Hair, hair and hair. You’re sick and tired of hearing hair. I understand. Really I do. But please indulge me. I am probably old enough to be your mother or even grandmother and, if not, I almost certainly come from a different background and have a different perspective on things. So indulge me just a bit.
My hair have been a problem my whole life, it seems. When I was very young, my mother decided to let them grow, only to find that fine hair like mine tangles and mats if not given constant care. I suppose she could have plaited/braided them, but she wanted my hair loose and gracefully flowing or not at all. She, having better things to do with her time than caring for her daughter’s hair, chose “not at all.” My hair were kept short as a boy’s, and in that time period, 1954-1961, that was very short indeed. I looked like a very scrawny boy and got teased mercilessly at school.
My monthly haircuts were more than just slicing off parts of me, they ranged from merely unpleasant to torturous. I was taken to either the “beauty shop” or her sister’s home.
The beauty shop was bad enough, but by far the lesser of the two evils. Let me describe a beauty shop in the late 1950s USA. You first walk into a waiting room where you are overwhelmed with the smells of chemicals used to straighten, curl, color and style the hair. The women waiting are all good housewives, all nicely dressed and wearing too much perfume. If that didn’t make it hard enough to breathe, they were all smoking cigarettes. Back then, there were no restrictions on where people could smoke and they smoked everywhere. Restaurants, theaters, grocery stores, hospitals, courtrooms, even in the vestibules of churches. So, naturally, they smoked at the beauty shop. Every last one of these ladies was puffing away, fouling the air even further and making a little girl a bit dizzy and sick to her stomach. The next step was going into the back room where the work was actually done. The floor was littered with clumps of dead hair; the beauticians, as they were called, simply dropped the cur hair on the floor. In addition, the chemical smells were completely overwhelming. Whatever hair I had was then washed and cut. I usually managed to get my scalp cut, as well, my fault, I admit because I just wouldn’t sit still.
Beauty Shop c. 1958
The beauty shop, as bad as it was, was much preferable to the second, and more common alternative, her sister’s house. My mother disliked spending money and her sister didn’t charge. It might seem more pleasant to have to contend with only two smoking, perfumed women and very little chemical smell. It might seem so to those who had never met my aunt. When those two sisters got together, it seemed like some chemistry took place and they turned into evil witches. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight. First my hair were combed with her big, nasty metal comb. You’d think hair so short couldn’t tangle or matt, but mine did. She started at the scalp and just pulled that comb through any tangles, ripping out the hair and causing ,me considerable pain. I learned not to cry because they’d tease me and make fun of me mercilessly. Next came the very worst part: washing my hair. She had a professional wash basin, like at the beauty shop, where I had to sit back with my neck in an indentation and my face pointing toward the ceiling.
Modern Inflatable Hair Washing Basin
It was an awkward position, but not all that bad until the waterboarding began. My mother would hold me while my aunt pushed my head down and she squirted water over my face and into my eyes and nose. I couldn’t breathe and was scared to death. I felt like I was drowning. This was getting my hair wet, so it could be washed. Next came the shampoo, which always managed to get into my eyes, stinging, of course. Then I was waterboarded again to rinse out the shampoo and then the procedure was repeated a third time, cream rinse, a sort of conditioner was mixed with cold water and massaged into my hair and scalp and then I had to go through the rinsing out process a third time. Then the worst was over, although there was a bit more pain to be endured. That metal comb came and pulled through my hapless hair, pulling out more and scraping my scalp raw. The actual cutting was anticlimactic. But this time I was exhausted and hardly responded when her shaver bit into the back of my neck. The whole time, of course, they were both smoking and blowing smoke into my face, something my mother had been doing since I was a baby.
The Steel Comb
Am I exaggerating all this? I don’t think so. At least this is how it all seemed to me when I was a little kid. Today all that would be considered child abuse. Back then it was just the way things were done in our family. I don’t know how it was in other families.
I hated it, but what could a little kid do? The little kid being me, she would figure out something.
One lovely day in 1961 when I was nine, my mother announced that it was time to get my monthly haircut. I refused to go. My mother was livid; I was being disobedient and stubborn, no doubt at the instigation of the devil, a being she devoutly believed in. I have no doubt she would have beaten me, but she was afraid of my dad’s reaction. “Young lady, you just wait until your father gets home. You’ll find out what happens to little girls who defy their mother.” I had no idea what would happen, but I wasn’t giving an inch. My considerable stubbornness was in maximum mode. I had had all I was going to take and I would not give in.
