Friday, July 18, 2008

Closer to God: How To Get Big Hair

My hair had a psychotic break when I hit puberty and went from waves to kinky ringlets. This was in the eighties, so while my friends were getting spiral perms, I spent high school desperately trying to subdue my new natural texture. I had no idea how properly use a blow dryer, and eventually I just let it curl. My senior yearbook photo seems to show a girl who had mastered the look of the era, but my hair dried in that shape right out of the shower: big, with a pouf of alarmed bangs.

In my early twenties, I went for a cut with my roommate. Her old friend was a stylist and she felt he'd know what to do about The Chunk, a wad of grown-out layers that mocked me from side of my own head every day. I spoke of little else that year.

"Some people have such great natural curl," the stylist mused to my roommate as he began to play with my hair. I smiled at him in the mirror, but then he continued, "and some people are just completely f*cked."

That actually made me like him. I felt understood.

Since then I've vacillated on whim between wearing my hair curly, getting it chemically straightened, and straightening it myself (more on that soon). Now I can go either way; my curls have loosened a bit, plus I am so skilled at blow-drying that it barely takes me any longer than normal people.

My relationship with Big Hair is complicated. And Big Hair is coming back. A couple friends have been talking about getting perms (I sigh and shake my head). Linda Wells got a bit nostalgic for the moussed-up look of the eighties in this month's Allure. And my ladyfriends the Beauty Brains are looking for reactions to (or perhaps an explanation of?) the hair hats you might have seen recently.

So how high will we go this round? The 1980s were hardly the apex of hair. In Marie Antoinette's late 1700s, updos were built on wire armatures, padded with cloth and horsehair, spackled with flour paste and mutton pomade. Entire scenes were sculpted, making human heads a platform for dioramas of warships surrounded by cotton wisps of smoke. I've read about live caged birds, vegetable gardens, and even a mini-cemetery scene in memoriam of a lost husband.

I think I'll save my neck the strain and go natural:

"If you happen to be blessed with heavy, dry, and curly hair (think Gilda Radner), you can wear one of those gloriously frizzy hairstyles that seem to go on forever. Cute."
--Gloria Richards, A Whole New You (1980)

Yeah, cute.