My friend and I recently met at one of our favorite restaurants for lunch. It was one of the first times I had been out au natural : without the wig, I mean. I fidgeted and squirmed in my seat, half paying attention to what she was saying.
“What is wrong with you?” she finally asked.
“Nothing,” I lied.
“I can tell. What's up?”
“I am self-conscious, I guess. I hate my hair.”
She sighed, and matter-of-factly said, “Girlfriend, you can’t complain about something you prayed for.”
And she was right. I had spent most of the last year bald as an egg, shivering through the winter months and avoiding mirrors. Finishing chemo meant that I could regrow hair, which I considered a big deal. I expected that it would come back as it once was, straight, fine, and blonde. I was wrong.
The fuzz that first appeared was dark, almost black, and as it grew, it took on a life of its own. I had a few white wiry pieces and a back of tiny tight curls. The top was wavy and the sides, although straight, stuck out much like Bozo the Clown. I had no idea what to do with it. I still don’t. Perhaps it is a true barometer about how I am feeling. I must be better because I care about such things. I care more than I want to admit.
Most women can tell the story of their lives through what their hair looked like at pivotal moments. It is an interesting timeline, a composition of photos of the way we were. And as silly as it may seem, most women can also recall how they felt about themselves and their lives based on how their hair behaved.
When I was a little girl, my grandma liked to experiment with my hair. I never quite understood why, when left in her charge, she would tackle my locks, but I obediently subjected myself to some pretty awful outcomes. Once, when I was around five, she cut my long locks into her version of a pixie. Presumably, she was on a mission to fix my uneven bangs after I had secretly chopped on them with the scissors, but things went downhill quickly. She wasn’t a hairdresser, so I ended up with a very short, lopsided do. I suppose that was my first traumatic encounter with hair since it changed the way I viewed myself. I cried for days, convinced that the world would think that I was a boy, and I insisted that I wear my most frilly frocks whenever we went somewhere just in case there was any doubt. My momma, although furious, knew it was best to pick her battles with her strong-willed mother-in-law, so she said nothing while she quietly fumed and pinned ribbons into my short hair. The next year, Grandmother dyed my hair red to match my daddy’s. My mother couldn’t hide her shock when she came to pick me up and this time let my grandma know in no uncertain terms that my hair was off limits in the future. I was safe for a while.
My prepubescent years were fraught with lots of tears over bad home perms which promised soft lush curls but delivered hair more akin to straw. Nevertheless, the ritual continued with the same, predictable results. (What's the definition of insanity?) Each spring, my mom, armed with the best of intentions, would produce a box of “Tonette.” She would buzz around the kitchen, filled with optimism about a fresh new Easter hairdo, and I reluctantly learned to live with frizzy, fried hair until the 4th of July.
My straight baby-fine blonde hair was never in vogue when I needed it to be. All the girls in my high school class had cute flipped ends. Mine required a hairspray called lacquer, and even that only held for an hour or so. I don’t think I slept for more than an hour for much of my young adult life, thanks to brush rollers, carefully placed in neat rows prior to bedtime. But my hair looked great, which distracted from the dark circles under my eyes. And as every girl knows, good hair equals confidence. After college, I chopped my long hair into a cut called “The Dorothy,” after the Olympic figure skater, and I felt cute for about ten minutes. I immediately regretted it. Growing it out was especially painful, and in a moment of weakness, I gave in to an overzealous hairdresser who gave me a much too short cut on the afternoon of a fancy Mardi Gras ball. I still cringe when I look at those pictures. Like so many, I spent the 80’s chasing that fashionable big hair, which I never did master. Ah, the memories. Finally, I settled on a classic bob, which I wore for years. Ironically, I had finally made peace with my hair when chemo took it all. Isn’t that always the case?
And now, my locks and I are at war again, struggling to see who is in control. I recently commented that God has a sense of humor, and the current state of my tresses proves it. Don’t get me wrong: I am ever so grateful to HAVE hair since it means that I am no longer in treatment. It is also means that my body is doing what it is designed to do, heal itself. Both are blessings, truly. But until I can figure out to make myself presentable, I am not quite ready to give up the wigs. Besides, they have cut my dressing time in half. I have also learned that I can change how I look based on which store bought hair I choose to wear. There’s this auburn one that transforms me into someone I hardly recognize. I guess we are never too old to play dress up. See? I told you that I am feeling better.