Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hair Apparent

I have very complicated feelings about my hair.  I think most women do.

When I was little, I had the kind of hair that old ladies thought was beautiful: almost black, soft, and very curly.  My mother loved to brush it.  I didn’t like it at all, though, wishing that I could be in all ways like my best friend Laurie Bradshaw, who had silky, smooth brown hair with bangs, as well as a white canopy bed.  My hair was too curly for bangs.  It seemed grossly unfair to me that some girls got bangs AND a canopy bed, and others got curly hair.

As I grew up I learned that, older women’s comments notwithstanding, curly hair was a mixed blessing at best.  It resisted attempts at styling, it frizzed in the rain, and it refused to grow long.  It was cantankerous and unmanageable.  I—a good girl, the ultimate pleaser—was mortified by my hair’s unwillingness to behave.  I longed for conformity and tractability.

I went to high school in what must have been the blondest town in the United States.  Moreover, in the early ‘70s, hair was under strict orders to be as straight as possible.   This was a long time ago, before African-American models and actresses routinely challenged outdated notions of what beautiful was.  Cybill Shepard and Christie Brinkley and Lauren Hutton were the women in the magazines, and I was from a different planet entirely.  I set my hair with orange-juice cans; I sat for hours—hours!—under one of those old-fashioned bonnet hair dryers, with a hose and a rubber cap.  After each session, my ears and the back of my neck were red and burned, but my hair—even curlier than when I was little—would not be cajoled. 

(My best friend is someone I first met in high school.  To this day, she has magnificent blonde hair.  We still laugh at how my mother, running into her at my house about ten years ago, whispered to me, It’s so sad about Tracy.  What’s sad?  I asked.  That she feels she has to dye her eyebrows, my mother said.)

As an adult, I learned to forgive, if not actually love, my hair.  I grew it long and wild and marveled at the compliments I received from women whose hair was the color and consistency of thatch.  I wish I had yours! I always said, out of habit, but as time went on, I wasn’t sure it was true anymore.   Living in the suburbs, I found I was happy to have difficult hair.  It was my way of thumbing my nose at people who wanted to look (and think) like everybody else—a quality I’d come to dislike.  Living in the suburbs taught me a lot about myself.  I learned that my hair and I were more alike than I had previously thought. 

And, as if on cue, straightening wands were invented.  My hair finally learned to submit.  At long last, we called a truce to our decades-old war.

A few weeks ago, on our cruise to Alaska, I defended my decision not to dye my graying hair to the stylist who was cutting it.   But I began to doubt myself.  I asked Robert what he thought.  He said I should do whatever I wanted, but, in typically wonderful fashion, added that I shouldn’t be afraid to try something new, to play.  With that in mind, I had my hair colored about two weeks ago.

I’m still trying to adjust.  The color is beautiful, a multi-dimensional intertwining of red and chestnut, with blonde highlights.  It’s like Beyonce’s hair in the “Irreplaceable” video, only without Beyonce.  I pass the mirror and experience a momentary and disconcerting sense of dislocation.  Where am I? 

I’m having it tweaked next month.  In the meantime, I’m learning to get to know myself all over again.  I’m not a pleaser anymore.   I still don’t like it when people don't think for themselves.  And I’m 54, with straight, reddish-brown hair. 

For the time being. 

Maybe that’s the real lesson here: everything is mutable, and anything can happen.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mistaken Identity

Today I was jogging the path to Hidden Beach when I saw a man young enough to be my son coming toward me.  He was walking very slowly with a toddler I presumed to be his daughter.  She was adorable, about fourteen or fifteen months old, with a fluffy cloud of hair so pale that God must not have decided what color it should be yet but was leaning toward red.  She was wearing camouflage pants and a blue sweater. 

As I got close, she pointed at me and said, very seriously, “Mommy!”

Her father looked embarrassed.  “That’s not Mommy.  Mommy is back at the house with Auntie.  We’re going back to the house to see Mommy.  Let’s go.  Come on,” he babbled.  It was funny, that he was the babbler.

I know that the little girl didn’t think I was her mommy.  Maybe she just knew, in that inexplicable, baby way, that I was a female in the same way Mommy was.  Or maybe Mommy jogs.  Who knows.

But I feel happy.  It’s as though she saw an invisible badge on my chest.  Or a tattoo that will never fade away.