The Hairy Truth
For the love of perms: Embracing the lost art of curly hair amid thestraightening craze
Every 13 to 14 months, I think an inordinate amount of thoughts about hair. Ordinarily, I might take a few minutes each day to check a mirror and judge my hair’s general worthiness.
But after about a year of an average count of hair thoughts, they begin to become more insistent and I know it’s time for my ritual trip to Rosenberg. For within that magical city is a wizard named Shirley who is wise in the ways of an almost lost art of hair magic. Shirley gives perms.
Yes, permanents, that stuff of big, over-processed, 1980s hair nightmares that caused the taste deciders in later decades to decree straight hair for everyone. Such a decree should have left me effortlessly stylish. My hair is brown, long, thick, soft and completely straight, lacking in the slightest curl or wave. I, who am hardly ever fashionable, naturally possess what current trends deem the most desirable type of hair, straight yet malleable.
Wild hair is surely a sign of wild morals or a wild mind. Crazy hair means crazy lady.
But since the grass is always greener, we always want what we haven’t got, etc, etc . . . and since I’m essentially a lazy person who refuses to spend an hour each morning sculpting my hair, I chose to defy its natural geometry and our culture that covets it, and chemically induce curl. And I don’t mean any wussy, gentle body wave either. I’m talking a chaos of corkscrew curls.
Then a year later, when the permed hair has disappeared with subsequent trims, except for an awkward three or four inches of ends, and friends and strangers try to convince me to leave it straight, I ignore them all and call my stylist Shirley, who never judges my irrational need for curly hair, as so many others do.
While other women collectively spend thousands of hours and billions of dollars annually, blowing out, ironing or chemically straightening their hair, why should I not be proud of what Mother Nature, or at least my father’s side of the family, has given me?
As an introvert, do I have the need for my hair to be a little loud? Do I secretly want to be a rebel, if only against current hair convention? I’m not sure what it says about my inner psyche, but while I admit straight hair can be quite pretty, on me I find it pretty boring. It’s just all so one dimensional and well behaved. But perhaps that’s its allure for some people.
Neither Hair Nor There
Hair, that fluff on the top of (some) of our heads should be the most trivial of topics, yet with the exception of various reproductive organs, few body parts seem to consume so much of our attention.
During the drive to my ritual hair curling this year, I spent the entire 45 minutes listening to songs about hair. Willow Smith commands me to “whip my hair back and forth,” while Lady Gaga tells me it’s “all the glory that I bare.” In Gaga’s “Hair” a teen demands the right of self-expression through control and autonomy of her own hair. (Seriously, read the lyrics that’s what it’s about.) Meanwhile, young lady Willow locates a place of inner peace and joy through her practice of meditative hair whipping. (OK that one I might be overanalyzing a bit.)
During her 2001 Yale commencement address, then Senator, Hilary Clinton said, “The most important thing I have to say to you today is that hair matters . . . Your hair will send significant messages to those around you,” and “Pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will.'' While I’m certain Clinton laced those statements with a metric ton of irony, the world does tend to think it can deduce a woman’s religion, politics, sense of ethnic identity, economic status, psychology and even morality by the cut, color, covering, and general presentation of the "filamentous biomaterial" atop her head.
Hair should be the most trivial of topics, yet with the exception of various reproductive organs, few body parts seem to consume so much of our attention.
In classic literature, and sometimes even contemporary pop culture, the woman with hair that is straight and well-behaved is many times a woman both morally and mentally superior. If she can’t control her own hair, what else can’t she control? Wild hair is surely a sign of wild morals or a wild mind. Crazy hair means crazy lady.
In the past, she was the Victorian madwoman hidden in the attic. In every production of Hamlet I’ve seen, she’s Ophelia right before she drowns herself.
In contrast, the woman in control of each serenely placed strand is the woman who will win the prince or career of her dreams. And that’s the same hair equation today.
On television, movie screens, and magazine covers it doesn’t really matter what age or ethnicity she is, nor whether she’s forecasting the weather, chasing down the perp, cross examining the hostile witness, walking the read carpet, or stabbing the vampire, her hair looks lovely. Yet, to me it also usually looks like it was drawn on by 1960s Disney animators, painted on her head with broad brush strokes.
It’s just so perfect for singing a duet with a mouse or an enchanted candelabra.
I would be the ultimate hypocrite to advocate everyone should go back to their hair’s natural state. We all have the right to wear our hair, or lack of it, as we please. I would simply like to suggest a bit more diversity in hair geometry in mass media. I’m yearning for images of hair a little less civilized.
Strangely enough, it’s on Disney’s Pixar Studios that I am hanging my hopes for that diversity. In Brave, due out this summer, the hero is female, a princess, and a master archer. She also possesses a red mane of uncontrollable curly hair. Merida’s hair is neither nice nor good. It is not the type of hair for singing happy songs with blue birds.
It’s positively uncivilized, and girl, is it glorious.