When dad came home, he could immediately tell something was wrong. “What the hell’s going on in my home? Can’t a man even get a pleasant greeting from his wife and daughter when he comes home?”
My mother started in immediately. “Charles. You must beat the wickedness out of this child! She has been defying me!”
He seemed baffled. “Huh?”
“She refused to go to have her hair cut!”
He looked at me and asked in an expressionless voice, “Is this true? Did you disobey and defy your mother?”
I answered truthfully. “Yes.”
My response was unexpected, even to me. “It’s my hair and I want to keep it. It’s not right to force me to have it so short.”
My mother immediately retorted, “If her hair grows out, I’ll be doing nothing except taking care of it all day. I have other things to do with my time. And besides, she is defying my authority.”
This was serious business and I had no idea what was going to happen.
He got a thoughtful look on his face and began, “Princess…” and I knew I had won. He only called me “Princess” when he was happy with me. “Princess, could you take care of your own hair?”
A nine-year old girl? Not really, but I was determined. “Yes, if I had shampoo and cream rinse and brushes and comb and barettes and all that other hair stuff.” I was relieved and triumphant.
“Charles, how dare you? That child defied me. She is possessed by a demon of disobedience and she must be punished. How dare you give into her like that?”
He gave her a look of pure disgust.
“Vinita, you are wrong. Girl wants to keep her hair and is willing to look after it herself because her mother won’t. What’s the matter with you?”
Seeing the fury on her face, he added, “Don’t you dare touch her or you’ll be very sorry.”
Thus ended the first battle of my hair. It was far from the last and neither the first nor last time she accused me of being demon possessed.
I will not go into our battles when I got body hair and refused to shave. Suffice it to say, she was very angry, but I was older and better able to stand up for myself and I prevailed without my dad needing to defend me.
I will not say I was totally right and she was totally wrong, but I have no idea what would have happened if my father had agreed with her. I had had all I could take and something would have had to give.
Fast forward to 2009.
A much more pleasant story and a definite advantage to keeping kesh.
One day my husband was really annoyed at me because I refused to use hair conditioner from the Dollar Store. Money was tight and he considered buying anything more expensive an unnecessary expense. I am not a person who buys things for the brand name nor am I a believer in the idea that more expensive is necessarily better. The cheapest shampoo was OK; shampoos, advertizing to the contrary, are basically all the same, with only minor differences. The effectiveness of conditioners, however, varies greatly. My hairs have always been very fine and delicate and, as I have gotten older, also very dry. I cannot have healthy hair without a decent conditioner. I don’t need expensive salon conditioners, Garnier Fructis works OK and I buy it at Fred Meyer for about $4.00 a bottle. Who could complain about that? I started thinking and decided to undertake a small project.
A few days later I brought up the subject of the cost of my hair. “Simon, how much do I really spend on my hair, say in a month? ”
He gave me one of those looks.
“Let’s see, how often do I go to the hair salon or to the spa to get my hair done?”
“You never go. Why, do you want to or something?”
“No, I’m just trying to figure out how much money I actually spend on my hair. What about product like hair gels and sprays and color and that sort of thing, how much do you figure I spend?” I emphasized the “I” slightly because (although it was supposed to be a big secret), he dyed his hair on a regular basis.
“You don’t use those things.”
“Well, what about equipment, like curlers and curling irons and that sort of thing?”
He looked at me. “What are you getting at?”
“I don’t use any of those things. I just wash and condition and use a bit of hair oil now and then. Before I had the stroke I used to tie them up; now my caregiver braids them for me. Pure simplicity. Would you say that I spend around $10 a month on my hair?”
“Probably less,” he admitted.
“We’ve been married for 20 years. Doing the arithmetic, 20 years is 240 months and $10 a month comes to $2400 I’ve spent on my hair since we got married.”
I had talked to several women I know and also looked around on the Internet. I came to the estimate that the average American woman, with the spa and the shampoo and the color and the styling and the cutting and the perming and the straightening and the product and the equipment spends in excess of over $100 a month on her lovely tresses. He agreed that that was most likely true and added that mine was more beautiful anyway. I thanked for the very rare compliment and went on.
“Again doing the arithmetic, during 20 years, by a very conservative estimate, the average American woman would have spent $24,000 on her hair.” Even I found that figure a bit startling. By this time he was just staring at me. “By these figures, I’ve save us over $21,600 by being my natural, low maintenance self.”
I actually convinced him and he never tried to make me use Dollar Store conditioner again.