Tuesday, June 26, 2012


No, this isn't about a Broadway musical with full-frontal nudity. It's about hair. I've never figured out why hair is such a big deal, but it is--at least to most of us. Certainly it always has been to me.

When I was in 5th grade, the nuns at my boarding school cut most of my hair off and gave me a perm. They called it a Poodle Cut, and claimed it was fashionable. That year, our school's yearbook contained a photo of one of the senior girls with this caption: "She favors long, billowing hair." I don't remember her name or her face, but I remember that caption. And I remember her hair.

I was born with red hair, which probably embarrassed my mom since red hair was not in either family. But it soon fell out, and the resulting look, combined with my colic, earned me the nickname Baldy Sour. Nice, huh?

When my hair finally grew in, it proved to be worth the wait (and the insults). I was blessed with really gorgeous hair: platinum as a child, and later the color of butter. Thick, too. And shiny. (See above, at age 25.) For decades my hair was my best feature. Some days it seemed like the only good feature I possessed. It was my jewelry. I kept it long to maximize the effect and to hide behind. Most of the time I stayed away from beauty salons.

Women really shouldn't hang on to long hair forever--not unless they are willing to do the old-lady bun thing at some point. Old-lady buns and twists can be flattering if they're done right, but long hair is heavy. We don't realize just how heavy it is until we cut it off and our necks breathe a sigh of relief. For me, that happened in my early sixties. Pictures taken at my 60th birthday party show me with shoulder-length hair. I looked okay, but then at some point after that, I didn't.

The vertical lines of long hair drag the face down after a certain age. That's the best way I can describe the phenomenon that turns an attractive, long-haired woman into an old hag. Or, to state it more positively, cutting an older woman's hair brightens her face. Unless, of course, it's cut to resemble a man, or a child, or someone who had to be institutionalized.

That's frequently the way I saw my salon haircuts. My daughter once called me a "salon slut" because I could never find a stylist I wanted to stick with. I went from salon to salon, pictures clutched in my fist, reciting my preferences. "I want to look like a writer," I said. Or a photographer. Or, "I'm a creative person, and that how I want to look." In other words, don't make me look matronly. Or frumpy. Or a member of the Christian right. But that's the way I walked out of those salons almost every time.

I decided my voice was possibly to blame. I know I have a good speaking voice, because people are always commenting on it. I also know I sound calm. Sometimes calm is a real advantage. "Your voice was very good for her," the maternity nurse said to me after I'd coached my daughter through childbirth. But calm is never what I was going for with my haircuts. Nevertheless, calm is what I usually got.

I had a few good hair days. Weeks, even. My profile pic on this blog is an example. I liked that cut. But I hate to tell you how much "product" was involved in creating the look. I never thought of myself as a product kind of person, but by the time I was finished with my style primer, root lifter, and texture paste, no one would want to run their fingers through even my bangs.

Okay, I should get to the point. The point is that it took me all these years to realize that a hair style can make a face look good, but some styles make the hair look good. I made this discovery at the Yale reunion earlier this month. I had bronchitis for a couple of weeks before the event, and by the time I decided I could make the trip there was no time to get a hair appointment. I wasn't sure I wanted one anyway, as they almost always made me look (or feel) worse. So I chopped some off the bottom and took my too-long top layers and a can of Sebastian Shaper spray (very light and flexible) up to New Haven.

I received four compliments--separately--on my hair at the reunion. Before that, I don't remember the last time someone complimented me on my hair. All of the reunion compliments came from women (clearly, they had no ulterior motives). One mentioned my great haircut, but she had imbibed a fair amount of scotch beforehand. The others just talked about my hair. How soft it was, how natural. The beautiful color. (The color?? Which color--the grey or the once-was-blonde?) Listening, I was as surprised as I was delighted. Did I mention it poured rain most of the weekend? And still they thought I had beautiful hair.

I'm keeping the look. My casual non-style probably doesn't flatter my face, but it's enough for me that it flatters my hair. Although my hair is nothing like what it used to be, it's nice to have some part of it back. And today, when I was outside mowing the lawn in the wind, it actually billowed. I'm certain of it.


crystal said...

Nice photo! Your hair looks like spun gold :)

I don't use any product either - it is nice to have hair that is touchable. Mine just hangs pretty straight down to my shoulders, long enough for a pony tail but not long anyore. Whenever I try someting stylish I look positively weird ;)

Indigo Bunting said...

Oh, wonderful. Great last line. And this made me laugh out loud: "Or, to state it more positively, cutting an older woman's hair brightens her face. Unless, of course, it's cut to resemble a man, or a child, or someone who had to be institutionalized."

Hear hear! And bravo!

Susan said...

Thanks, guys! I'm surprised this post was so long.....proof, I guess, of just how important hair can be. I'm glad you laughed, IB. I would have thought the whole thing would be more humorous, but clearly hair is a serious subject. ;-)

Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

I agree. Hair is a terribly serious matter. It's what you wear every day. It frames your face. And a really good hair cut is almost the best thing in the world, which is why I am on an eternal quest for a really good stylist. I've experienced much heartbreak on that subject lately, however, so am thinking of growing my hair long enough to wear in a braid down my back....

Susan said...

I love that look, Lali. And it's a style that isn't aging.....unless you develop pain lines on your forehead from the weight of the braid on your neck. :-)

Mali said...

Great post. I agree. Hair is very important. It was only around 2007 that I actually found a hair style (thanks to my gorgeous stylist who sadly has moved overseas) that I liked enough to relax when getting my photo taken. My new stylist is very good - but I don't have the same trust in him as I did in lovely now-in-Hong-Kong-and-too-far-to-go-for-a-haircut David. Perhaps I should be a "salon slut" until I find another good one.

Susan said...

Mali, being a salon slut didn't ruin my reputation (as far as I know). I have a friend living in Hong Kong, so if you happen to know where David is working these days, please share! (And I'll bet you look beautiful, David or no David.)

Dona (waxwing) said...

Glad you found a style you like, Susan.

I've had long hair, short hair, permed hair and in-between hair. I'm currently sticking to my long wavy hair which is nearly always pulled back in a ponytail these days.

I don't find it heavy at all (maybe that means I have little hair left?) and love the way it feels on my bare back -- a pleasure I'd forgotten about when my hair was short.

Susan said...

Hair is very sensuous. That must be part of why we have it, no? A sexual attractant to the opposite sex, plus it feels good to us. Sometimes.

Helen said...

I tried to comment on this several days ago, but apparently I was unsuccessful.

You would have made an excellent Rapunzel. And, seriously, after reading this I made an appointment to get my hair cut.