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Thursday, Aug. 11, 2005 - 9:56 a.m.

~ hair apparent ~

I have a Love/Hate Relationship with my hair.

When I was a wee little fat girl, I had often had princess hair. Okay, so I had BROWN princess hair, which, as we all know, is much, much rarer than the run-of-the-mill spun-gold Cinderella hair or the common as dirt glossy ebony Snow White hair. My princess hair wasn't just any old shade of brown, either. My grandma called it "honey blonde brown" and would call out the colors she saw in my hair as I stood motionless on her coffee table letting her scrape bobby pins against my head. Copper. Chestnut. Strawberry. Bronze. Mahogany. Ash. Coffee. Gold. Auburn. When the pincurls were released hours later, they would tumble heavily across my shoulders and down my back, gleaming and full against the pale yellow lace of the thrift store prom dress that served as my royal gown. I have almost as many photographs of the back of my head as I do of my face from my pre-kindergarten to second-grade years; my grandma was determined to document each and every successful attempt to turn my shining waves into shining sausage curls. I did not tolerate this attention to my hair -- I welcomed it. My hair deserved nothing but the best and if that meant holding up a fistful of bobby pins until my fingers fell asleep or sitting bolt upright on a divan to let my hair dry naturally and not get mussed, I knew the results would be worth it. I would have my princess hair.

Perhaps the punitive guillotining of my hair when I was eight had something to do with the following years I endured of hair-blahness. My mother, who had suffered horrific hair trauma in her own childhood -- her mother had calmly and abruptly grasped my mother's penny-bright ponytail and raggedly chopped it off with kitchen shears -- began to lobby for short haircuts for both her daughters, claiming she was fed up with the need for barrettes. This campaign was brief and no amount of pleading, promising or self-mastering of barrettes swayed my mother and one afternoon we were placed into salon chairs for the first time ever and ruthlessly shorn without ceremony. My sister, a redheaded elfin child, emerged from the cutting with her freckled, petite cuteness and psyche intact. With most of my glorious princess hair scattered on the salon's linoleum floor, waiting to be swept up and away, I stared hollowly at a round-faced, tear-streaked stranger in the mirror who had short, dull, dark hair shaped into a boy's cut for my mother's convenience.

Despite my slow-growing hair eventually returning to its former waist-length self, I had completely lost any love or joy for my hair by my teen years. A certified member of the fringe folk in the social crucible that was my high school, I had not a clue as to what my hair needed or wanted or was capable of. While my sister pouffed and feathered and spritzed as if these motions had been robotically programmed into her, I wet-combed and tied back, obviously having slept through my hardwiring appointment. Two flaking gold barrettes -- yes, I had easily conquered the complexities of a bent band of cheap metal -- on either side of my middle part and an elastic ponytail holder and I was good to go. When an occasion demanded something fancier, I crooked my elbows for a few minutes to produce a ropy braid. With an ever-present corona of dry frizz at my hairline, a mouthful of crooked piano-key teeth, thick glasses with oversized brown plastic frames and rolls of fat beneath my polyester ruffled blouses and calf-lenth maroon skirts, it is no wonder that I have only a handful of photos from those years. Actually, I count it as a blessing that there is so little photographic proof from those particular wonder years.

My progess toward re-embracing hair-centricity was a gradual one. Once I graduated and moved on to college and jobs and dating and braces and fashionable eyeglass frames, my hair asserted itself once more as a driving force in my life. In what I'm sure was a sugar-induced decision-making fugue state, I had bangs cut into my hair. The bangs took some getting accustomed to; my half dozen cowlicks defy most gels and mousses and are only temporarily defeated by curling irons and hairdryers. After a few years in the late eighties of stiff but fashionable bangs, I took another deep breath and had layers snipped to frame my face. The depth and light that this simple shaping brought to my hair was astounding and I began experimenting with scrunching and tousling. By the early nineties, I could rely on my hair to be moderately fantastic when I really needed it to be. I found one hairstyle that I was comfortable and pleased with; I never shuddered when I saw myself in a mirror or Polaroid. Having judged that my fat face needed hair-height, I experimented with an assortment of clips to pull the front top of my hair up a bit with the rest waving and curling as it naturally wanted to. This modified partial bouffant carried me through work, parties, beach outings, sledding, picnics, and dancing until the late nineties.

As Y2K approached, I lost some weight and subsequently shed some of my former self-imposed hair restrictions. I sank into a SuperCuts chair one day and asked for layers all over. The resulting mass of light-catching, joyous corkscrews and delicately curling tendrils was a delight to play with. Pigtails, perhaps not entirely age-appropriate, were occasionally showcased on my head. A side part produced a sexy and wild thicket of waves that had hints of princess hair colors glinting from its depths. The ponytail, having been shunned for more than ten years, was brought back in a higher, bouncier, looser form. And even the middle part, something that I had vowed to never let happen again, was updated with much success with silver butterflies or tiny clips scattered in the wavy, incredibly happy madness that was my hair.

Hair product fills my bathroom medicine cabinet. I don't buy anything fancier than pomade with a hint of glittering sparkle embedded in its lemony contents and nothing more expensive than Mink hairspray which remains the best drugstore shelf hairspray for my hair regardless of the season or the style. I mostly have products that tout themselves as created for "wavy to curly" hair. Perhaps I am being taken in by marketing -- the shame! the shame! look away! -- but these are the products that do seem to give me the bounce and boost I work for and relish in. I take pride in having used my blowdryer no more than four times in the past year and a half and from its shine and overall health, I know my hair approves of the air-drying. I cannot get out of bed and go out the door without showering on any consistent basis; my hair does require at least a fast shampoo, a cursory conditioning, and a smear of product before considering itself ready for its public. On the rare days that I wake up and find I have not smooshed and sweated my hair into frizzed-out and tangled defeat, I will spend some time dutifully admiring and preening. And I still am experimenting with new styles, trying to be better about keeping my hair current and, well, not cutting edge, but at least funky and fun. My latest favorite style is a simple twisted upsweep captured with a medium-sized claw that gets covered by smooth chunks of shining, swept back hair. It makes me feel like a fat, elegant Audrey Hepburn and I try to hold myself that much more long-necked and straight-backed despite my short, fat neck and my iffy posture.

I do not begrudge my hair the four to eleven minutes of care it needs every day. That is a pittance to pay for princess hair, after all. And now, on my frequent good hair days, I can only hope and strive to live up to the miracle that is my hair and all it represents and proudly share my hair with the world.

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