This is all about me! and my hair…
First of all, it is NOT curly like Shirley Temples’s hair was.
And it is not blond. These facts disappointed my mother. This lack of perfection was a constant problem in my life. It was something I tried to overcome, by learning to be me.
When I was born I had a full head of thick, black hair. You could clip a bow in it, and even style it a bit. My mother was shocked. She even wondered if she had been given the wrong baby. Of course, she had been given gas for pain relief during my hospital birth in 1942. She woke up afterward groggy and disoriented. They quickly presented her with her new baby girl. And she was alarmed. She had been hoping for a blue-eyed blond little girl whom she could play with and dress up like a doll. She thought all babies were born bald or almost bald with wispy blond hair. She had never seen a baby that looked like me. My father assured her that it was normal and not caused by her craving for Mexican food during her pregnancy. Eventually, she got used to it. Besides, she was told that this first dark hair would fall out and be replaced with my “real” hair within a year or so.
She had a baby nurse in the hospital to take care of the baby, me, even though she nursed me. She had the Baby-nurse so she would not have to be disturbed during the night (or any other time, I think) by a crying baby. At that time women were kept in the hospital for nearly two weeks after a baby was born. On the first day, they lay supine in their beds. On the second day, they could be sitting up and continue this the next day. I am not clear on exactly when they were allowed to stand up and walk around. But it was a very different attitude than the norms of today. In photos taken during her stay at Garfield Hospital, the room was filled with flowers. The furniture was dark wood and looked more like that of a hotel, than a hospital. It was nice which made it easier to have such a long stay. Even when the woman went home she was told not to go up and down stairs for another week or so. They said it could cause problems with her organs, later. And so, those who could afford it hired a nurse to help take care of the infant for the first 6 weeks or so. My parents did this as a matter of course.
By the time I was four years old, my mother was aware that her first daughter was a brunette and that my hair had only a slight wave, not ringlets. She decided to do something about my wrong hair. She took me to Elizabeth Arden, one of the fanciest hairdressers in the city. There they gave me a “permanent wave”. This entailed having me sitting upon thick telephone books so that my head would be high enough to reach the machine that curled hair with a “permanent wave”. These curlers were attached to a hood that hung from the ceiling above me. I guess it had electricity in it to heat the rollers. They also put some solution on my hair which smelled awful and helped to curl the hair. I had to sit still for a long time while the machine did its work. When I emerged, my hair was curly. Unfortunately, it was not a perfect system. My hair was curly but frizzy unless it was styled and set with rollers. They used the machine with freshly washed hair. It required time sitting under a drier. It was a boring uncomfortable half hour or forty minutes. But from the age of four, I was stuck going to the hairdresser in order to look good. My nurse could do it at home, but this was never as pretty as when I came back from the hair salon.
So I assumed there was a flaw in my looks that needed outside help. I was not pretty unless I went to the beauty parlor. My younger sister was much closer to being a blond with light brown hair. And her hair curled naturally and hung in long ringlets. It was gorgeous. She was not hampered by “wrong” hair. How I longed for good hair. Also, I wished for my hair to grow very long. For some reason, my hair never ever seemed to grow long like my sisters. Of course, my mother took me to have it trimmed constantly. They told me that trimming it would make it grow longer. But it never seemed to get any longer than about shoulder length. I wished for hair to my waist. My hair was extremely thick. The hairdresser said it was too thick. So they thinned it for me. Another flaw. My hair was too thick and it was not curly enough, so it needed a permanent which made it impossible for me to ever just wash my hair and run out the door. It had to be curled and dried properly, otherwise, it frizzed.
How I wished for good hair. I LONGED for it. I prayed for it.
The tragedy is I already had it. Only I had no idea this was true. All through my teen years I was insecure about my hair. It might appear frizzy if I was not careful. It was frustrating not being able to get my hair wet while swimming if I had to go out that evening. It was a real handicap. Finally once I was married, my young husband intervened. Of course, we had dated for almost 3 years before we married so he knew my angst about my hair. He knew how upset I was if I got it wet without being able to curl it. He knew that I thought I had ‘problem hair’. He said,” Why do you keep getting those permanents? You have beautiful hair. Stop ruining it with those treatments. Stop getting them and let your hair grow out.”
