A word from my wife: Bad genes, bad hair.

24 Jun

Simone has fantastic hair—soft, silky bronze-colored curls that shine almost iridescent in the light—wild and sweet. My grandmother is glad. She often commented in Simone’s hairless infancy that Simone wouldn’t be really pretty until she had hair because, “A woman’s hair is her crowning glory.”

This is unfortunate news for me.

I had fantastic hair once, too. My curls never shimmered, they were coal black, but they were soft and sweet around my tiny face. I don’t remember having that fantastic hair.

All I remember is what came after—the difficult hair—thick, coarse, unwieldy, frizzy, not curly, not straight, not even wavy, just difficult. The summer I was twenty, a twelve year old said to me, “I’ve never seen a white person with hair like yours.” I decided to take it as a compliment until his follow-up comment, “You look like a witch.”

Starting in elementary school, I was envious of the girls with the straight, shiny, effortless hair. In an unfortunate testament to my poor self-esteem, I still envy those shiny-haired girls, as my friend Sherina and I called them in college. As a kid, I cherished the moment of emerging from the pool or shower when my temporarily lank locks would hang straight down my back, sleek, straight, and shiny for a few blissful minutes, before they would spring and gnarl and frizz into inevitable disaster once again.

Lots of people have difficult hair, though, unfortunately for me, I didn’t meet many of them until I went to college. Difficult hair’s not so bad if you know how to manage it. When I was ten and my hair blossomed into full-fledged insanity, I did not know how to manage it. Neither did my mom. My mom did not have difficult hair. Nor did she ever, as multiple family members have helpfully informed me, have an awkward phase. (subtext: You did. We’re not sure that it’s over yet. Does it count as a phase if it lasts for more than 20 years?)

My mom knew nothing of products or fancy haircuts. My brother and I both got our haircut in the basement of the local mall. Without fail, I left in tears.

My solution for a few years was to tame my hair—through water, hairspray, preadolescent grit, a high scalp pain tolerance, and neon scrunchies—into the most ridiculous ponytails, high on my head, or, worse yet, off to one side, a hairdo my dad fondly remembers as “The Pump.”

As I entered adolescence and the early 90s, I gave up the high ponytail, by then irredeemably unfashionable, and abandoned myself to permanent mushroom head.

I blamed my parents for my hair. Not because they didn’t know how to deal with it—I didn’t even know there was such a thing as dealing with it—but because they had given me this hair, through bad luck and bad genes. I have a vivid memory of sweltering summer day, impossible conditions for my hair, standing in the mirror of the downstairs bathroom at my parents’ old house trying in vain to tamp down an untamable mass of hair with handfuls of water from the sink. I screamed at my Dad, yanking at my hair like a toddler in the throes of a tantrum (I must have been 11 or 12), “I hate my hair! I hate it! And I hate you!”

After a senior year high school yearbook photo where I appeared in a halo of frizz, I managed to figure out a few tricks—longer hair was less puffy, smelly pomade glopped my black locks into submission. I’ve even had several decent hair days over the past thirteen years, always carefully recorded for posterity. And, embarrassingly, I do cherish their memory.

I would have liked to have given my daughter the good hair genes I always wished I’d had. Somehow, though, I managed to marry a man who has more difficult hair than I do. (I suppose I thought I was making up for that with his tall genes, but it turns out that Simone got my short genes. Nature’s kind of a bitch.) This does not bode well for the fate of Simone’s hair. Unlike my mother, when Simone’s hair goes rogue, I will be prepared—armed with products, a real hair stylist, and lots of advice (which she will both ignore and resent if she takes after me).

Ben always says that looks don’t matter. Alas, they matter so much less when you look good.


5 Responses to “A word from my wife: Bad genes, bad hair.”

  1. Mike June 24, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    Beth, your very last sentiment there is spot-on.

    I never knew you had such issues as a child (and, apparently, even now). I always thought your hair was brilliant though. Full, thick and wavy. Mine was also like that for the first 25 years or so.

    Now I can only dream…

  2. Kathryn June 25, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    There is nothing sweeter than baby curls! Of course with my straight hair I was always jealous of people with curly hair… I also feel like i dont know what to do wirh mine. Now I don’t worry much about hair. Glad you will be prepared for Simone! I’m sure she will appreciate it. And I think your hair looks good 🙂

  3. ellen June 26, 2011 at 4:03 am #

    I feel like I could have written this piece — except that it was written so well… What I mean is, I appreciate the hair struggle. Fiona, too, has these sweet, soft curls — for now, anyway (wait for puberty) — except for that little patch on the back of her head that used to be bald but now consists mostly of small dreads — I like to think it’s just because of how she moves her head on her car seat… Alas, I am excited about having a girl with curly hair because at least I know that I won’t try to “straighten” it (my mom, whom I love, started straightening my hair in 2nd grade, and it wasn’t even frizzy yet — a misguided move, in my opinion, but not malicious). I hope Fiona likes her hair much sooner than I finally started to like mine; that shift really helped with my self-image. I also hope that it helps her like herself much sooner than I began to even consider the idea…

    I really don’t want to pass on my neuroses to my daughter!!

  4. Laura June 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    Agree about being prepared. As a curly haired kid, I didn’t learn much about hair from my straight hair sister because mine didn’t do like hers. Just always try to talk her out of bangs. They inevitably turn to horns in the humidity… Love the story!

  5. Keith July 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    I was a witness to a lot of angst towards curly hair from from 2 of my sisters. I do think it is a teenage thing really. My oldest son, Jonathan hair went curly after puberty. My words of encouragement was that he had my father’s hair. My father, Simone’s great grandfather was nicknamed Burrhead. At this point in my life, I would take any hair and probably so would my oldest sister. My first visual impression of you was at Sean and Ellen’s wedding. I told Kathryn how exotic and beautiful your were, especially your hair. I have to admit I was almost staring. I guess perception is reality in the eye of the beholder, therefore we must live on different plains of consiciousness.

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