The beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my hair by
100
(120 Stories)

Prompted By Hair

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

The musical Hair opened on Broadway in April 1968, and I saw it some time that spring with my friend Amy, who lived in Manhattan. Amy had been my roommate the previous summer at a program for high school students at Syracuse University. It was Amy who first introduced me to marijuana, so it was fitting that we went to see Hair together. We were probably stoned at the time. We adored this groundbreaking show that glorified long hair, and hippies, and drugs, and the anti-war movement. The title of my story, as you may have recognized, is a lyric from the title song.

My hair was a focal point of my life long before that musical, and has continued to be throughout my life. Hair in the places it was NOT wanted was, over the years, bleached, waxed, shaved, tweezed, electrolyzed, and lasered. Hair where it WAS wanted, on my head, was braided, ponytailed, teased, straightened, dyed, grown long, cut short, and never, ever exactly the way I wanted it. Much more than clothes or shoes or make-up, it was the degree of my satisfaction with my hair that always determined whether I felt good about my appearance on any given occasion.

In high school and college, when it was so, so important to have long, perfectly pin-straight hair, my curly locks were the bane of my existence. I used home hair straighteners with names like Curl Free and Uncurl, which would work for a few weeks, unless it rained. I also had it professionally straightened at the beauty parlor, but that was only a little more successful. Ultimately I took to ironing my hair to get it straight. This entailed kneeling down in front of the ironing board and spreading sections of my long hair over the board. Holding my hairbrush in one hand and the iron in the other, I would use the brush to pull the hair taut, then follow the brush with the iron over the entire length of the hair. Since I couldn’t see what I was doing, I would sometimes start to put the iron down on the hand holding the brush, and I would end up with little triangular burn marks on my brush hand from the tip of the iron. But I achieved the result of long straight hair, parted in the middle, that was so crucial at that time. I started growing it long at the beginning of high school, and continued all through college and law school, with only occasional trims. At its longest it was below my waist. Always, I ironed it to make it pin straight, and always if there was rain or high humidity, it curled anyway.

Janis Joplin was the first celebrity I can remember who let her curly hair be natural. Much as I loved her, I was still more interested in looking like Joan Baez or Joni Mitchell. However, as the ’70s were coming to a close, I finally surrendered to my curl. Having graduated from law school, now working at my first “real” job, where I frequently appeared in court against much older (male) attorneys, I wanted to look professional, and I wanted to look older. Both of these goals seemed to dictate cutting my hair short. Once it was short, it was impossible to keep it straight, because it was the weight of my long hair that had helped to control it at least somewhat. So I started investigating curly hair styles. In the decades since then my hair length has fluctuated up and down, but I have always let it be curly. Hairdressers now invariably rave about how wonderful my curls are, and I just have to laugh and say “Where were you in the ’60s?”

3 generations of curly hair, circa 2000

3 generations of curly hair, circa 2000

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: been there, right on!

Comments

  1. John Zussman says:

    Your story truly captures the fixation and exasperation with hair we all—but especially young women—experienced back in the day. Styles keep changing, of course, but I wonder if that obsession is any different today.

    I also love the way you always seem to find the perfect lyric to use as a title.

    BTW, Patti and I saw Hair in 1970 on its tour to Boston. A camp friend was in it and we met him backstage. Pretty cool!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks John. I would say from watching my two daughters that the obsession is still the same but the tools are better now. No more kneeling in front of an ironing board.

      Thank you also for noticing my story titles. I do always look for a song for my title. Sometimes it takes me almost as long to find the right title as it does to write the story, although for this story it was easy.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I, too, saw Hair on Broadway…over intersession during my freshman year. I visited a friend in NYC and we got tickets. This was 1971 and I had been singing some of the music for a while and, of course, knew of the infamous nude scene at the end of the first act. Diane Keaton was in the original cast.

    I remember girls in Home Ec class in 8th grade ironing their hair. I used to watch in fascination, hoping they didn’t burn themselves. How you did it by yourself confirms my worst fears. I’ve never had curls, but post-menopausal, my hair is difficult to manage, particularly as I get near to needing a dye job (every 4 weeks). It flips up in strange ways and isn’t shiny any more. Sigh. I guess we are never happy with what we have!

