I am 36-years-old and people pull my hair. Grown men tug on it at football games. Proper ladies pluck strands out at church. Small children grab a handful of my locks as they walk behind me at the movie theater.
My hair is big and thick and curly and brown and blonde and, increasingly, gray. When it is down, my hair is about two feet long. When it is gathered into a pony-tail atop my head, it resembles a lion’s mane. In a bun, I look like I have a large, hairy grapefruit on the nape of my neck. In a braid, the rope is almost two inches thick. As you might guess, my hair has always made me more than a little self-conscious.
In grade school, my mother tried to tame the unruly strands by constantly weaving them into two tight braids. In addition to stretching my forehead tight and pulling my eyes back, the braids had other, more public consequences.
For example, I had to learn to carefully navigate the halls at school the day after any Pippi Longstocking movie marathon weekend on television. Although two braids were the only thing I had in common with the Swedish girl who was strong enough to lift her horse and whose name if said fast was funny, my classmates thought it was the funniest thing ever to tease on account of the two ropes that hung off the side of my head.
One day, the geniuses I went to school with decided to stick a pencil through my braids. They then tapped my opposite shoulder, which made me whip my head around, sending the embedded pencil into my face.
I took about three years of such abuse before demanding a change and, in the third grade, my mom took me in for a real haircut. Finances being what they were, she took me to Cynthia’s Beauty School for a four dollar haircut. We should have known there was going to be a problem when the remedial-level student working on me snipped off my left braid in one fell swoop. She didn’t undo the braid or see what the full head of hair looked like without the braids. She just made sure to miss the ear as she sawed through the thick, woven strand. The result of the shearing was a mental institution escapee-look. My little sister, cousin, and I shared that look in good times and bad, and it only cost my mom $12.
My mother was so devastated by the sight of us and felt so guilty at her role in the affair, that she kept the lifeless braids as a reminder to never again go cheap with the hair.
Apparently, however, looking like a lunatic entitles you to one good school picture. In the fourth grade my hair was shoulder length, dark brown, and a perfect complement to my hazel eyes and snazzy JC Penney blouse. To this day, I feel like my inner child is the smirking girl in that picture. Unfortunately, the next good hair day wouldn’t come for almost 10 years.
By the fifth grade, the braids were back and I didn’t have any friends, family members, compassionate souls, or fairy godmothers willing to take pity on me by telling my mother that I was beginning to hit puberty, that my face and body reflected it, and that the continued use of braids through junior high school would only foster a hair-body disconnect that would lead people to whisper that my real hair had been ravaged by disease and that the braids and bangs-starting-at-the-back-of-the-head were just a wig.
By the time I was 12-years-old, braids and a chest had given me a Bavarian bar hussy-look. Given the choice of anatomical words beginning with the letter “B” which had appeared on my body, I was glad that people decided on “Laura Big Bangs” as my nickname.
Sometime between the seventh and eighth grade I also decided to break out of the school-geek role I had earned, so I ran for student body president. I ran against a smart girl with good, wavy (not crazy) hair. In an upset spurred by the rhyming campaign slogan “Laura Genao the Cow,” my coalition of smart kids, gym rats, and juvenile delinquents thrust me into office and toward another hair-style change.
The hair situation in high school didn’t improve. I suppose I was just fortunate to have attended high school in the eighties, when hair was generally over blow-dried, over gelled, over moussed, over curled, over crimped, over frizzed, over dyed, and sometimes all of the above at the same time. While I was guilty of prepping my hair for the curling iron by spraying it with Super Extra Hold Aqua Net and then rubbing Dippity Do hair gel in it, there was no damage I could do to my reputation with a bad hair style as that which I did with my choice of fashion. Really, contrary to what anybody might tell you, a shirt with a blue life-size tiger face on it, matched up with a mane of curly hair and braces, is not fashion forward.
(to be continued)
© Laura Genao 2006