I’ve never really had normal hair. Born with a rare combination of Astro Turf and yarn, it’s not straight, not curly, but instead a perpetually damaged-looking hinterland located somewhere in between.
Growing up, I so desperately wanted long, straight hair that in lieu of it I sometimes wore pantyhose on my head. With suntan-colored pigtails sprouting from a control-top panty, I’d run through our yard, stockings trailing behind me, pretending I was one of Charlie’s Angels.
For special occasions I liked to tie or twist them together in a fancy up-do. But for the most part, I just left them down, content to let the nylon tresses fall around my shoulders.
In hindsight, it likely explains why I wasn’t asked to hang out after school or invited to many neighborhood birthday parties.
In addition to social suicide, having unmanageable hair meant that my mom was always hauling me off to Betty’s, a one-chair beauty salon in the farming community I grew up in.
With a wide Midwestern smile and tortoise shell glasses, Betty wasn’t afraid to try out the latest styles pictured in her beauty magazines.
I was the first in town to wear the Dorothy Hamill, which ultimately looked more like the Buster Brown than anything bouncy or Olympic. For most of sixth grade I sported the Orphan Annie, the apparent outcome of doing a perm on someone who already has naturally curly hair.
In high school, a misshapen bobbed haircut left me with curly, Princess Leia side buns.
There were also the Mullet Years, a long stretch of time when I wore Billy Ray Cyrus, achy-breaky-heart-hair after Betty decided to add “a few layers” in order to “lighten it up a little.”
Eventually Betty and I broke up and I began seeing a neighbor down the street who liked to cut hair at her kitchen table while sipping on rum and Cokes.
We had a good run up until the night Captain Morgan overstayed his welcome and she forgot to shampoo out the chemical solution she’d liberally applied to my scalp.
I spent much of the next year looking like the byproduct of a Phil Spector-Cyndi Lauper hookup.
I’m pretty sure that I inherited my follicle disability from my mom. Throughout much of my childhood she complained bitterly about her hair, which typically required a full hour of careful preparation before she’d even consider leaving the house.
I can still remember the sound of Aqua Net being emitted in one, long, continuous stream before she’d finally emerge from the bathroom in a cloud of spray.
No one was allowed to get close to her once she was fully shellacked and she’d jerk her head away with an angry “DON’TTOUCHMYHAIR,” if we made any sudden movements near her face.
Once, during a long car trip, my brother and I sat in the backseat and passed the time eating a container of strawberries. I don’t really know who started it first, but somehow a game of Strawberry Jenga got underway.
Before long my mom was wearing a crown of half-eaten berries on the back of her head while we each took turns adding more, waiting to see which one would ultimately topple her blonde, backcombed tower.
I don’t remember who won, but do recall the venomous look in my mother’s eyes when she realized we’d been using her beehive for sport.
After years of combating my own disorderly hair, I’ve settled on the only two styles that I’m able to wear.
The straight version bears more than just a passing resemblance to Quick Curl Barbie, complete with frayed ends and pieces that don’t move once you set them in place.
The other option is a tangled mess of frizzy curls that requires working knowledge of the Periodic Table and a hair dryer set to “blowtorch” in order to appear as though I tried.
Both require heavy assistance from Paul Mitchell and neither make me look like Selena Gomez.
It usually takes me an hour of careful preparation before I consider leaving the house and sometimes if my husband or kids get too close to my face, I find myself jerking my head back and angrily saying, “DON’TTOUCHMYHAIR.”
But most days I just try to accept my hair since there’s not a whole I can do about it, anyway. And besides, I have a drawer full of pantyhose for when I feel like wearing it long and straight.