What a radical idea. I decided to try it. Oh My! He was right. I never had another permanent again. I was not yet 21 when I made this change. For the rest of my married life of 43 years, I enjoyed my gorgeous hair. A weekly hair appointment was just part of my life though, and sometimes I would go to have it “combed out” by Mr. Eviend. After we moved to the country, I learned how to do all sorts of hairstyles myself. It saved me a LOT of time and money. For decades my hair was long and I almost always wore it “up” or in some elaborate bun. I wore hats a great deal. So in order to wear a hat I kept the top simple, pulled back, while the bulk of my hair was gathered at the nape of my neck.
Then, towards the end of my marriage, I cut my hair. This was such a wild thing to do, people did not recognize me! For many years after divorcing, I kept cutting it shorter and shorter. I discovered that my hair is naturally almost too curly if it is short. I could wash my hair during a shower, comb it a slight bit, and just let it dry. It was perfect. Of course, I had a great hairdresser who knew how to cut my hair perfectly. I enjoyed the easy arrangement of doing my own hair and never having to use a drier. My hair was pretty and thick and wavy in a way I had always dreamed of. It is so sad that I never knew this during my teen years when I was so embarrassed by my hair. I felt so inadequate. While underneath, I had perfect hair all the time.
Now in my eighty-first year, I have decided to let my hair go grey. People still remark on the length and thickness of my hair. If I ever let it down so that they can see how long it really is, they are amazed. Often they say “You should wear your hair down! You look like a movie star.” But I always say, “No. I am too old to wear my hair down. It is horrible to see someone from the back and admire their hair, only to discover when they turn around that they are OLD and wrinkled.”
The other night at a small gathering on a friend’s terrace, the subject of hair came up again. Mine was mentioned at some length. A friend said, “ I think we have talked enough about Bonnie’s hair.” This woman has a mane of gorgeous hair, so I guess she was tired of talking about someone else’s hair. But, later I thought about it and decided to write about it. My hair has taught me some valuable lessons. Now I realize it has taught me the power of wishing wisely. After all, I wished for hair just like the hair I have. Of course, I have always had it. But, I was so busy worrying about some aspects of it that I did not understand what I had been born with.
One day sitting with my mother in her sunlit “Garden Room” my hair was very freshly washed. I was letting it grow out but it was still short enough to wear it loose. It was wavey and bouffant because it was so freshly washed. As I spoke with her I flipped hair out of my eyes and sometimes swept it back with my hand in a graceful manner. “Please stop doing that with your hair.” Mother said.
“Why not? What is wrong? “ I asked.
“I don’t know.” She said, “But it reminds me that you are a woman.” Even for a mother hair can be a weapon or a red flag. I found it very interesting that she was disturbed by thinking of me, her middle-aged daughter, as a woman. And even as all this transpired my hair pleased me, and made me feel whole, made me feel pretty and yes, feminine.
I have the exact head of hair that I wished for all those years ago. I have always had it even though I did not realize it. In fact, I complained about my hair. If only my hair could just be washed and combed out, if only it would grow extra long! So now I am grateful. It is fun when people comment on my thick tresses and I enjoy it. Sometimes I show it off and let it fall down my back. Then I quickly put it back up. I do this so they can see how long it is, and how much of it there is.
In today’s world gray hair is “the style”. I believe covid caused this trend because women could not get their hair colored. They decided they liked the freedom of not having to go get their hair dyed or highlighted or whatever. So they all quit. It has taken me a little while to understand that by putting a rinse on my hair to cover the gray strands I am being “old fashioned” and bucking the trend. In the nineteen forties and fifties there used to be old women who wore their hair tightly bunned up in hairnets, or fluffed into a tight line above the back of their necks again with hair nets holding the style together. It always seemed to me that they should realize how out of date they looked and become more modern. Why didn’t they cut their hair? Why didn’t they loosen up; Let their hair down…?
Accordingly, my hair is being allowed to take its natural time in going gray. It is not gray yet but it is becoming more so every day. And I am content with this because it is super-looking gray hair! Still thick and long, the color is new to my friends and one of them told me my hair was “purple”. I said, “I think you are just seeing the gray shining in the evening sunlight. I have not done anything to change my color in months.”
Before that, I put a rinse on my hair but never dyed it. I liked the fact that all the many colors could be seen as opposed to being dyed a solid color. So the transition is smooth. I hope to live long enough to see what I look like when I am completely gray.
Most important of all, my hair is my crowning glory. My hair makes me happy. It is youthful, but now as it turns gray perhaps it will make me appear wise. Now I celebrate me, my hair, and my chunky body, together with a loving heart. If I were to count my blessings every day, I would have time for nothing else. So I use this post as a blanket “THANK YOU!”
Copyright©. 2023 Bonnie B. Matheson