Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Curly Girl

Until I turned thirteen and began to menstruate, my hair was poker
straight. When I was five years old, in the early 1950's, it was illegal for little girls to have thin, stringy hair, or at least this was what my mother had been led to believe. To rectify this situation before she was arrested by the fashion police, Mom decided to inflict a Toni home permanent on me. The end result made me look as if I had
stuck my wet finger into an electrical outlet. I refused to go to
kindergarten for three days and then only with the proviso that I be allowed
to wear my sundress with the matching hat that tied under my chin. The
perm eventually grew out and my hair got straight again until the onset
of adolescence.

So on the day that I officially became a woman and my hair went wavy,
curly hair was out and straight was back in. [I will not digress into a
philosophical discourse here about Life and Its
Eternal Unfairness; I really would like to do so, but I am painfully aware that
there are several more important issues with which to concern myself such
as the ongoing war in Iraq and getting Michael Nutter elected mayor of
In the throes of a totally Freudian repetition compulsion, I continually threw myself at the mercy of a series of sadistic
hairdressers and submitted to their torturous procedures and put-downs. I would often
go to bed with my lacklustre locks wrapped around large empty orange
juice cans which would "straighten" out the curls; by mid-morning, my
head would be a frizzy mess and there would be a kink in my neck from
attempting to sleep on
large metal cylinders.Once one of the girls in my dorm actually
ironed my hair. It's a miracle I'm not totally bald.
On my wedding day I went to a psychopath at the monumentally snotty salon at Henri Bendel's and he declaimed to his colleagues, as if I were not actually present, "Does she expect me to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear?"

To reduce the possibility of re-triggering trauma, I will fast-forward from my 20's to the decade of my50's (fast coming to a close). I think it was my daughter Anna who
turned me on to the Curly Girl book and the salon called Devachan in SoHo ( A whole philosophy had emerged, which encouraged embracing one's inner curly girl; along with the philosophy came a number of expensive products to nurture one's curls. There's NoPoo and LoPoo and AnGell and SetItFree. I was an instant convert. I began taking the Chinatown bus to New York to go to the mother church of curl cutting. I sounded like a true believer and proselytized anyone with curls who would listen.
Alas, I am simply a congenital atheist. It transpired that once my kids and their significant others moved out of New York, I abruptly stopped my quarterly treks to SoHo. I guess it was the lunch with the kids (and the Jack Russell) at Spring St. Natural after the haircut that really drew me in and not the Curly Girl mecca after all.[I once had a Unitarian friend who was married to a Jew. For a while, they took their kids to both houses of worship. She told me ruefully that her kids ultimately chose the Temple because the Oneg Shabbat had better cookies.]
Now that Anna and her gorgeous head of curls moved to Philly, we've been on a quest to find the next great curl stylist. We tried the guy on 19th St. who proclaims himself the curly king by means of a storefront-sized blowup of a newspaper article about his skill with the scissors. Our haircuts were fine but neither of us could bear his bombast. He simply couldn't or wouldn't shut up,and his prices rivalled New York's. Now I am a Philly chauvinist and all, but I still bristle at someone in CenterCity charging like Manhattan.
Recently I went to see Fiorella at Oggi. She was clearly appalled as she ran her fingers disdainfully through my overgrown frizzy hair. She immediately bombarded me with her strong stance on curls; it was total apostasy. "NEVER,NEVER,NEVER use conditioner. ALWAYS comb through your curls." I felt like a devout Catholic finding out that the Pope was suddenly advocating abortions for priests' wives!I tried to defend CurlyGirl but she dismissed my interlocutions with an imperious wave of her shears. I sat, abject and silent, admiring my new haircut, but wondering if I could stand to come back again. After all, I had gone to my favorite dentist for 30 years even though he was a rightwing fundamentalist Christian. On the other hand, he had never once tried to convert me AND he did his own periodontia.
Anna chose her latest stylist cause he was cheap. Since her hair would look good if it were cut by a riding mower, I can't really go by her recommendations. She mentioned in passing she didn't like her guy either. David,eavesdropping on our conversation,proclaimed that we never like any of our hairdressers. It seems unlikely that a man, follically-challenged or not, could even begin to appreciate the complexities of the relationship of a woman to her stylista. We didn't even try to explain.
In a month or so, when I'm looking shaggy again, I can always check out one of the million or so salons in Center City. I still have the audacity of hope that there is someone around here who can do wonders with my hair and do it quietly. In the meantime I will be working the primary on the 15th and after that I'll be impeaching the president. Excuse me while I spritz my curls with SetItFree; THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!


Heidi said...

I cracked up at the "riding mower" comment. :)

As one who has lived through long and short hair, perms, highlights, tints, bleaches and toners, I can empathize with your plight.

Good luck surveying the center city hair scene! I think there may be a guidebook in that project...

Gail said...

Thank you Wendy ith your wavy wit. Gail

Gail said...

Thank you Wendy ith your wavy wit. Gail

Unknown said...

My colleagues and I were just reminiscing about these and other ridiculous things we used to do to our hair yesterday! How timely! I've emailed this to them. Keep writing! Love, Nan

GDswamp said...

Last month I decided to cut my hair myself, something I've never done before but have always wanted to do. It's the sort of trivial undertaking that feels daunting due to my (presumably genetic and highly Jew-y) outsized anxieties about failure, and the fact that I can't see the back of my own head.

It went great and I felt really """empowered""" by my success - though now, a month later, I do have some odd thickets and strands here and there. Still, I look ok and it was free. The fact that I'm male and no one cares about how my hair looks makes my experience totally irrelevant to yours, but I was sitting here listening to Amy Winehouse (have you heard of her? She's great!) and I thought I'd post a comment.

P.S. We're still baby-less. When will we see you and D?

Leslie Schiff said...

Curly Girls rule according to Oc! Se turned my helpless self- image regarding my own untamed locks completely around when "Curly Girl" book came into our household. She taught me everything I nowknow.,and Id o come from the school of the stench-of- burned- hair from many,many trials of ironing experiments,curl- free,etc. I noticed as I got older so many more curly heads around, andnow we even have our own hair dressers.Oceana's theory is that people with curly hair are much more interesting and deep. The girls are an outward expression of the thoughts within us that are intertwined and complex reaching. I like her theory!
Love, Leslie
and thanks for this one - it really brought up some funny memories!

Leslie Schiff said...

Sorry for the typos- meant curls, for one thing NOT girls, but whatever works.