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I am a writer, a mom, and a friend. In this blog, I explore all of that. Please join me in this conversation by leaving a comment on anything you've read. Or follow me on Facebook @ Beth von Behren (author).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Good Hair Days

I was born with curly hair. It runs in my family. My mother had it. My daughter has it. It has been both the bane of my existence and the object of admiration from complete strangers. I sometimes feel the way pregnant women must feel when strangers walk up to them and rub their extended bellies, as if a pregnant woman's belly is somehow publicly owned. Total strangers will walk up to me and tell me how wonderful my hair is and ask if they can touch it. (On good hair days only, of course.) During college, I once had it cut at a beauty school for $3, and the student who cut it couldn't stop playing with it and exclaiming over it. They asked if they could keep the shorn hair and use it to demonstrate to students how to work with "virgin" (at that time it had never been colored) curly hair.

About two years ago, just before I turned 50, I finally learned the secrets of other curly-haired girls who have managed to straighten their locks. Jennifer Aniston reportedly has extremely curly hair, but Jennifer Aniston probably has a full-time hair stylist on her payroll. One might wonder why it took so long for me to figure out how to straighten my hair, but the answer would lie in my lack of patience with all things, especially those involving my appearance.

Before I had kids, I prided myself on being able to get up, eat breakfast, shower, get dressed, and get out of the house in 30 minutes. I don't iron if I can help it. I used to wear skirts a lot but at some point switched to pants because I got tired of dealing with stockings. When I was younger, I wore no makeup at all, and today I only apply three things because anything more would require getting up much earlier.

One of those items, mascara, I only started wearing about six months ago when I finally accepted that I am my mother's daugher in the eyelash department. By the time she hit 50, the loss of pigment in her eyelashes had left her looking like a burn victim on the days when she didn't apply the black stuff. So I began the ritual of adding mascara to my otherwise-invisible eyelashes, and immediately my impatient nature erupted. Make no mistake, mascara is crap. It is hard to apply evenly. It cakes up. It sticks to everything, including the area under your eyes if you blink before it dries. I had lunch once with an otherwise lovely woman who had clearly applied her mascara in such a rush that it looked about to slide down her eyelash and drop into her soup. It took all my willpower not to reach up and slide it the rest of the way off. I hate mascara. It's a good day when I only have to wipe it off and start over once, which tries my already-in-short-supply patience. Ah, but the topic here is hair.

Everybody loves curly hair. Men, especially, love long curly hair, and if they try to tell you otherwise, well, then YOU explain Farrah Fawcett. But it's not just men. Most of the people who walk up to me to exclaim over my curls are women. "Oh, I'd give anything to have your hair" and "Is that natural? I get perms to make my hair look like that" are the most common comments. I have only had one woman in my whole life tell me that she loved her straight hair and didn't envy me my mess of a head at all. I hugged her.

The problem with curly hair that most people do not appreciate is that it has a mind of its own. It never looks the same way twice, it is NEVER symmerical (something my particular, chaotic mind seeks out), and it frizzes way more than straight hair. There are days when I arrive at my office looking like Phyllis Diller. I keep the barrette companies in business.

Most people also don't realize how much the arrival of graying affects curly hair. Gray curls become wiry. I found myself at 40 battling gray hairs that stuck straight out. I'm not exaggerating that I was starting to look like Albert Einstein. So I started coloring it, which took care of the wiriness but added a whole new component to my life. Did I mention I have little patience for this kind of thing?

It occurred to me when I was younger that my unruly hair fit my temperament. My grandfather had curly hair too, and he was a hellfire and brimstone southern Baptist preacher. In my younger days, I was known for, ah, having opinions and, ah, well, not keeping them to myself. I am my grandfather's granddaughter, in other words. As I approached 50, however, I learned to moderate myself better, and so, I figured, my hair should get with the program, right? Yeah, right. Short hair seemed the only solution.

Just as my half-century birthday was starting to really get to me, and just as I was giving serious thought to chopping it all off and going with that 80s punker cropped look, I noticed that the actress Holly Hunter - who is my age - wore her hair long and wavy down her back. She even braided small sections of it sometimes. All I could think of was - wow, my hair could look like that. Longer hair is heavier so the curl becomes more relaxed. The problem with the whole process, of course, lie in that little problem I have with patience.

Because, after 50 it becomes increasingly difficult to grow your hair that long. Holly has had long hair for years - since before she made "The Piano" in 1993. And who knows? She may be using extensions - AND, she probably also has her own full-time hair dresser. So I knew I needed to be realistic about this. And yet, there are men and women who run their first marathons after the age of 60, and somebody told me a couple of years ago that a friend of hers had finished medical school at 50. So I decided to try.

At first, I continued with the straightening. Then I got tired of it and cut off three inches. Then I started growing it out again and, well, cycled back and forth for a while, losing my resolve and then getting it back, telling myself that women in their 50s don't wear their hair long and then asking myself, well, why not? Finally, I persevered. It is now down to my shoulder blades and I've stopped straightening it.

There are still days when it looks like crap and when I envy my brother Michael who started shaving off his curls years ago, but those days are what scrunchies are for. And there are days when I see attractive women with short curly hair that looks great and I think - ah, there, I could do that. But then I think about how much time I've invested in getting it to this length, and I think, no, no, not just yet. Let's see where this goes. Let's see where this takes me. I should try to be patient.

So, enough writing for now. I need to get my butt into the bathroom and open that box of hair color. Albert would be proud.

An Invitation to Share: Hey, all you women out there - post your favorite hair stories here.


  1. I guess Gary and I aren't allowed to talk about our hair then.

  2. I think I had quite a few good haircuts over the past year or so. In high school, my hair was insanely long--halfway or all the way down my back for the most part. I still like the look of long hair, but I had so many more headaches back then, and I had my hair pulled into a messy bun about 90% of the time anyway. So in college I started to go shorter, starting with shoulder-length and working my way up. For the most part, I have really loved the shorter look--I'm a huge fan of bangs, and they don't even get on my nerves the way they used to.

    Unfortunately, I took shortness to new heights recently. I was emboldened by my success over the summer: possibly my favorite haircut I've ever had, my hair was boy-short in the back and the length of long, side-swept bangs in the front. Then it started to grow out, and I got annoyed with how fluffy it started getting, and the feel of the hair scratching my neck. So I had a friend trim it, then sort of hack at it myself. I've found ways to make it look better now, but for about a week I was mortified by what I'd done.

    As for hair dying...I have had every hair color under the sun. I have had all the natural colors, then bleached blond, turquoise, blue that faded to green, navy blue, pink, a kind of lavender color, and vampire red, which faded to pumpkin orange. Right now, the back half of my hair is its natural dark brown, and the front half is bleached to white. I will probably die of hair-color-related cancer.