I’ve always considered the hair on my head as a message board, telling people who I am and what my mood is. Blunt bangs and a severe bob? Yep, I’m feeling lippy. Bleached out crop? I would rather be drinking/riding my bike. Shiny natural brown? I’m a grown up (albeit a slightly boring one). I admit it, I’m obsessed with hair.
It started young when I asked my mother to cut off my long hair (Carl Postle dared me) which she did without question. I was 9 and shocked that I could go from 18 inches to 5 in about 3 minutes. Carl wasn’t impressed but I was hooked. Yesterday I was ‘boring brown ponytail’ – today I was ‘Thoroughly Modern Milly’ (Google it). My first perm came at age 12 at which point I really hit my groove, going from Whitney Houston frizz, to Billy Idol in about 4 years. I’m surprised I don’t have lung cancer from all the gel, hairspray, liquid hold and mousse I sprayed into my head in those years. At one point my hair regime involved inverting my head, brushing my hair straight down and then spraying in place until I could balance a book on top of it – about 3 inches from my scalp. It took about a quarter can of hairspray and lets just say the results were Vanilla Ice-tastic. I had a my villages first ‘high and tight’ hair do at 14 and I think I’d have adopted ‘the fade’ if only my hair was thicker. My models were kings and queens of new wave – The Thompson Twins, U2, Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw, Duran Duran… if they had short high hair, I wanted it but shorter and higher. If my hair looked like them.. well, maybe I’d somehow live a life a little more like theirs.
Following my sisters lead I decided that color was really the problem. I could get the height, but I couldn’t get that unique washed out henna look so beloved of British pop stars of the 80s. My hair was this moderate brown.. definitely not punk and I doubt Susie and her Banshees would approve of the normalcy atop my head should she ever take to visiting the small villages of North Wales.
My first attempt was ‘Sun In’, the spray in lightener which turned every 14 yr old with a blond fetish into a ginger mop head around 1987. I sprayed and dried, sprayed and dried as my hair turned from brown to bronze, then ginger to a horrific fluorescent yellow. Unfortunately Saturday night in small village in Wales meant my options were a flat cap, the clippers or stay home. My sister identified a alternate solution and I headed out the door with my hair slicked down with black hair gel. Which proceeded to drip down my ears as I stood at the bus stop in the early evening drizzle. Monday morning I was at the hairdressers doorstep at 8am, begging for redemption. I scuttled through the door in tears as their raucous laughter followed me in, ‘Loovly color loov’
Sun In – supporting the British hairdressing business through the 80s.
My next attempts at trying to be someone else involved going darker, redder, pinker and then finally back to black. Not a good color for a pale British chick. Instead of Robert Smith, I looked like a mentally challenged death camp survivor as I backcombed my blue black fright wig higher and higher. I thought my hair said everything about me. ‘I’m not of here’ ‘I’m different‘ ‘I am not normal’ (instead it screamed, ‘I’m every teenager who hates their parents’). Which was essential to do..until I got a boyfriend and decided that I wanted to look pretty instead.
Brown came quickly followed by blondish, reddish, white and the occasional pink or green highlight. By college I’d tried on styles ranging from the ironic mullet and Louise Brooks bob, to the Dorothy Hamil (dreadful mistake) and back to the Billy Idol (hellish upkeep). I raged, I flirted, I tried to fit in and then tried to stand out. I was fashion forward, retro, abstract and often downright unattractive. I wore my hair in rags, pigtails, in a Bam Bam knot on the top of my head (my sister rolled with laughter) and sometimes shaved short, back and sides. Any boyfriend who mentioned they liked my hair, invariable saw me next with it all gone or a completely different color. My ex husband came home one night to a peroxide blond Mia Farrow and didn’t speak to me for hours. But I loved it. I felt pretty, fairy light and ever so fragile. Quite a jump from my robust and hearty self.
Hair was transformative. One day you could be Rapunzel, the next a 30’s flapper or a 40s screen siren. A sexy redhead fox or a depressively dark drama queen. My hair told everyone who I was, what I felt and who I wanted to be, even if I was wearing the same damn pair of 501s as yesterday.
Until one day my hair said ‘no more’ and stopped growing.
…for whole 10 months.
Visit after visit my hairdresser looked at my head and asked me why I was there. My hair hadn’t grown, even a millimeter, so there was nothing he could do. Month after month, nothing…My hair just stayed… static. I took horse pills, used scalp massage lotion, changed my shampoo, changed my diet.. and still nothing. Headstands, yoga, spinach, more horse pills and while my nails now needed cutting every other day, my hair refused to participate in the grow-a-thon.
Maybe all those years of dying and cutting, perming and curling had frightening it into hibernation? Maybe my body was suggesting I focus a little more on the inside rather than what was on my head? Either way I was stuck with a 1.5 inch crop for almost an entire year.
Note to divorcees – do not cut your hair when your divorce becomes final, no matter how much you think you need to. The result typically depresses you further and, for me, led to me spending a year looking like a sad lesbian (the hatred of men and pickup truck didn’t help). I don’t recommend it.
But back to hair.
Finally things righted themselves (I think the praying helped) and my hairdresser celebrated my first inch of growth by promptly cutting it off. So I decided to stop with the hair obsession. No longer would I use my hair to say something about me, signal my inner most desires, try to be something or someone I’m not. Hair was, after all, just hair.No matter what I did to it, I , me, didn’t really change. I was no more a rebel rocker, fragile waif or sexy temptress with hair than without it. Inside, I’m still someone who lives in jeans and a t shirt, no matter how much I want to waft around in 4 inch heels and a peignoir.
So I’ve retired my mousse and my gel, my hairspray and my backcomb. No more black, red, aubergine or yellow for me. These days my hair resembles the style and color I had back at the age of 10. Its taken me years, a lot of money, some goddamn ugly hairstyles and a lot of patience, but finally my hair reflects me. I finally look like the person I think I am.
Which is actually who I was all along.