Friday, May 24, 2013

Riff on Hair

I have three daughters, all of whom were born with a lot of hair. They have beautiful hair, unique each in their own way. And yet I can (and will) complain: the styles, the clips, the products, the ponies, the knots, the haircuts, the mommy-cuts, the bangs, the growing out of the bangs, the lost brushes and clips and hairbands, the washing and conditioning and brushing, her wishing her hair was longer or shorter or curlier or straighter or just any way other than how it is. So it is to be a girl with hair.

Man, I look at little boys and just see hours of reclaimed time, not thinking about or doing hair.

Of course, it's not all bad. I love braiding Ruby's wet, clean hair, as she sometimes asks me to do. I don't mind helping them take care of their hair and I do my best to help them look presentable.

But people fetishize hair. Because we are redheads, everywhere we go, people talk about our hair. Usually people are say nice things and we say thank you, and I whisper in the kids' ears: you're smart, too. I have--no shit--been asked if my kids' hair is real. (Um, no, we just spent hours in the salon having my three-year-old's hair dyed to look like this. Of course...) I've also been insulted by so-called compliments ("Did your hair used to look as lovely as hers?") Red hair is a curiosity, and in literature it's always been a curse (Anne of Green Gables hates hers). So it's a strange thing: the attention we redheads receive.

Once, when Josh and I were in our childless early twenties, we were walking briskly down upper Broadway when one of those street salespeople blocked our way. He pitched us with a loud declaration: "Look at this. A couple with terrific hair!"

"Aw, thanks stranger trying to sell me some expensive haircut that I don't want. You're so kind."

Annoying, sure, but perhaps less so than the street heckler who, a couple days ago, said, "Smile for me, Red," as I was coming out of the dentist, numb and grumpy from having had two fillings replaced (um, yes, as you may know, it's been a super week here). I didn't respond, but if I had, it would have been unfit for family media consumption.

As annoying as it is, to have an identifiable feature that gets noticed and remembered becomes inextricable from one's sense of self. I can't imagine losing my hair, as a friend with alopecia has. Who would I be? We want our daughters, and our selves, to be about so much more than how we look, and yet we are physical beings. Our bodies do matter. I found this out first-hand when I couldn't take the underhanded comments anymore, as Bella's bright, young tresses increasingly served as a painful contrast against my greying, dulling locks. I did something about it, and it made all the difference.

So it is to be a girl with hair.

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