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Friday, September 30, 2005

Marcia's Hair

During my fifth year of life, I suddenly noticed my hair. Short, brown and curly, it was an uncontrollable mass of cowlicks and waves. My mother loved it and worked hard to keep it that way. Because it was curlier when shorter, Mother determined cuts should be frequent. She must have been living vicariously through me, because her own hair, when not permed and coiffed, was stick-straight and black.

Instead of my hair being my crowning glory, as I imagined it should be, I hated my hair. Beneath it, I felt hideously ugly and robbed of whatever potential beauty might be within reach. I was frequently mistaken for a boy, and even at age five, this bothered me a great deal. When playing-house with friends, I always had to be the dad. When I asked why, I was told I looked the most like a boy. I believed it.

This was during the mid-1970s, and about the one non-cartoon television show I could tolerate watching was “The Brady Bunch.”

Oh yes, you know where I’m going now.

Marcia and Jan, with their long, straight, yellow hair became the standard by which I judged my own tresses and the tresses of every other female alive. When my mother refused to buy me the blond wig that I desperately coveted, I did the next best thing: I wore the bottoms of my long, yellow-footed pajamas on my head. Strutting all over the house and yard, I flung and swirled the beautiful polyester locks around my shoulders.

During that time, I also had a good friend, Peggy Smith, nicknamed Pegetha-Bread. Peggy’s hair was enviably long and straight, but instead of being blond, she was a dark-brown brunette. Peggy was a special friend because her birthday was the day after mine, we had many of the same friends, and we were neighbors to boot. We often had joint birthday parties. I loved and envied Peggy’s hair, and while she always said she loved mine in return, I never believed her. In any case, we used to talk about trading hair, one strand at a time; a painful but wonderful metamorphosis. What a delightful joint-birthday present this would have been – exchanging our hair.

When I was old enough, I refused to let my mother cut my hair. She grieved for herself, and delivered a grave warning about growing my hair long – I would now be responsible for cleaning and brushing it all by myself. So, it grew longer and longer, but never turned blond, never got further than the middle of my back, and never got much straighter.

For years - and I do mean years (almost 20, if my math is right) - I straightened my hair every morning using a hair dryer and curling iron. In the humid climate of the greater Puget Sound-area, it was a losing battle. I shudder to think how many hair-dryers I must have burned through during those years. (Only God knew my agony when one putzed out before my hair was completely dry and straight.)

As I grew older, I gave up activities that involved adding excessive amounts of moisture to my scalp; things such as swimming and all forms of exercise, which produced hair-curling amounts of sweat. I was certain straight hair was the only way to get a boyfriend. I got so good at de-curling my hair, that when, at age 31 and pregnant with my third child, I decided to give-up and give-in and go curly, no one realized my hair was curly to begin with. Everyone thought I’d gotten a perm. Even my mother had no idea how curly my hair could be. For a good year, she lamented the loss of my smooth look, troubled over the mess I allowed my hair to be when going “a la naturale.”

A year and a half later, we moved to Anchorage, Alaska, a climate famous for its desert-like dryness. I suddenly found it difficult to keep my hair curly. I had my fourth and last child several months after we moved, and was disappointed that I had had yet another baby with straight, blond hair. I had hoped at least one of them would have hair like me – brunette and wavy. One day while listening to five-year-old Sabrina scream while brushing her honey-colored locks, I commented, “I would have given anything to have your hair when I was a kid. You have the hair I always dreamed of.”

At that moment I had a deeply gratifying thought: that though I was destined to carry the burden of unruly brown hair for the remainder of my life, a new generation of blondes had arrived, born of my own flesh, and that somewhere deep inside of me, thanks to the miracle of genetics, Marcia Brady’s hair lives.


At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So funny to read that the root of the reason you go long is the same (only father inflicted) as to why I stay short. Either way both battling curls and finaly happy in our own color. At least you were a brunette. Red in the 70's and the 80's was NOT cool- at least until Molly Ringwald burst on the scene. And why is it that once you like your own color it is in the process of fading away???? I'm truly impressed though, I do not seem capable of producing Marcia or Jan hair.- XO K


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