After having recently moved, my daughter discovered she had way too much stuff and asked if I would store a few boxes for her. I peeked into one container and glimpsed a blowdryer. The sight of that contraption got me thinking about the arsenal of beauty tools and products I’d tortured myself with through the years. They had all promised astounding transformations, but most didn’t deliver. But there was one apparatus I wished I’d had as a teenager, it could have changed the course of history, or at least mine.
First, I must tell you what it was like for me. When I grew up, girls complained about their rod-straight hair. They told of the daily horror of living with limp locks, and resorting to stinky permanents and body-waves to acquire the loveliness they sought. While they complained about straight, lifeless hair, it was something I prayed for. I dreamt of stick-straight strands flowing past my shoulders; a mane worthy of a shampoo commercial, or maybe a horse’s tail.
Unfortunately, my hair had a mind of its own which bordered on lunacy. Some people tried to be kind when they spoke of my curls, but, in fact, the curls were beyond my control. I was no Curly Sue or a Shirley Temple. (Does anyone remember Shirley Temple, or must she be Googled?) No, my hair displayed a strange clump of springy tendrils attached to the right side of my head. That clump was often mistaken for a hairpiece in search of an escape route.
The rest of my head was an unsightly crop of straight tresses lost among unruly waves. I suspected my hair follicle genes had been shaken, not stirred, while I was in the womb, resulting in my miss-matched do. Mutation was the only possible explanation.
The best way to describe the hairstyle of my youth was that it resembled a Picasso painting during his Cubism period, and it received similar reactions. People stared at it perplexed, and wondered what to make of it.
If my hairdo, or lack thereof, wasn’t bad enough, it could worsen with the addition of one element . . . moisture.
My first encounter with this demon occurred when I was a young girl of twelve, while visiting my Uncle Jimmy in San Francisco. One evening, we walked through a thick mist to reach his favorite Italian restaurant. I’d never been in an establishment such as this. Perched on our red-checkered tablecloth was an empty, twine covered wine bottle that held a candle. Wax dripped artfully down the sides of the bottle and begged to be picked and played with, and I obliged.
During our dinner it was necessary to use the restroom. While washing my hands I looked into the mirror and couldn’t believe the vision. The fog had frizzed my hair into a large circular mass. I had the world’s largest Afro, and I might have carried it off, if only I’d been born black. As it was, I looked ridiculous. In desperation, I slapped water onto my ‘fro, hoping I could reduce its volume. Why had the Hair Gods punished me so? I soon learned showering in the bathroom sink only made my situation worse. I left the restroom, head down, and hoped my Uncle would remember that silence was golden.
Over the years, what sprouted from my scalp was a constant cross to bear, and did nothing for my self-esteem. I gradually acquired some techniques to manage my mop of madness. After a shower, I would rubber band my hair at the crown of my head and split the ponytail into three sections. Each section was then wrapped around a gigantic pink curler. This absurd look gave the impression I was either trying to pick up signals from outer space or attract alien life forms. Since looking beautiful for boys was my goal, attracting alien life forms wasn’t a stretch.
The endless hours devoted to taming my tresses could have been avoided, if only I’d owned a Flat Iron in high school. This one device could have been my salvation. It had the power to flatten and smooth the most obstinate ringlets, and could even defeat a frightening frizz. (Back in the day, some girls achieved straight hair from using a clothes iron, but I couldn’t bring myself to it, especially after seeing burns and scabs on the foreheads of my friends. It was too barbaric, even for me.)
The Flat Iron would have been the magic wand that made me feel attractive. With a flick-of-the-wrist, I would have gone from being “the nice girl with a good personality” to the “cute girl.” Just imagine what paths my life might have taken with a head full of gorgeous hair. But I’ll never know. My sweet takeaway is the friends who loved me in high school embraced the true me; it was never about outward beauty.
These days, I use my Flat Iron regularly. It’s been a godsend. A shallow thought maybe, but I don’t think I’m alone in appreciating something that makes me feel better about myself. Now . . . if only there were a Flat Iron for wrinkles.
Written by: Erin G. Burrell
Author of: That’s Why You’re Here