Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Hair, New You

I visited a website and saw the statement: "The world is a scary place when you stop liking yourself."

Truth be told, whenever I head for the hairdresser, it is because I can't stand being the person beneath that head of hair for a moment longer. That moment for me came two weeks ago, but my Zophia was headed out on vacation and I couldn't get an appointment with her until this past Tuesday. In desperation I considered going elsewhere, maybe back to the girl who had immigrated from Vietnam and cut every middle aged white woman's hair in the tried and true old traditional style. But her husband creeped me out. She enlisted his help to wash hair before she cut and well, it was just too much to think of him hovering over me with that fake smile and his hot breath on my cheek. I waited for Zophia. After all she transformed me once, I had faith she could find that same woman again.

Tuesday Zophia cut and whacked, whacked and cut and in the midst of the cut convinced me to go for color. Get rid of the gray.

My kids said, "Age gracefully. You're old. Accept it."

Zophia had other ideas. She stamped her foot and in her delightful Polish accented English declared, "Color would be the last thing I would give up. I'll be coloring my hair when I'm 80!" Zophia is also a size zero with great bones and curves, but that's another story.

She chose the color based upon my natural brunette tones and slathered it on with her trusty paint brush. After a good steaming and a thorough rinse and shampoo, I sat pensively as she dried and styled. I looked at this stranger in the mirror. Who was I kidding? That wasn't me.

Poor Zophia was heart broken that I didn't react as excitedly as she was. She called on some man waiting for me to get out of the chair so he could get his haircut. "Tell her," Zophia urged. "Tell her how beautiful she looks."

He gritted his teeth and I saw the look. He saw fat, old me and no haircut would take his eyes off of thunder thighs and angel wings. Immediately I recalled a junior high trauma. Jerry Woolum laughed at me in my gym shorts and got his cohorts to do the same. Looking back with 20-20 hindsight, I should have ran up to him, gave him a shot to the groin with my chubby knee and laughed as he rolled around on the ground, his friends grabbing their crotches in sympathy. Or, maybe that wouldn't have been the best way to handle it, but I'd like that story much better than me running into the shower room in complete humiliation.

So, I must agree with that opening sentence. Not only is the world scary when you don't like your looks. It is downright painful. According to an article in The Star Phoenix, "[A] 10-country survey revealed that two-thirds of females aged 15 to 64 will disengage from normal activity if they feel badly about their looks."

A bad hair day can make imbeciles of us all, it seems. We stop giving our opinion, stop interacting and stop putting ourselves out there. We hide, seek invisibility and turn mute.

One hair care company has trotted out a marketing strategy aimed at improving self esteem. "Children's hair care brand Soft & Beautiful Just for Me! launched the second phase of its national self-esteem program on August 4 with a new book and a six-city book tour. The book, Trip in Time, is written by A'Lelia Bundles, the great-great granddaughter of hair care legend Madam C.J. Walker."

Walker's formula helped African American women feel better about their image, whether they thought they looked more white, or were simply taking care of their hair and themselves, their self esteem grew. It also made her the first female American millionaire. Women lined up and paid a month's wages for whatever Walker was selling. Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, Ms. Walker knew that women, hair and self esteem fit together.

That need to look good never ends. Anyone running a nursing home or provides health care knows that the way we look influences our recovery or health. Every Monday Mom, age 96, visits the beautician. After getting her hair washed, curled, dried and styled, she's ready to face the world. One of the nurses' aids skillfully applies makeup and Mom is a new woman. She fights to keep her head up and face whatever new pain or ailment her body throws at her -- beautiful hair turns out to be one of her best weapons against the blues.

The topic fascinates people around the world, in every culture. If you looked at those National Geographic magazines and their photos of near naked natives, you might recall that hair played a big part in their rituals. Braids, specific styles for each position within the community. Or the Amish and the custom of not cutting a girl/woman's hair. The Muslim need to cover the hair because it will be too great a distraction and may lead a man to sin.

Grant MacCracken explores what makes "those dead strands of protein extruding from tiny pores on our heads the cure-all for self loathing and insecurity" in his book "Big Hair."

Growing up in the 1960s with the hit song and Broadway show "Hair", I know that hair makes a big difference in how you feel about yourself and how others react to you. My father hated long hair on men. Of course those of my generation with long hair would point to pictures of Jesus and say -- "What about his long hair?" Which could lead to a whole 'nother discussion about styles through the generations and what they mean.

But for now let me say, "I like my hair. I am adjusting to the new color, and my coworkers tell me it looks great. Some of them wouldn't lie and others I'd know if they were lying. So for now it is short, dark and beautiful and I like myself a bit better for it.

But, Zophia! I have to talk to you about the expense of this self esteem and beautiful hair care! Seeing a shrink might be less expensive. But then again, having someone wash my hair -- what great therapy. And I don't know any psychologists or psychiatrists who provide such service.

Note: the photo and many many more galleries of hair cut photos can be found online.

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