How Much Does Hair Matter?

“You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful and she’s laughing.” — Hélène Cixous

Hair is a truly bizarre thing when you really think about it. It keeps growing after we’re dead. It stands up straight when you’re cold or startled. It doesn’t grow on the fingertips, the palms of hands, or the soles of feet (among several other bizarre bodily nooks and crannies).

As a child, I was always enthralled by hair. I had the Play-Doh Barbershop, which was actually awesome — you could cut the doll’s hair and just push a lever and the doll’s phallic skull with little holes poked in the top of it — honestly, looking back at the Play-Doh doll now, it looks like someone poked a bunch of holes in a condom, doused it in liquid nitrogen and then used it as a salt shaker) would keep sprouting back spaghetti strands of neon mush at you).

I also had a strict nanny when I was young who insisted that, like my mother, I too must blow dry my hair promptly after each and every shower. As a result, I was convinced I had straight hair until the 6th grade, when we had “Swimming Class” as part of our lackluster, lackadaisical gym curriculum. After showering off from the first day of Swimming Class, the bell rang for our next class period, “Art Class,” to begin, and there was no time for me to blow dry my hair. “Screw it,” I thought. It was as if my hair had heeded my call, for within half an hour, it had indeed managed to screw itself up into a lion’s mane of curly blonde frizz.

And despite the fact that my dad had a killer “Jewfro” back in the seventies, it may have been the closest my hair has ever come to experiencing a “Jewfro” to call my own. But I was completely oblivious to the fact that this had happened and that I now looked like a French poodle, until a girl in my class shouted, “Annie, what happened to your hair? You look like a French poodle.” That, I kid you not, was the precise moment that I knew: my hair was, in fact, curly.

When I was thirteen, I took a pair of scissors to a giant cowlick in the center of my forehead. A week and a half later, the giant cowlick started growing back in, only now instead of curling, the hairs were all sticking straight out like a diving board. My mother rushed me to the actual barbershop (no phallic dolls there) for the awkward phase of my prepubescent life, which I like to call ”When Forehead Met Bangs.” Voltaire once said, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Well, screw perfection, I’d take “good” any day, but unfortunately, despite what Rick James may have led you to believe, there is no such thing as “good” curly bangs. I learned that lesson the hard way. And no, you can’t see the pictures.

Sophomore year of college at Oberlin, I went through an androgynous/sexually-experimental phase wherein my friends helped me buzz off all of my hair, starting with the ponytail. One of my close male friends saved the ponytail in a Ziploc bag, and come spring, he’d decided to tape it to his head for Oberlin’s Drag Ball.

At that time, I knew a girl there who was very proud of her hairy armpits, and so she let them grow wild and dyed them a deep scarlet hue. Some of my friends turned up their noses at her freshly crimsoned pits, saying shitty things about her like, “Wow, you’re a feminist. We get it,” and “Friggin’ Hipsters.” I nodded along, but I secretly thought the idea was kind of cool for the reasons listed below:

A) It’s like shouting, “I don’t give a f-ck,” but minus the shouting. You don’t have to shout anything when you’re armpits are making a statement like that.

B) It’s rebellious, but in a peaceful manner — almost like a way to let our phallocentric, heteronormative, and patriarchal society know that the times they are a changin.’ It’s like in The Lion King when Simba says to Zazu, “Danger? Hah! I walk on the wild side. I laugh in the face of danger. Ha ha ha ha,” only you have to replace the word “danger” with the word “society.” It’s strange how interchangeable those two words can be, which can only mean one thing: Society equals danger, or something. But I digress…

C) I may or may not have had a small LesBeHonest crush on her at the time.

D) All of the above.

The first time I met my current boyfriend was at Oberlin’s “Safer Sex Night.” I was wearing a bright blue wig, he was wearing fake zombie blood. The second time we saw each other, it was Halloween, and I was wearing a Rainbow Brite costume and a long blonde wig. The third time I saw him, I was not wearing a wig. He seemed a tad caught off guard by my real hair follicles (or lack thereof), and I didn’t see him again for almost a year. The fourth time I saw him, I think I must have been getting back in touch with the Pittsburgher in me because my hair had grown out to a chic, chin-length mullet. We started dating a week and a half later. Which can only mean one thing: men find a mullet on a woman sexier than a girl with a buzz cut?

I currently have long red curly hair. Due to this, I am almost constantly inundated with questions like, “So does the carpet match the drapes?” and pick-up lines like, “Hey, Big Red, ya know, I’ve got a thang for redheads” (direct quote from a drunken old man at a bar in Pittsburgh).

“Please don’t buzz your hair off again,” my mom said to me one day, a non-sequitor completely out of the blue. We had been talking about what groceries to put on the list.

“Um, okay,” I said.

“It just made you look so…well, Butch.”

“Thanks, Mom,” I said.

I do like having long hair at the moment, but I still miss those low-maintenance, carefree, hair-free days. Although if I buzzed my head again I think my boyfriend and my mom just might go cray cray. On the other hand, every morning when I wake up, my hair now puts the term “Bed Head” to shame. My unruly Jewish ringlets frizz and shrink up like snakes. One quick glance in the mirror confirms the deadly truth: I have once again become the Medusa overnight. TC Mark

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