Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I am not my hair

I'm in my own world when I walk to work. Headphones in, listening to some dance track that causes me to do what I still call the "Hudson County Strut," even though I haven't lived in New Jersey in twenty years. I can't help it, especially if it's nice out and I'm wearing heels. On one of these days, I smiled good morning at an older gentleman as we passed each other. He smiled back and said, "Gorgeous." Felt nice.

On the next block, I walked by some fresh-faced, peaches and cream blond straight out of a shampoo commercial, her hair bouncing and behaving in the sunlight. My moment of gorgeous slipped away.  

"Right, that's what beauty is."

I know what you're going to say. That's not what beauty is anymore. Eye of the beholder and all that. But it still stops me when I see a woman with long, flowy perfect hair, no matter the color. And it's not a "poor ugly me" thing. I think I'm cute. It's being reminded no matter what I do, I'm never going to be Olivia Newton John, the ideal beauty to my six year-old self.

Olivia as Bad Sandy

My friends and I used to take turns performing the role of Sandy in our marathon sessions of singing and dancing to the Grease soundtrack. Good Sandy, blond hair swinging as she does the hand jive with Danny in the high school gym.  Bad Sandy, working that mass of blond curls as she struts around in those red Candie's and leather jacket. I wanted to be Sandy, a pretty girl with the long blond hair that all the boys wanted to be around. I wasn't.

Ia and me with our long hai

My mother had long wavy hair; "good hair." I used to sit behind her on the couch and brush it with a pink handled bristle brush from Avon. I loved parting it down the middle and seeing all the white hair that was coming in underneath the dark waves.  My sister was a master with hair. She had Fawcett waves, could do any kind of braid or twist. Her friends would come over on Saturdays and she would do their hair before they all went out. Me? I never got the hang of it. I learned to braid my hair, but I suspect my braids were always crooked. I had bangs in the 80s. You know what I'm talking about, the kind of bangs that look like a claw on the front of your head. Of course, all of this was achieved through the burning magic of relaxer. Every few weeks, that plastic of tub of lye and whatever other chemicals were in there was purchased, cracked open and applied to my shoulder length hair in sections. I knew it was working when my scalp started to burn. Then the chemical was rinsed out, my hair  set in giant, purple rollers and I sat under the dryer for hours.

Thirteen years old with a long bob, a blob
The result was straight, soft, silky hair and a scalp covered in itchy scabs. It stayed "nice" until I washed my hair again, then it went to shit.

I cut my hair short before I graduated high school and never went back. In the intervening years, I have had many lengths of short hair, I even had bangs again in the mid 90s, but the back of my neck has not felt a ponytail or braid against it in two decades. Sometimes I dream about brushing my long, dark hair or putting it up in a French twist, but I don't really miss it. OK, I don't miss the hassle. I won't ever have long hair like Sandy or that woman on the street and, most days, I'm OK with it.

short and sassy, like my momma.
I've grown to love my haircut. It suits me. People say I "have the face for it," whatever that means. And they comment on how easy it must be to manage. I go to the barber when my hair starts to feel heavy or when the gray (it's coming!) starts to show more than I would like it to; about every three weeks. Danny sets the clippers at 1.5 and does my entire head. Takes about 20 minutes, costs less than 20 dollars and puts the strut back in my walk.

The next time I see that blond Breck girl walking down the street, I'll remind myself that we're both gorgeous, but I got to sleep in while she was blow drying her hair.