Monday, February 28, 2011

Hometown Memories: The Discovery Of Bad Hair Days

The first year of high school is a transitional period. You’re trying to look all-grown up while still sporting layers of childhood skin. And although you’re not really a child anymore, you’re not quite an adolescent either. You are in between two worlds, the black hole of an upcoming metamorphosis. You enter high school with bad haircuts and unfashionable clothing because you don’t care about those things as a kid. But you do care as a teenager. Or rather, you care because other people care. In any case, it takes time to learn the high school rules of engagement, especially when you’re at the starting line. By the time you head towards the end of your first year in your new school – and stage in your life – you learn, sometimes the hard way. And if you’re not able to learn on your own, believe me, someone will teach you. The hard way.

My first big step into trying to look more grownup was changing my hairstyle. In elementary school I had very long, lifeless hair with absolutely no style to it. Regardless, I didn’t think that there was anything wrong with it. And the kids I played with didn’t seem to think so either. In fact, none of my peers cared about my hair or their hair or anyone else’s hair for that matter. It wasn’t something we thought about or worried about or talked about. Ever. So, I was oblivious to the term: ‘bad hair day’.

Until a heartless grownup burst my blissfully ignorant bubble.

Well.

A good friend of my mother’s decided to take it upon herself to let me know, quite crudely, in fact (or so it seemed at the time), just how “flat and unattractive” my long, lifeless hair was. She went on and on about how I should start putting some thought and effort into my physical appearance now that I was heading towards being a young lady, and that I should take pride in how I looked.

Hmpf.

For a few days after that, I was furious. How dare she be so frank about my hair? What did she know about such things? What business was it of hers if my hair was long and lifeless? Maybe I liked it that way. A few more days passed and I went from being angry to being slightly curious. I decided to stand in front of the mirror and see if there was any truth in what she had said. I still believed that my hair was perfect just the way it was, but perhaps I could make some slight modifications to make it look a little more stylish. Maybe all it needed was to be brushed a different way or to be parted on the other side or to be worn in a ponytail. Why I could even pin it up now and then and make it look very chic. Yes, I would find a way to add some life to my hair without cutting any of it off.

But.

The longer I stood in front of the mirror, the more I realized just how terrible my hair really looked. It did not only look lifeless and boring; it looked, well, childish. It looked like the type of hair an elementary school girl sports. And worse than that, it looked like it had been cut by my mother, which wasn’t all that far from the truth. When I was a little girl, my mom used to cut my hair quite often. And when she didn’t cut my hair, she would take me to a friend of a friend, or a friend of a neighbour, or a cousin of a friend, or anyone she knew directly or indirectly that cut hair in her home at very affordable prices. Because, you know, taking a young child to a fancy, typically expensive beauty salon or hair salon or beauty parlour - or whatever they called these places back then – was unthinkable.

So.

Just a few weeks before I was due to go to school with the ‘big’ kids who were undoubtedly worldly and fashionable, not to mention that they probably had much better haircuts, I discovered ‘bad hair days’. Oh, the horror! I swallowed my pride – although I made it sound like I’d decided this myself without any prompting – and informed my mother that I wanted to cut my hair. Not short. No erratic change. Just a little shorter with perhaps the addition of some layers to give it some extra body. And no, she could not cut it. And no, I did not want to go to a friend of a friend, or a friend of a neighbour, or a cousin of a friend, or anyone she knew directly or indirectly that cut hair in her home at very affordable prices. I wanted to go to a hair stylist that works in a hair salon. And, thank heaven above, she said “okay”.

And so my first visit to a hair salon came to pass...

Now, I don’t know what it is with hair stylists, but they get a little nutty when they’re about to cut very long hair. Their eyes sparkle, their hands shake and their voices quiver: “How much do you want to cut? Only an inch? Are you sure? That’s not very much. Sigh.” They stand behind you, waving scissors excitedly into the air with one hand while the other strokes, pulls and fluffs your hair. You tell them not to cut more than an inch or two, and they nod their heads and smile. You sit there all trusting, feeling secure that they will do as you ask.

And then – for god knows what reason – they go off the deep end and butcher your hair. You have no idea at first that you hair is being butchered because hair stylists always start in the back where you can’t see what they’re up to. Sure you feel your hair being tugged roughly and you hear the frenzied snapping of scissors and you notice how wild-eyed the stylist is and you feel a knot in your stomach. But you did state clearly that you only wanted an inch or two to be cut, and the stylist did nod in understanding, so you feel confident that your wishes are being carried out. There’s no reason to suspect otherwise.

You fool.

By the time you realize what’s really going on with this lunatic, it’s too late; most of the length in the back has been chopped off, and to stop it now would mean leaving with a very uneven and erratic haircut; your hair will look like it got caught in a lawnmower. So you sit there feeling like you’re going to throw up while the stylist chops off a few inches from the sides and front of your hair so it can match the back, and you simply answer ‘fine’ to every question that you’re being asked, no matter what the question may be.

“Do you live nearby?”

“Fine.”

“What school do you go to?”

“Fine.”

“What TV shows do you watch?”

“Fine.”

“Would you like to dye your hair green?”

“Fine.”

Because you’re no longer listening; you’re too busy imagining yourself jumping out of the chair and strangling the hair stylist with the cord of the blow dryer as you scream: “I told you to cut only one or two inches! What don’t you understand about only one or two inches?”

But you don’t kill the hair stylist. The hair stylist finishes the hair massacre and you pay your bill and even leave a tip and you say “fine” when she asks you if you like your hair. And then it’s time to leave but you don’t want to. Because that would mean having to go outside, and when you go outside, the whole world will see your haircut. The ugliest haircut. Ever. Everyone you come into contact with will focus on you and your ugly haircut. There will be finger-pointing and whispering and sneers and snickers and scoffs. And...YOU. WILL. DIE. OF. HUMILIATION.

Well, I clearly didn’t die of humiliation since I’m here today, but I did develop a fear towards hair stylists after that initial experience, an experience that is twice as traumatic when you’re a teenager (a bad haircut can signify the end of the world to an adolescent). And that fear was so intense that I didn’t step foot into a hair salon for another three to four years (my friends and I did our own hair throughout high school). And when I finally did take a chance and visit a salon, I had the same experience all over again. Sigh. Must be me.

Have you had any bad experiences with your hair?

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