So you want an accurate weather forecast? Just ask a woman. As a gender, we are natural-born meteorologists. And we do it without any fancy equipment. No need for Doppler radar, barometers, hygrometers, or weather satellites. All we have to do is step outside, remain there for less than a minute, come back inside, look in a mirror, and observe the state of our hair.
For example, we can provide a humidity reading within a fraction of a percentage point by noting if our coif frizzes or goes flat. Temperature is accurately predicted by determining the perspiration factor and how it affects one’s bangs. Rain is definitely on the way if we decide it’s hopeless, yank it back with a hair tie, andor don a baseball cap.
I have come to believe that most women have a weird relationship with their locks. For one thing, we are never satisfied. If our hair is straight, we wish it were curly; if it’s curly, we wish it were straight. We change the color and we are forever changing the style. We will pay the equivalent of a month’s worth of groceries and fly half-way across the country for the perfect haircut.
For me, personally, I can measure my years as a long string of bad hair days. For the first few months of my life I was completely bald. I have photos, lovingly snapped by my father, to attest to this. I’m not sure what they fed me, but by the time I started kindergarten, I had an unruly mess of thick, wavy, curly tresses. At this juncture, the standard remark from the very same loving father was “Susan, you need a haircut.” And he no longer took my picture.
Thus began a life-long battle to tame my mane.
In my younger days, my hair grew past my shoulders, and my mother braided it to keep it confined. But how long could a girl tolerate looking like a brunette version of Heidi?
When I got a bit older, we cut it short, which resulted in me locking myself in the bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably, and wondering if somehow I could figure out a way to have the hair dresser arrested. I subsequently destroyed every copy of my sixth grade graduation picture.
By high school, bangs and pony tails were all the rage. That is, STRAIGHT bangs and pony tails, not pony tails that bunched out instead of hanging gracefully down one’s back, and bangs that were slick and did not resemble a slalom run as they coursed down one’s forehead. It seemed that all the popular girls had straight hair. So I did the math. Straight hair equals popularity. With this mop I would never make it to American Bandstand!
So what did us mop-heads do? We weren’t going to take this lying down. In fact, lying down became a bit of a challenge as each night before bed we wound our hair tightly around giant mutant rollers. The hope was that in the morning we would awaken slick and tidy. Ever try to sleep with large plastic objects affixed to your skull? I swear, if the CIA had thought of this, there would have been no need for water boarding.
Giant rollers weren’t the only self-inflicted torture. We also laid out our tresses on ironing boards and attacked them with hot irons. What we got for our trouble, in addition to hair that stayed straight for maybe ten minutes, was singed ends and an odor that was reminiscent of a freshly plucked chicken.
Ever try scotch-taping your hair to your skin? I don’t recommend it, unless you’re one of those people who enjoy ripping off band-aids.
All of these, of course, were only temporary measures. By the end of gym class, Mother Nature always reclaimed her birthright. And we could not convince my best friend’s father, who was a doctor, to write a note excusing us from physical education because perspiration made our hair curly. How unreasonable!
I hated my hair throughout the 1960s, when hippie hair was all the rage. It was parted in the middle and pony tails were let loose to let hair hang limply past one’s shoulders. Somehow curly hair could never achieve the limp look. I, of course, wanted the limp look. I wish I could recoup some of those hours I spent in the bathroom with a brush and a hair dryer, winding, stretching, and blow-drying until my arms ached.
I would go to the hairdresser (I had since forgiven hairdressers. Are they still called hairdressers?) with pictures cut from magazines of beautiful, sleek hair styles, and implore him to make me look like this or that. He would turn away and giggle, then turn back and patiently explain that he couldn’t. Not with my hair.
Abandoning everything I had tried in high school, I took the next step. I had my hair chemically straightened. This was serious stuff, stuff that left small burns on one’s scalp. Who cared; they would heal. And I finally got what I always wanted – the stick-straight tresses of my dreams.
At last my hair could blow alluringly, like ribbons in the wind, as I road happily along in a convertible. (So what if I didn’t own a convertible, or know anyone who did, it was all about the concept.) My long, straight pony tail, sticking out of the hole in the rear of the baseball cap, could swing jauntily across my back as I jogged. (I don’t remember, did I jog?) I know longer had to fear steam rooms. (I hate steam rooms.) Oh, If those popular girls could see me now!
I engaged in this masochistic scalp-burning behavior for several years, until one day, the Afro hit it big, and fashion gave me permission to go natural. Curly hair was in and straight-haired women were actually getting perms. Hah!
So for a happy instant I rode the top of the fashion wave (excuse the pun), and was freed from the obsession of having to look like a cheerleader. Unfortunately, however, this did not last. Sleekness made a comeback.
I’m not sure exactly when or how I concluded that if I cut my hair really, really short I could be rid of the heart break of humidity. And once done, there would be no turning back. This was to be a great liberation – as good as abandoning the girdle or burning a bra.
Again I marched to the hairdresser with a photo. I stuck it in his face, and said, “Here, make me look like this!” He seemed a bit stunned at first, but when his speech returned he asked me if I was absolutely certain that I wanted to look like Sinead O’Connor. I reconsidered, and we compromised.
To this day, I am unfailingly punctual about my visits to the hairdresser (or is hair stylist more PC?) It’s probably another obsession, but for me, a better one. So attuned am I to the length of my hair, or lack thereof, that when it reaches a certain point I could swear I hear it growing. Now I’m the one who says, “I need a haircut,” which brings about a fit of laughter from my husband, and anyone else who happens to overhear me.
I actually get compliments on my hairdo. People ask me if I did it because my head has such a nice shape, or that I knew it would look this good. I simply smile, and thank them. How can I explain that after years of irreconcilable differences , it was all about revenge!