My life changed forever the year I turned 14. The change was seemingly permanent and caused a lifetime of frustration and expense that could have been avoided if action had been taken earlier. Thirty years earlier.
In July 1982, my mother drove me to her hairdresser and I had my long hair cut short. The die was cast and life was forever altered.
For most of my childhood I had waist length hair, as did my two sisters. It was poker straight, reddish brown and shiny. I was an awkward, dumpy kid but my long “swingy hair” (as my mother called it) was probably my only claim to beauty, besides freakishly long eyelashes. In fact, at our Grade 7 camp at the Lazy Crab Resort, I was involved in a brawl with some girls from a different school who thought I was getting too much attention from the boys at a social dance. My fabulous hair, glamourously blow dried by our teacher, was blamed.
The rot set in when I started high school at Santa Maria’s Ladies College. We had to wear our hair completely scragged off our faces and tied back. This was a terrible look for me with my chipmunk cheeks and rapidly developing acne. In primary school I could wear an Alice band or tie my long fringe back in a style called a “carousel” (probably not the official name!) with the rest of my hair flowing free. It was a softer look and I could still “hide” behind my curtain of hair.
We were not allowed to wear makeup at Santa but some girls obviously did. They got away with it because they wore makeup on the Year 8 Orientation Day so the Sisters of Mercy believed they actually did have peachy complexions, jet black eyelashes and cheekbones. I regretted not sneaking into Mum’s bathroom and helping myself to her foundation, as I did most weekends before my stepfather took us to the roller disco, where boys invited you to skate around with them. I credited the liberal use of Estee Lauder natural beige to my social successes at the Roller dome.
After a few weeks of seeing my shiny, pimply, chipmunky face in the mirror every time I visited the school toilets/locker room, I decided to wear a bit of makeup as well. Of course, I didn’t get away with it. I had barely got off the bus before the Principal, Sister Sheila saw me and made me wash it off. Oh the injustice! I realised my error. I should never have let the world see my natural face – a philosophy I have followed ever since.
Mum was sympathetic and suggested I get my hair cut shoulder length and permed. The perm was flattering, I was thrilled and got away with wearing my curly hair out for a few weeks until it grew too long and I was pinged by the school Hair Police (a Year 11 prefect). I was thrown into hair hell once again.
Mum’s hairdresser suggested I get the old perm cut out and my hair cut into a pixie cut with a side swept fringe. I agreed and admitted that having a fringe softened my features and more height on the crown drew attention away from my full cheeks and heavy jawline. What the hairdresser didn’t mention, however, was that fine, straight hair requires skilled cutting, hair drying and the liberal application of “product” to prevent it flopping and looking like a hairy swimming cap. If it’s cut too short, the scalp shows through. Basically, the only thing that holds a short haircut together for we fine haired folk is hot air, artfully blown in with a hairdryer and the liberal application of $50 hair products.
So the next morning I stood naked and afraid in Mum’s bathroom, armed with her hair dryer and trying to shape my new haircut. This was to be my fate for the next 32 years. My hair as an adult has been a variation of the bob (of various colours and lengths, with or without a fringe) and short cuts. Because my hair is so fine, it doesn’t dry straight. It sticks out in bizarre angles. I was completely dependent on a hairdryer and styling products to make it behave.
When we moved to Nigeria a few years ago, I had extremely short hair. I realised it would be difficult to find a hairdresser in Lagos who would be able to cut it properly so I let it grow, with a few trims in London, Munich and Seattle. For the first time in over 30 years my hair is long enough to be tied back. What a relief! I can get up in the mornings, brush it out and tie it back with a band or hair clip. It is also easy to blow dry as the hair just hangs straight and I don’t have a fringe.
It sounds silly but the simple act of growing my hair longer has made life a lot easier. When we went on safari recently I was able to tie my hair back and forget about it.
The time and effort I put into my small ration of hair is pathetically slack compared to the thousands of Naira and hours of time Nigerian ladies devote to their coiffure. My housemaid, Angie, turned up yesterday with an elaborately coiled weave that completely transformed her from a shy wallflower to city sophisticate. She glowed with happiness and seemed taller than her 3 feet 11 inches.
Gabriel Ba, the author of Day-tripper, described the importance of womanly tresses when he observed, She was the most beautiful creature on Earth- her hair said so in that language only hair can speak.
What hairstyle do you find yourself returning to over the years?