"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 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!


  1. You know I've always like your scary hair and especially when it's shorter. It gives you a very Bohemian look and you would fit right in with any litarary group of the last century. I think having fluffy hair (for a woman) is an entrance requirement for that group. And have you ever known a woman who was happy with her natural hair. Some may like their eyes, their complexion, even their body but I've never met a woman who is happy with her natural hair. I'm sure there must be some antropological directive there but I just don't know what it is. Are female cats sad they don't have longer fur, silkier fur or such? With birds it's always the male which is more colorful so I think there must be some connection with females of all species.

  2. Peg, Thanks for all of these great ideas (and compliments)! I plan to write more . . .