back in a scrunchie. Chic or what?

Mary Witzl said...

GB -- I remember reading the autobiography of Malcolm X -- that awful part where he gets interrupted while treating his hair and has to stick his head in the toilet to wash off the chemicals. NO ONE should have to go to such lengths to change what they look like. Sadly, unless someone young and cool develops an interest in the late Malcolm X and trots his story out again, it won't have resonance for my kids. They would not see the parallel. African hair has got to be harder to straighten than mine or theirs, but I still think there are parallels here: trying to change your physical appearance to accomodate someone else's notions of beauty. Bah.

Kara -- As long as you're not contemplating scalp transplants, you're on, and if you ever come to Scotland, I will take you up on that! We've got a couple of couches -- does it matter that they're junky?

Just thinking about your hair is making me feel a little wistful... Just think of all the electricity and money you've saved...

Laura -- TWO straighteners? Aaggh!
And every day is a big hair day for me (unless I tie it up).

I think all the slaving and agonizing I did over my hair has helped make me the ungroomed slob that I am today. I look back on the time I spent trying to flatten my hair and wish I could have it all back now.

Adolescents are pretty hellish, but when they're fun they really ARE fun. It's just getting through all the other stuff to get at that little kernel of fun...

Kim -- The problem is, they know that their father has done nothing to his once naturally curly hair, whereas I, of the big, thick hair, spent years trying to subdue it. So no way are they going to fall for that. (I know: I've tried.)

Alice -- Hooray for scrunchies and women who refuse to agonize over their hair! Once in a while I see old ladies with careless ponytails, out in their gardens, turning compost heaps or whatever. It always cheers me up -- it's what I want to become. I'm well on the road.

A Paperback Writer said...

I've had students like your daughter -- and students who were the opposite (curled their hair every night or had a zillion perms). Both boys and girls at this age torture themselves over appearance. I've seen boys and girls with bangs/fringe that drove them nuts, hair spiked with Elmer's glue, hair died with Jello powder, hair gelled so stiff it had to be uncomfortable, half-shaved heads with Samuri ponytails, skunk stripes, spiked hair with bleached tips that makes the wearing look very much like a porcupine, poofy hair, shaved heads painted in the school colors.... you name it.
My own hair is the one thing I never have disliked about myself. I obsessed (and still do) about weight. When I was young, I worried about my clothes. But my hair has always been the envy of nearly every other woman.
When I used to wear it short, the stylist once told my mother that my hair was so healthy you could burn it off and it would be fine.
It's thick. It's golden. It's slightly wavy. And it grows long. At one point, it hung 4 inches below my knees (I'm 5'8"). I currently keep it about fingertip length.
I do get snappy with people telling me I need to cut it off and donate it to Locks of Love. I do get tired of people telling me their own hair USED to be that long (in my whole life I've seen about 10 caucasian women with hair this long or longer). It does get static cling that bugs me. It is hard to wash and dry.
But my teen angst had to be spent on my skin/clothes/teeth/lack of boyfriends/temper/phone calls etc. Perhaps I missed out on one of life's little joys....

ChrisEldin said...

I really can't read this right now.

Just wanted to say, "I love you, man."
heheheh
*will try to pull myself together*

You always have good hair.
Is your post about grooming? I might read anyway...

UBERMOUTH said...

I hate marketers who do that- make ppl feel freakish if they are ,often gloriously different.
I Have dead straight hair and have had perms for years. Your daughter , and you, are very lucky to have beautifully curly, bouncy, full bodied hair for free!

UBERMOUTH said...

I am a caucasion with long red hair past my butt. I too get people telling me'time for a cut' as if it is bad grooming to have such long hair.

The Anti-Wife said...

I'm another of the super straight hair people. Thick, fine and straight. No amount of perming, curlers, curling irons or anything known to man can make my hair curl for more than a few minutes at a time. In my youth I really, really wanted curly hair. Now I'm content with straight. So glad I'm not that age anymore.

Mary Witzl said...

APW -- Wow, does your hair sound incredible! I have grown mine almost to my knees, but never quite got there. The tangles just got to me by that point and I got too tired of brushing them out. I've only seen a few women with hair past their knees in my lifetime, but I used to marvel at the descriptions of Japanese court ladies whose hair ran the length of the floor and had to be dressed by a number of servants. And have you ever seen pictures of the seven Sutherland sisters? If not, google them -- you will be amazed!

You have seen some interesting hair styles! I'm guessing my kid's blue hair would not have fazed you one iota. I'm still tempted to get my head shaved some day. You and I would make an interesting contrast if I did!

Chris -- I'll give you a concise version: My damn kids keep straightening their hair. I used to do this and now I don't. They won't listen to me! Whew -- it's such a strain not to be long-winded. I feel all Hemingway-esque.

Ubermouth -- If you've got red hair that long, I guarantee you that the people who tell you it's time for a haircut are just seething with envy. Ignore them. But -- sighhh. I'd have given my eyeteeth for your hair when I was 14...

Anti-wife -- Good for you! Actually, I'm pretty content with what I've got now too. I can't imagine a better feeling, either. It was worth going through all that angst just to arrive at my current state of who-gives-a-rat's- posterior.

Carole said...

This has nothing to do with hair, but a blog that you might occasionally want to check out. It is from our missionaries in Japan and she often writes a nice piece on an aspect of Japanese culture that you might find interesting. The address is http://bercherbarton.blogspot.com/
They don't allow commenting which I asked her about, but she says it is too difficult to keep up with.

Merry Monteleone said...

