"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ad Hairenum

ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUSLADY LILITH, 1866 - 68 ~ BY DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI (1828 - 82) "Rosetti makes Lady Lilith's long flowing hair the central focus of the composition." ~Breanna Byecroft


In keeping with my recent hair-stories, Gerry picked this birthday card for me (and carefully added the glasses by hand). Cute!

Also arriving on my birthday was this little hair-story:

Tight Perm:
If you get a tight enough perm, she told me,
it's almost as good as a face lift.
But she had worked around a lot
of toxic chemicals in the 60's,
so I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

by Brian Andreas . . .
"telling people about a better way of seeing."

"Tight Perm," showed up as my "Story of the Day." and immediately brought to mind a recent discussion with my curly - haired friend Eileen about a hair "relaxing" treatment called the Brazilian Blowout; she is also the one who said ad hairenum, which I stole for my title! Because of our natural curl, we have both been receiving numerous suggestions to try the scary - sounding "Brazilian Blowout," because it will make us shinier, save on styling time, and give us a "more professional" look. But she says, "No! It's fun being curly girls! Curls are purty! And our products have clever names like Be Curly, Bed Head, Control Freak, Deva Curl, and Mixed Chicks."

Repressing natural curl: why do we do it? In my last post (scroll down to read Scary Hair), I described a few fictional characters who struggle between accepting, changing, and apologizing for their natural curl. In real life, I myself have been known to straighten and oppress my hair upon occasion; but Eileen is adamant when it comes to the implements of hair torture, e.g., giant rollers (that was the old days), flat irons, and so forth: "I will not do it!" And her opinion of the Brazilian: "I think it's the botox of hair!"

See the connection here?
Tight perm = face lift,
Brazilian blowout = botox!

I know there is truth in Eileen's observation that behind the desire for fake straight hair lies the troublesome issue of conforming to "the rules of mainstream white beauty" (Anne Lamott's phrase). Not to mention various other issues of acceptance and celebration, surrender and control, prejudice, aesthetics, and personal insecurity. In Traveling Mercies, Lamott describes her first - hand experience with extremely curly hair:

"Can you imagine the hopelessness of trying to live a spiritual life when you're secretly looking up at the skies not for illumination or direction but to gauge, miserably the odds of rain? Can you imagine how discouraging it was for me to live in fear of weather, of drizzle or downpour? . . . Obviously, when you really want this [spiritual] companionship and confidence but you're worried about your bangs shrinking up like fern fronds, you've got a problem on your hands."

Lamott recounts the liberating scene in Shawshank Redemption when Andy stands in the pouring rain with his arms outstretched. She confesses, " . . . if I were the prisoner being baptized by the torrential rain, half my mind would be on how much my bangs were going to shrink up after they dried." Ultimately Lamott concludes that "it would be an act of both triumph and surrender to give up trying to have straighter hair."

Sure you want to have the right priorities and keep your mind on higher things, but you also have to live down the prejudiced notions: "good children have shiny combed hair, while bad children, poor children, loser kids, have bushy hair"; the unkind remarks: "did you you stick your finger in a light socket"; even racist insults in Anne's case, because, though fair in color, the texture of her "crazy hair crown," tends toward wiry and kinky -- making it perfect for the cool dreads that she now wears. I admire her soul - searching explanation of making the switch to this new style:

"First of all, I felt it was presumptuous to appropriate a black style for my own liberation. But mostly when I thought about having dreadlocks, I felt afraid and disloyal. Dreadlocks would be a way of saying I was no longer going to play by the rules of mainstream white beauty. It meant that I was not longer going to even try and blend. It was a way of saying that I know what kind of hair I have, I know what it looks like, and I am going to stop trying to pretend it's different than that. That I was going to celebrate instead" (all quotations are from Traveling Mercies, 6 - 13, 229 - 37).

Anne Lamott

Alice Walker

Interestingly, both Anne Lamott and Alice Walker cite over-investment in haircare as an impediment to spiritual liberation. In Walker's terrific essay, "Oppressed Hair," she explains why accepting your hair on its own terms is crucial to a larger sense of self-acceptance and personal growth. She personifies her hair in the most delightful way: "I discovered my hair's willfulness, so like my own! I saw that my friend hair, given its own life, had a sense of humor. I discovered I liked it. . . . I would call up my friends around the country to report on its antics."

She describes her realization, practically an epiphany "that in my physical self there remained one last barrier to my spiritual liberation, at least in the present phase: my hair. Not my friend hair itself, for I quickly understood that it was innocent. It was the way I related to it that was the problem. I was always thinking about it. So much so that if my spirit had been a balloon eager to soar away and merge with the infinite, my hair would be the rock that anchored it to Earth. I realized that there was no hope of continuing my spiritual development, no hope of future growth of my soul, no hope of really being able to stare at the Universe and forget myself entirely in the staring (one of the purest joys!) if I still remained chained to thoughts about my hair."

Well, it requires thoughtfulness and fortitude to break those chains! However, if there's anyone who can put the issue into perspective, it's these two admirable women: wise Alice Walker who asks if we can ever achieve equality as long as woman aspire to look another way than what they are: light instead of dark, tan instead of pale, blonde instead of brunette, straight instead of curly; and honest Anne Lamott who points out that surrender is not all bad: "giving into all those things we can't control," letting go of "balance and decorum," befriending our hair.

Complete Picture from which above detail is taken,
face of Alexa Wilding, 1868

Original Version, face of Fanny Cornforth, 1867Also by Rossetti

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Scary Hair


"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in our hair."
~~ Mixed ~ Up Shakespeare ~~
Moon & Stars Garden Mosaic by Ben McCartney, at age 12 (2002)


Gathering Electrons
This hair gathers electrons
from the atmosphere & uses it
to perpetuate new ideas about
hair's role in the history
of civilization.

by Brian Andreas . . .
"telling people about a better way of seeing."

