My hair and I have been engaged in a screaming death-match since I was five years old. You know how it goes, or if you don’t, you’re one of those people with hair that actually acknowledges the efficacy of hairspray or gel. It doesn’t seem to matter whether my hair is short, long, or of middling length. It does precisely what it feels like doing, and there’s not a person or industrial-strength hair product that will change its mind.
There’s a part of me that can’t blame it. If you look at my baby pictures, I have this fairly blond, curly hair that’s wispy thin and adorable. It darkens as I get a little older, but it still looks like this fine, soft stuff that, as I approach five, hangs halfway down my back. I don’t know if my mom was borrowing from the Samson-like notion that there is power in never cutting a child’s hair, but I do think of those pictures as the days when “no razor had touched” my head.
And then, there were safety scissors. I can still see them clearly in my mind, even though I’ve managed to block out the horrors I inflicted upon my head with their plastic-encase blades. They were green and white and had an imprint of a heart at the place where the blades crossed. I also remember being absolutely fascinated by the sound of cutting things. There was something so satisfying about the clean schwick, shcwick noise they made cutting paper, the thinner the better. If I had to guess what was running through my five-year-old brain, I would say that it was the search for a cooler cutting sound that eventually led me to take the scissors to my own long, fine hair.
Apparently the sound captured my attention and made me crave more of the sound, because I wielded the scissors against the baby curls of two of my younger sisters. This story is famous in my family—Mom didn’t even notice the difference until she found the pile of curls I hid behind the bed, and no hairdresser could fix the awful mess I’d made of our hair. Especially my own.
My hair, you see, took my joyful mutilations as a declaration of war. It grew out thicker and browner and more unruly. Only skull-crushing braids could control it, and they had to be endured. One day of loose hair at school was all it took for any lice in the classroom to gleefully migrate to my scalp and plunge my mother into the soul-sucking task of delousing four girls. One year, my hair enticed the lice to my head so many times that Mom ended up having my hair cut in layers, a blow which my hair responded to by making me look like a frizzed-out leftover from the early eighties.
Which would have been cool, if it hadn’t been the nineties. During that phase, I became emotionally dependent on french barrettes. They were the only trick that could make my hair look even partly normal. I was just old enough that my appearance had started to matter to me, and the backlash of that haircut still haunts my deliberations about whether or not to cut my hair. I’ll call Mom and ask her what she thinks about this style or that, she’ll say “oh, Melissa, layers do not look good on you, honey,” and we’ll share a silent moment of horrified remembrance.
I have learned that not all layers are the same, thankfully, and have slowly grown bolder about doing things with my hair. After the layers-disaster, I grew my hair out for years and year. I cut it to shoulder length once or twice towards the end of high school…and cried like a baby at the loss in volume of my lifelong nemesis both times. In college I made the discovery that my hair is actually somewhat curly when I treat it right and horrified my mother by throwing away both my hairbrush and shampoo, although I can only get away with this when my hair is chin-length or shorter, I’ve found.
If you’ve been a reader since at least June 21 (S.O.S.A.D.), you might have noticed that my hair has recently undergone a drastic change. It is now as short (see here) as it has ever been since my infant head grew it out many years ago. This was a decision inspired by the fact that our apartment was specifically designed to broil food during the summer and my hair, typically, was doing its best to suffocate me in the middle of the night. So I hacked it off.
I find that I am most pleased with the hair cut when I haven’t bothered to wash my hair for several days—the build-up of hair oil brings out the curl, or something. The problem is that I play with my hair a lot (a habit left from the days when my hair and I were still best friends), and I can’t stand the feeling of dirty hair. So most of the time I walk around looked like an gel-less Elvis. As it starts to grow back just a little, I also find myself looking in the mirror and fearing that my hair will take its revenge this time by growing out into a mullet.
The worse thing is that hair is technically an amalgamation of cells that are already dead, but still in motion. That’s right. My nemesis, my enemy whose existence is both inimical and essential to my sense of self, is a horde of tiny zombies. Maybe I should try a cricket bat instead of a comb…