    • Suzy says:

      Diane Keaton must have been in it when I saw it, although of course she wasn’t famous at the time. She stayed in the cast for less than a year.

      Did the girls in your Home Ec class iron each other’s hair? What did the teacher think about that?

  3. Great story telling. I liked how you intertwined “Hair” and hair. Oh, and bravo to your horrifyingly graphic description of the torture involved in aspiring to our aesthetic dreams. Burnt hands, the smell of hair overheated, kneeling in front of an ironing board!

    You also reminded me of the absolutely stunning, overwhelmingly powerful beauty of a big head of hair, like an aura. Remember Angela Davis and Erika Huggins, Kathleen Cleaver? Viva the aura!

    • Suzy says:

      I do indeed remember those beautiful big Afros, and if I could have achieved one of those, I would have. One of the biggest arguments I ever had with my father (post milk bottle incident) was when I told him that Angela Davis was my idol. He was horrified!

  4. You come pretty close to creating such an aura in your great story. So much love for hair, a real celebration of the self! Yes!

  5. jshutkin says:

    Knowing your penchant for using song titles for your story titles, I was positive that you would cite something from “Hair” in a story about hair. And, of course, you picked just the right phrase.
    And I loved the story. It is such an honest revelation of how important hair is — especially (if not exclusively) to young women, Your description of ironing your hair is perfect on two levels: both the graphic description of the whole process and as evidence of the torture one would willingly put oneself through simply in the cause of long, straight hair. Finally, the conclusion — coming happily to terms with naturally curly hair — also speaks in broader terms of how we mature (or should mature) over the years.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks John. It’s surprising to me that you call it “torture,” and I notice now that Charlie did as well. It didn’t seem like torture, it was actually very satisfying to iron out those curls and have perfectly straight hair. Torture was sleeping all night on giant rollers, which I also did sometimes, but which ironing made unnecessary.

  6. Risa Nye says:

    Oh my goodness! I did all of those things to my hair too back in the day. If you notice the picture I used in my piece about eyebrows, you will appreciate the time and effort it took to get my hair that straight! Ironing, giant rollers, Scotch tape, clippies and the Uncurly Permanent were all part of my war of the waves. These days I have a wonderful brush/dryer that lets me get as straight as I want, but the minute I step outside into the fog…forget it!

    One more thing: my dad (who loved musicals), brought home the album of Hair and played it for us (he was kind of cool that way). But you should’ve seen his face when he heard the lyrics to (ahem) one particular song that included several words I had to look up! Hoo boy! Anyway, I enjoyed reading about those familiar struggles with curls and all. I’m glad I can go straight or let my wavy flag fly whenever it feels right. Do you remember that character in “Peanuts” who said, “People always expect more of you when you have naturally curly hair”? She was my role model!

    • Suzy says:

      Risa, great to know that you went through the same hair battles I did. I would love to know about your “wonderful brush/dryer,” although at this point I think I’m pretty much a curly girl.

      I remember looking up the words to that song from Hair with my mother (who didn’t know them either) in my father’s medical dictionary. That was quite an eye-opener. For both of us!

      I had that poster up on my wall for years when I was growing up, with the Peanuts girl (Frieda) saying “People always expect more of you when you have naturally curly hair.” Words to live by! I bet I still have it somewhere.

    • John Zussman says:

      Risa, when you mentioned that “one particular song,” I thought, “Hmm, I wonder which … oh right, THAT song.” Amazing they kept that on the album. I guess every generation has its awakening—like the Monica Lewinsky scandal that taught a horde of ’90s kids about oral sex.

      • Suzy says:

        John, is it not okay to say “Sodomy” on this website? That IS the name of the song.

        • John Zussman says:

          I looked up our community guidelines.
          Be respectful.
          Be responsible.
          Be kind.
          Nope. No violation there. Go for it.

          This discussion reminds me of the time we took our 15-year-old goddaughter (a theater buff) to see “Avenue Q,” wondering if it might prove too racy for her. Not only was she not scandalized—she already knew the entire soundtrack by heart!

        • John Zussman says:

          The real question is not whether you can say “Sodomy” on this site, but whether you can say it on broadcast TV. Because I just learned that “Hair” will be NBC’s next live-broadcast musical!

Leave a Reply