Go to the StoryPeople website and you'll notice that an appreciative reader named Becky has nearly taken the words right out of my mouth:

"This must have been written by someone who has natural curly hair like me! This is the story of my life... every day is a bad hair day... but only if you let 'them' dictate what beauty is: long, straight hair on a stick thin body! I prefer to let my curls express their own beauty!" [ellipses in original]

I know just what Becky means about "them" and their dictates. Most recently it was the television show, Arrested Development. I had the ill-timed fortune of sitting down to watch right at the part where they start making fun of the girl with glasses and frizzy hair. Writers seem to love that tired cliche, but I don't. Besides, it's such old material, it's not even funny, especially if you happen to have glasses and frizzy hair. Remember Princess Diaries? Anne Hathaway is "beautiful" when she puts in her contacts and straightens her hair but "ugly" with her curly hair & glasses. Now why is that?

What a treat when "Gathering Electrons" turned up as my Story of the Day! It seems that I have been telling hair stories for as long as I can remember. I could go on and on upon the topic and often do. Even my Royal Wedding tribute was a story about my hair:

See "Royal Hair" on the Quotidian Kit

Scary Hair / Scary Glasses !
In this picture from college days, my twin brother Bruce says that I have "Scary Hair." We also have fun describing an earlier photograph, from 8th grade [sorry, I don't have a copy] in which he appears to have his arm around my shoulder but is in fact suppressing my springy hair behind my back! My friend Eve, blessed with a texture similar to mine, refers to this as our "Easter Grass Hair."

Just last summer, my husband Gerry and I were out in the garden checking out our raspberries, and I mentioned that the mosquitoes didn't seem as bad as they had the night before. In reference to the fact that after swimming I had allowed my hair to air - dry in its naturally unruly fashion, i.e., pretty much standing straight out from my head, Gerry responded: "Maybe they're scared of your hair!" Now that really made me laugh.

I got a similar laugh out of the young heroine in the memoir Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets and Growing up in the 1970s by Margaret Sartor. I enjoyed the fact that she has crazy frizzy hair like mine! On 2 November 1976, she writes in her diary, "Jimmy Carter was elected president and Daddy said he won because it was such a beautiful day all over the South. This would seem to suggest a connection between the presidency of the United States and the frizziness of my hair" (198). This reminds me of the boy at my high school graduation (a day of high humidity) who said, "Kitti, your hair looks like the Wrath of God." Gee, thanks! But, really, I took it as a compliment!

Margaret Atwood
Novelist, poet and playwright
And it's not just me and Margaret Sartor; there are numerous literary connections! When I met Margaret Atwood back in the early 80s, in addition to discussing her novels, we shared stories of how people kept mistaking our natural curl for fake and asking us where we got our hair permed. Alice Walker and Anne Lamott have written at length about their naturally curly hair. Even understated Emily Dickinson wrote: "My hair is bold like the chestnut burr." And remember Shakespeare's Dark Lady: "Dark wires grow on her head" (Sonnet 130). Sounds like natural frizz to me!

More recently, take The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, in which two pen-pals describe themselves to each other before meeting for the first time. Isobel warns Juliet: "I do not have a pleasing appearance. . . . my hair is wild and will not stay tamped down." Isobel has seen a photograph of Juliet and observes: "It must have been a windy day because your curls are blowing all about." Juliet responds: "It wasn't a windy day; my hair always looks that way. Naturally curly hair is a curse, and don't ever let anyone tell you different" (53, 117 - 18).

And then there's The Help, which I'm sure many of you have read in the past few months. Along with all the weighty social and personal conflicts with which the various characters are struggling, there is also Skeeter's relentless quest, urged on by her beauty - conscious mother, for smooth straight hair. With her naturally curly / frizzy hair, she is considered less lovely, taken less seriously. Thus she willingly subjects herself to the "Magic Soft & Silky Shinalator," complete with "Miracle Straightening Cap," (127 - 28). By the end, however, "Her hair's long without no spray on it. The weight of it's worked out the curl and frizz" (461). That also sounds like magic to me, something that might not really work for most people in real life, but still the message is clear: Skeeter has made a choice against convention and repression. She has decided in favor of her own individuality. No more fake straight hair.

The symbolism works differently for Liv, the main character of Jennifer Belle's lovable, sarcastic novel High Maintenance. Whereas Skeeter's long, untended hair represents her independence, Liv's rebirth is symbolized by going from curly to straight, with a little professional assistance. The title -- High Maintenance -- refers not so much to emotional neediness as it does to the condo fees that go along with the properties that Liv sells in her job as a New York City realtor. At the very end of the novel, the phrase describes Liv's newly styled hair: "With my new keys in my pocket, I stopped in at Tortolla to have Tom do my hair. He blew it out straight for the first time. My long black wavy hair became . . . straight and Japanese looking . . . I loved it. I sat beaming in the chair. 'I always want my hair like this.'" Tom warns her how difficult it will be to maintain this look, how costly and time - consuming: "It's way too high maintenance for you," he concludes. But Liv is determined: "I want high - maintenance hair!" Not because she wants to be dependent upon Tom or the dictates of hair fashion; but because she wants to shape her own destiny: "I can handle it" (335).

These are just a few of the many electrons I have already gathered from the atmosphere for perpetuating new ideas about the role of hair in literature.

More to come . . .
Anne Lamott

Alice Walker

Post - Swim Easter GrassFrizzy Hair and Glasses (and Beaumont)
My real hair: somewhere in between
the Wrath of God and Fake Straight

P.S. My advice for the coming summer: if you have to choose between straight hair & swimming, don't fight the curl: CHOOSE SWIMMING!