Making Peace with my Hair by
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(146 Stories)

Prompted By Haircuts

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One of my earliest memories is of my paternal grandmother trimming my hair and twisting rags all over my head, hoping she could make me look like Shirley Temple. I remember her disappointment when the curls petered out and I ended up with neither straight nor curly hair. Through a lifetime of haircuts, I have tried to push my hair one way or the other with mixed results.

Even more Toni curls under that beret

I ended up with neither straight nor curly hair. I have tried to push my hair one way or the other all of my life.

Anyone remember those Toni home perms? My mother thought at some point I should move over to the curly side. The smell was overwhelming and the end result made me look a bit like Clarabell the Clown. I begged her to stop and spent the next phase of haircuts moving from the Audrey Hepburn short hair look to looking just like my mother to sleeping in huge curlers to achieve a smooth bouffant teased look.

Audrey Hepburn with a basketball?

When I saw the musical Hair from the upper balcony of a Chicago theater, pre-kids, it affirmed everything I wanted my hair to be:

Gimme head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair

1969 — Need I say more?

I wanted that hair. It had to be straight and not too styled or poofy. Many of my friends ironed (literally with an iron) theirs. But I could get the look by brushing it dry to get rid of those waves. It was glorious. Then came the seventies. After baby #1, someone convinced me to get a shag cut. Not bad.

The shag inspired by Jane Fonda

By 1973, when baby #2 came along, I was too tired to care. By baby #3 in 1977, however, my hair was definitely shorter and lower maintenance. I’m pretty sure I was cutting my own hair in those days, along with my husband’s and kids’. I was no pro, so his looked pretty bad — lumpy and piled up a bit thick on the top. My son’s was a version of a bowl cut. The worst home haircut was the one I gave to my older daughter, who kept insisting I make her bangs shorter. When we reached the Mamie Eisenhower look, I refused to go any shorter. Only then did she explain that she wanted her bangs gone.

My handiwork as a hairstylist

I have lived through plenty of my own hair disasters that brought me to tears. Before my bridal shower, I went to a random salon near where I lived, which resulted in a much-too-short, unflattering cut. Of course, I cried, but eventually it grew out and I survived.That’s when I went into the DIY haircutting business. Much to my mother’s dismay, I refused to have it styled for my wedding because I wanted to look like myself.

Then there were my years with Mr. George. On the recommendation of a neighbor, I went to him after I had moved to Evanston and had three young kids. I actually followed this very unpleasant man from one salon to another to another. I should have wondered why he always turned the chair so I couldn’t see what he was doing. But for reasons unknown, I stuck with him through permanents for the big hair look of the eighties and coloring for graying hair.

Era of big hair and perms

Despite his sarcasm and gossiping, once I was into him for over fifteen years, I didn’t know how to break up. By that time, my husband and several friends also used him. But when he made me look like Lainie Kazan for my daughter’s wedding and I had to have a friend rearrange his creation (more tears), I knew it was time.

This is after a friend tamed it to half its size

In the end, I wrote him a letter. It’s not you, it’s me. I had my eyes on a parent at our preschool who managed a local salon and was a very nice guy. At least I enjoyed talking to him. But he had a very different vision for my hair. I should embrace my natural wave. It looked great when he did it, but I could never duplicate it on my own. After his kid left the preschool, I left him. No need for a letter this time.

By then, all of my colleagues at the school were going to Crazy Carol. She gave the best haircuts but had a very vivid fantasy life that involved an imaginary boyfriend who owned homes in Los Angeles and somewhere in Italy. She attended every big film premiere as well as the Oscars. For a time, I believed her, as I’m pretty gullible. Even after I caught on, no matter. We could still talk about movies while she gave me great haircuts. Mid-length but straight. No buster brown bangs. Easy to duplicate at home.

Then the pandemic hit. Like many, I let my hair grow out until I couldn’t stand it and chopped at my bangs and sides. I tried to color it myself and wound up with an interesting variety of shades of brown, punctuated by patches of gray. Just when I felt it was safe to return to the salon, to my horror Carol had disappeared. None of her legion of fans from my former preschool had any idea how to find her.

Now, I go to a very nice, normal woman who cuts my daughter’s hair and is a friend of hers. I can walk there from where I live and it never takes more than an hour, even with color. It may not be magical like my Crazy Carol creations, but it looks fine. I am finally at peace with my hair.

