Hair today

My hair has never been my best feature. Not natural, not coloured, not permed, not even put up. It’s limp, thin, straight but prone to frizzing, and that not-even-a-colour shade of brown. It refuses to shape into anything. No wave, let alone a stray curl. Every now and then I find a picture of a haircut that I think would look good, take little-to-no time or skill to style into an acceptable coif, and I brandish it to my very talented stylist. Invariably, however, I come out of her chair looking like the hair equivalent of country mouse trying really hard to be stylin’ the trendy boutique fashion with big-box-store clearance clothing.

There was that brief moment in the 90’s when Jennifer Aniston made straight hair de rigueur, and I though: This! It’s finally here! This is our time, hair! But that was too much pressure for my hair, who could just not shake the doomed-to-broom status. My hair is straight, but it was never the right kind of straight. Even my go-to haircut, the bob, I had to wrestle it out of frizzdom with a round brush, a hot hairdryer, and at least 15 minutes of separating strands to cook them gingerly on the rotating spit of the brush. My hand co-ordination was the only salvageable part of my self esteem through the aroma of burnt animal matter.

My hair is quantitatively challenged. But quality-wise, we’re still in the “meh” category. The hairs themselves? There’s not much girth to them. Euphemistically, it’s called “fine” hair. It sucks when a word wields its literal meaning instead of its more wide-spread and desired figurative one. So straightening my fine—remember, literal fine, not the good kind—hair with the iron, besides being the height of redundancy, ended up in unintended bbq-house smells. In my bathroom. On both occasions.

It’s hard to be a woman in North America without long hair. Actually I could have ended that sentence anywhere after the word “woman,” but that’s news to no one. Long, glossy hair, subjected to a daily regimen of washing, conditioning, styling, and coiffing is the absolute norm of femininity here. My daughter recognized that fact when she was three, and started demanding longer hair, in spite of banshee-range screaming on every encounter with a comb, a brush, or any hair-taming implement. Unfortunately, she inherited my hair, which means that, even straight, it manages to tangle itself into a mess even when chin-length. She got her wish, but then grew tired of it, and I was happy to take her to a hair salon to have it returned it to a more manageable length.

My own hair I let grow past my shoulders on two occasions in my life. Once in my early twenties, and again around the time I was pregnant with my second child. In retrospect, I can say the first time around might have been a belated rebellion, as I had never been allowed long hair as a child—and now you see why I allowed my 3 year old to go through the torture of hair-combing the sparrows’ nest (almost) every day. The second time? I might have been plagued by early-onset mid-life crisis or some need for gender conformity. In both cases, I’ve conveniently forgotten the precise reasons, but I managed to live with the consequences for two different reasons:

Number one: the saving grace for my cephalic non-hirsuteness is speed of growth. Translation: my fine, skimpy, straight-but-frizzy hair grows fast. Really fast. There must be an inverse proportionality between hair girth and growth speed. You’d think that was a blessing in disguise, but it’s really more of an expensive reminder that my hair does not do anything.

Number two: except that, when I’m saving money on haircuts, I can put it up, and thus be accepted in polite society with unwashed, unconditioned, unstyled, and uncoiffed hair.

What grey-haired women look like in popular imagination

The one concession I have always made to my hair (except for trying out perms a few times in my life, which have only resulted in even fewer hairs in the end. Didn’t think that was possible, but there you go. Never say never and all the other clichés) has been to colour it. I’ve been colouring my hair since my mid-twenties. Yes, right after the First Era of Long Hair. A few years ago, curiosity was gnawing at me, and when it reached bone, I let it persuade me to investigate the matter. I let my roots show for about a month longer than normal. The ensuing inch or so of original colour shocked the curiosity out of me. No, not with its beauty or originality or even nostalgia. My hair was still that nondescript brown, which is nonetheless difficult to match, because it veers toward green, when all the commercial colours lean to the warm, autumnal reddish brown.

The shock was whiteness. And it wasn’t the cool kind of white, the one which I could sport as a fashion statement. No, it was mostly white streaks here and there. Just enough to say “Hey, look at me, I’m getting old at high speed.” Just enough that no one would look at my face, not to mention hear my words before placing me in a box.

I was moved into colouring action by the shock of highlights of the most unfashionable kind—is there an offence to femininity quite as menacing as old age? (See Caitlin Jenner’s toxic comments about what (trans)women should look like to understand that you can transition towards your identified gender, but can hardly leave the prejudice behind when you’ve got the privilege). I did all I could to cover these tracks, matching be damned, and never quite looked back until recently, when my allergy to fragrance and my eczema kept getting worse, and I decided to eliminate all unnecessary fragrances and cosmetics.

So here I am now, trying to rid myself of the last of my coloured ends. I have an appointment with my stylist today, and hope to eliminate most of what’s left over, if not all. I’ve been bracing myself for feeling old, but the feeling hasn’t quite materialized. Instead, I kinda feel that I’m walking the talk in a small way. This is what my hair looks like now, and I’m not old, not even by a long shot. So I’m going to enjoy white-streaked hair, and anyone who has a problem with it is welcome to look away. I’m not your canvas. Nor am I the hair colours’. Not any more.

4 responses to “Hair today

  • Heather
    1 year ago

    Ha ha ha – you are WAY too hard on your gorgeous, elegant self. But I love the writing!

    • Creative
      1 year ago

      Heather!!! Will you never stop being so awesome (to me)?!

  • It is incredible how much labor and emotions go into the way we “manage” our hair! I love how you laid that out. And we all (well women, and almost all women) take it for granted that hair needs to be so managed. And I would have thought you were the lucky one when it comes to hair . And I love this sentence: “It sucks when a word wields its literal meaning instead of its more wide-spread and desired figurative one.”

    • Creative
      1 year ago

      Yes! Hair management is what the post should have been called. And you’re right that it’s probably most women–and probably lots of differently gendered people, too–that feel the need to manage their hair. However, I never quite felt this pressure outside Canada/US. I think other places in the world might be more lax when it comes to, say, the imperative to not only wash, but style your hair every day.

      I remember seeing a TV infomercial as a high school student that started with “are you tired of having bad hair days?” as it was hawking some magical rotating brush. I was stupefied at the concept of “bad hair day.” Well, coming to Canada has dissipated my hair stupefaction, among other things.

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