Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Good Hair Day

Sometimes I think my life has been a long, linked, series of bad-hair-days. Or at the very least, that I can reference each pivotal moment by the conditioner-of-choice at the time. Alberto Balsam Moisturising Balm. Ozzie Three Minute Miracle. Something in a yellow and red packet that I bought in a Nigerian hairdresser in Kilburn (yes, I’ve done the black thing). Coconut Oil Intensive Treatment.

If I added up all the time I’ve spent (read: wasted) devouring the back of shampoo/conditioner/product packaging to see if this product is the one that will take me to haircare heaven, I’d have split the atom by now. Or at the very least, developed a good vegetarian chicken soup recipe.

* * *

At university, at the beginning of the first year, some kindly departmental soul put up a photocopied sheet of all the first-years’ passport photos, presumably to help us get to know each other (she didn’t know from the Union bar). A day later, someone had crossed out FRIEZE and wittily replaced it with FRIZZ. My fate was sealed.

As were my hair cuticles, because I was, at that time, experimenting with a deep-heat conditioner that was: supposed to make me look like everyone else.

* * *

Hair is about the politics of difference.

When I took a job in a quintessentially English firm, I suddenly realised I was the only curly-haired person in three hundred employees. I was surrounded by corporate Diana-alikes: trim women with neat blond bobs and milchig musical tastes, the Disney heroines of their own lives. I didn’t fit in. The unruliness of my hair, my moderately feisty nature; let’s just say they weren’t exactly going to hide me from the Nazis.

* * *

Years of telling the hair-washing girl(s) – I try new hairdressers like other people evaluate new restaurants, seeking hairdresser-who-understands-me-nirvana – “no, I’m not growing out a perm,” have taught me the weird wonder of my Jewfro. (Although, despite my occasional infidelities, I do always end up going back to Tim in Manchester, because he accepts me just the way I am).

I go in and out of fashion, like hemlines.

But in recent years, I’ve reached an accommodation with my hair. We have respect for each other, but it’s been a journey. While as a kid my mum regularly used to straighten my hair, in adulthood I’ve only ever done it once – and I looked like a pale, flat, parev imitation of my true self.

Over the years, I realise, I’ve sought out similarly follicuarly-challenged flatmates: there’s nothing quite like a bathroom full of obscure shampoos to help you feel like you belong. The shared friendship ritual of cultural reality: bonding over the intensive curl treatment is like talking about tzimmes recipes with your bubbe.

Now, I love my hair; ringletty, frizzy, curly (on a good day), wild – my hair identifies me. It says I’m proud to be who I am, I’m not going to change how I look to fit the rest of the world.

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