Brand building through storytelling

A brief history of my hair

Once upon a time I was blissfully bald. I didn’t know that my soft infant scalp would one day be the setting for a melodrama peopled by a host of villains—frizzies, split ends, exposed roots, misbegotten haircuts and the piercing, indefinable not-rightness that is known as a bad hair day. I had yet to discover that no matter how painstakingly I dressed or did my eyes, the entire effect could be undone by my hair.

We all know the weapons against this kind of disorder—blow dryers, hot rollers, curling irons, gels, mousses and expensive ministrations by cheek-kissing sychophants in black. Still, we might as well admit that there are no guarantees. To be unlucky in hair is to flinch every time you pass a mirror, and then to kick yourself for obsessing about anything so trivial, even though the story of your hair is also the story of your life.

Here, a few condensed chapters from the saga of my own hair:

ThegirlsThe Toni home permanent, 1957My mother has promised me a special treat. Her friend Adele will turn my little-girl bob (see photo; that’s me on the right) into a cloud of curls, right in our own back yard, with a Toni kit from the drugstore. Everyone knows from the ads (Which twin has the Toni?) that you can’t tell a Toni perm from an expensive salon treatment that’s way beyond our family budget. I perch on a lawn chair while Adele drapes a sheet over my shoulders. She slathers my head with foul-smelling goo (it’s because of the fumes that we can’t do this inside). I close my eyes, dreaming of curls through the waiting and shampooing.

At last Adele hands me the mirror. Oh, no! This can’t be happening! My hair explodes at right angles from my head. Instead of curls, I’ve got a tangle of corkscrews. And I’ll be stuck with them until the wretched perm wears off. (They don’t call it “permanent” for nothing.) All the kids will point and laugh. I weep for my no-nonsense bob.

Guitar TeenageThe quest for long straight hair, 1964-67 Joan BaezMarianne Faithfull, the flower children of Haight Ashbury…they all have shining tresses that fall in two silky panels. I yearn for hair like theirs, and mine won’t behave; it frizzes and floats and must be constantly patted into place. Every day I tie up the only bathroom in our house, shampooing my hair with Breck, the brand advertised on magazine covers with pastel paintings of wide-eyed ingénues with hair worthy of Rapunzel. Meanwhile other family members bang on the door. They don’t understand that if my hair can’t ripple and flow, at least it can glisten with freshness. Every girl in my class is a slave to her shampoo bottle; every girl dreads the merest hint of oil on her hair.

Then suddenly we’re all talking about a new product, Minipoo. It sounds like what you’d find in a baby’s diaper, but in fact it’s a powder that you sprinkle on your hair to absorb the oil. Instead of tying up the bathroom, you can tie up the family phone lamenting your teenage trials to your girlfriend. Minipoo comes in a cheap-looking cardboard tube that looks as if should contain cockroach killer. I buy the stuff anyway and shake a generous portion onto my head. I don’t look scrubbed to a sheen. I look as if I have a bad case of dandruff.

The swinging London cut, 1967 Oh, freedom! I’ve just graduated from high school and have landed a summer job in London, home of the Beatles and Mary Quant. In London the girls strut down Carnaby Street in short A-line dresses and short haircuts that hug their heads like shiny caps. I’ll be running after three rambunctious kids all day, but I can still hope to catch some mod’s eye on my afternoon off. It’s time for a suitably forward-looking hairdo: a new twist on the pixie cut, razored at the back with wavy sideburns to frame my face. After every shampoo, I Scotch-tape the sideburns in place so they dry just so. Then I comb my hair with my fingers. Presto, I’m ready for a magazine spread on the freewheeling youth of London.

Rona Age 19 (3)Now that I’ve got the look, all I have to do is keep it. That means a monthly trip to the salon. How will I pay for this? Hey, maybe I don’t have to. How hard can it be to cut my own hair? I stand with my back to the mirror on my dresser. I hold my hand mirror—orange plastic, with a yellow daisy on the back—and swivel to observe the disappearing shape of my swinging haircut. When I detect a shaggy place, I reach for my little nail scissors with the crescent-shaped blades. Then I grab the offending lock. How can I cut and hold the plastic mirror at the same time? Oh, screw the mirror. I make the cut blind and check my handiwork. Not bad. I swivel and snip until my hair is a more or less perfect bubble. I have a knack for this!

Every few days, I get out my tools and have another go at my hair, to maintain that London line. I never do meet any mods who are smitten with my beauty. On bad days, when the father of my young charges yells at me and I worry that no one will ever love me, I hack away as if I could excise the wrongness from my life. Then I stand between my two mirrors and detect, at the back of my head, an unmistakable sliver of baldness.

For the next two years, I follow this routine. I vacillate between dismay at my blunders and euphoric pride at my unsung talents. Sometimes women stop me on the street and ask, “Who cuts your hair?” They seem to think that artistry like mine can be bought at Vidal Sassoon. It pleases me to answer, with the poise of the independent woman I hope to be someday, “I do it myself.”

To be continued soon. Next installment: going gray

Posted by Rona

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