My Granddaughter has glorious curls but I am at peace with my look

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real, join my Facebook community, and visit my website.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, moving

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Great survey of your hair styles through the ages, Laurie. I admire your courage with the scissors for doing your husband’s and kids’ cuts. I love your Mamie Eisenhower bangs reference. Funny, but I knew just what you meant. And your description of all those different stylists who did or did not work for you (oh gracious, sorry about the “Lainie Kazan” for your daughter’s wedding…that must have really been awful, but you I assure you, you look lovely). Glad that post-pandemic, you’ve found someone close by who works well for you without the drama.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    What a saga, Laurie! I really enjoyed it, but it also made me realize — as I should have from all the women in my life (in particular, two wives and two daughters) — that a woman’s hair, and the evolution of how its worn over the years, is a very important thing. But I do not judge — particularly since I realize that this is often informed by men’s views of women’s hair.

    For the record, you look great in all the photos (though, yes, maybe you should not pursue a career as a hairstylist), but I am glad that you are “finally at peace” with your hair. Amen. And thank you for taking us along on your journey.

  3. Risa Nye says:

    Laurie, this piece brings back a lot of memories: the lecherous guy my mother-in-law persuaded me to go to, for example. He took well over an hour, snipping and gossiping. I was ready to jump out of my skin. The time he asked me if I had any grass was the last straw, as it were. All these bad haircuts and wacky folks wielding scissors makes us thankful when we finally do find a nice normal person who makes us look our best!

  4. Suzy says:

    Your story brings back lots of memories for me too. No, not the Toni home perms, my hair was much too curly for that, I used the opposite product, Curl Free, which smelled equally bad. I also did the ironing, as you know. I have to laugh at your difficulty in leaving hairdressers, because I always just disappear if they don’t make me happy (“ghosting” them, as the kids would say). I wonder what Mr. George thought when he got your letter. Glad you’ve now found somebody normal and you are at peace with your hair. I think it looked great in all your pictures!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Suzy, I have wondered over the years about that letter. I’m sure he just tossed it aside and maybe laughed. I don’t think he ever cared about me as a person. I wish I had ghosted him earlier in the game. After the years piled on, it was hard for me to just disappear. My husband continued to go to him for a few years after I left and he never asked about me. So I guess that’s my answer.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    Yes, you were not the only one to suffer Toni home permanents. My mother thought we might look more stylish, but we also looked ridiculous and managed to abandon them pretty quickly. I loved your description of the relationships we have with hairdressers, which can be surprisingly intimate and long-lasting, for better or worse.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I guess the person whose hand are all over your hair is an intimate connection. And even when the results were awful, it was some version of, “Thank you sir, may I have another.” I worried about hurting the feelings of a man who, in retrospect, only cared about my loyalty for his tip money.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    I quite liked the shag in its day. Jane Fonda! Joan Jett! Debbie Harry!

  7. Ohmigosh, Laurie, your story brought back the sweet, humid scent of ironed hair…a weekly ritual for me in high school. It seems we always wanted the hair someone else had instead of our own. Good for you for making peace with yours!

  8. Marian says:

    I can identify with just about all of this, Laurie, with the exception of being busy with kids. My hair went through a curly phase, so I tried to iron it a couple of times when I was in my teens. Then, after I had mononucleosis, it was a lot straighter, and perms became popular. I do remember the Toni perms but thank goodness I never had one!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Yes, Marian, those perms were awful. They smelled to high heaven and burned the scalp. Even worse, I looked awful afterwards, but my mother was always proud of her handiwork. I still remember the commercial that asked, “Whci twin had the Toni?”

  9. This was a well told, exciting tale! I was more engaged than I ever expected to be in following one woman’s path on the road to finding one damn hir stylist that could do the job! And I think the paragraph about Crazy Carol and her fantasies was the highlight for me.

  10. Having sisters, two of whom are just one and two years older I can appreciate all of this as a bystander to their travails. Toni perms, huh? Yup, I remember the odor. Makes me think of the old Miss America telecasts; I think all of the advertisers were women’ hair care products, including Toni. Yikes! And as a descriptor? If your hair naturally between straight and curly then it’s naturally surly, yes?

  11. Another lovely tour of one gal’s journey told thru her hair

    And BTW you look great in all our ll incarnations Laurie!

  12. I can still smell those Toni home permanents, which my mother used on me when I was 6 or 7. That was before my hair turned frizzy and curly at puberty. I was on that whole trip with you, Laurie. Fun ride! It’s amazing how much trouble all this hair is. Too straight. Too curly. Too short. Too grey. I’ve been thinking about cutting it all off again. Really short. I’m just afraid I’ll have nothing to hide behind if I do that! Curly purple hair is a great distraction.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Yes, Penny, our hair and finding the perfect haircut/style is a lifelong struggle for many of us. My granddaughter in the last [icture of my story has amazing curls and vert thick hair. That takes a lot of product and maintenance, so I have empathy. Like you. I do hide behind my hair. Bangs and a mask and I’m good to go.

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