I cannot straighten my hair to save my life.... this is just a fact - when I get it cut and styled, my hairdresser has no problem straightening it, and it always looks great and glossy, but only for the day I've had it done... I've tried straighteners, I just can't do it the same way.

On the plus side, my hair is very thick and it's not just wavy, it actually lays in large ringlets if I let it dry on it's own (which I usually do). If I run a regular brush through it, it'll frizz, so I usually just pick it out with one of those large tooth combs - easy cheesy, even if it's not in style... still it's healthy.

Luckily, my teenage years were during the big hair, spiral perm, late eighties and early nineties... I didn't have to do a thing to my hair, it looked like that on its own.

I found other things to obsess about... we all do.

debra said...

I have fine curls. I used to fuss when I was a teen. I wanted my hair to be long blond and silky. So I tried a straightening product. The smell never went away. and whenever my hair was wet, my dad used to ask if the cows were coming home. I ironed my hair, used dippity-doo to straighten my bangs (I always wound up with a row of commas) and slept on orange juice cans. And in the end, I still had curls. Now I wash towel dry and scrunch. 5 minutes. Done.

Ello said...

I think Angus would give your daughter a good competition for the title. She whines like a champion too!

I always had stick straight hair that was thick but fine. Everyone loves my hair but it wasn't easy to do things with. AFter 3 kids, I actually have waves in my hair and I love it!

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- I will check that out! What a coincidence that you sent this: I have just been reading about the American missionaries dispatched by MacArthur to post-war Japan.

Merry -- I have the same experience with my hair -- it looks okay for about an hour, then just goes back to being what it is. And my eldest also has lots of ringlets that frizz up if she brushes them out. So naturally, she fries her hair into sleek submission daily.

How wonderful that your kind of hair was actually in vogue during your teenage years -- you had one less thing to obsess over. And how weird that so many of us worry and fuss over something as trivial as hair. I can see this just looking at my kids, but could not see it in myself at their age.

Debra -- I never did orange juice cans, but my roommate did. She had hair even thicker and wilder than mine and would tether it up every night -- to little avail. But oh, that nasty dippity-do -- I must have gone through gallons! And yes, it never did the job, did it? I had those commas too, until I got rid of my bangs.

Ello -- Maybe we can pit Angus and my youngest against each other some time and have a quiet gamble on which one comes out ahead? I'm just warning you that your girl will have to be seriously good.

Maybe if I'd had a couple more kids, my hair would have gone straight. Actually, wipe that: if I'd had a couple more kids, my hair would have gone WHITE.

Kappa no He said...

Hilarious! I always wanted that iron flat hair as well. I remember spending the night at a friends, waking up to my wavy mess and having the mom and big sisters ooo and ahhh saying You may hate it now but when you get older!! They were right!

Barbara Martin said...

When I was a teenager my mother would always pay for permanents so I could have curled hair. I hated that and once on a road trip to California had my hair cut shorter and all those kinky curls went. My mother was upset and I was happy. If my hair is short it has some curl to it, if longer: none. I keep my hair shorter to this day. Much easier to maintain.

Anonymous said...

"I thought that our eldest, who is lazy, would soon tire of all the fuss and bother of daily hair straightening."
Thanks mom...!!
And by the way, hair straighteners are a good way to feed that laziness. I can't be bothered to grow it out long, so I lightly straighten the front bits so that I can put it up in a bun or something else, because normally my hair is to curly to do so. Sure, lots of people use it for fashion, but I actually prefer using it for convenience. I don't suit having a thin curtain of hair, so I don't even bother. But if I didn't have my straighteners (which I don't use all the time, I'll have you know!) I wouldn't be able to put my hair up, and that would be a complete (50p~) bugger, let me tell you!

Anonymous said...

PS. LAZY? Mr. Brown would disagree with you there! ;P

Mary Witzl said...

Ah honey, you can too put your hair up without hair straighteners! Let me do it for you sometime and I'll show you how.

As for the laziness thing, Mr Brown does not live here and did not see how much studying you got done (or more to the point, did not get done). And come on: you could have told me all this yourself, but you'd have had to come all the way downstairs!

On the other hand, laziness could very well be inherited. Here I am, supposed to be packing, but I'm fooling around on my blog. What does that say about me?

Chocolatesa said...

My sister is 14 and insists on -get this- straightening her ALREADY STRAIGHT hair. It has a barely noticable wave in it, but compared to my curls it's quite straight. I never put anything in my hair except for some clips and an elastic, and all through highschool I got called "fuzzball" for all the tiny short curly hair I have around my hairline that won't grow long enough to fit under anything. It doesn't even make nice ringlets, it just frizzes up. I hate having stiff, sticky hair, so I don't use any products, unless absolutely necessary (like riding on the highway in the back of an open convertible). I don't spend money on haidressers either, I trim the ends myself once every 2 months or so. I really wish it would grow long though, I can never get it past my shoulder blades without having horrible split ends, and yes I do condition and don't over-wash or brush it. Drip-dry here too.

Mary Witzl said...

Chocolatesa -- (Your name has me practically running for the refrigerator every time. I keep seeing big blocks of chocolate in my mind's eye.)

From what I can see of your hair, it looks great. Long live letting your hair have its own way!

I seem to know a lot of girls like your sister, who gild the lily and insist on frying their hair into unnatural straightness. Our youngest daughter still can't be seen without her hair ironed into a sheet, though sometimes she lets down her guard a little and hangs out the clothes or takes out the trash with her hair a la natural.

日月神教-任我行 said...
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