Shampoo is not enough. There is always conditioner, toner, essence, oil, serum, balm, and after that, cream, wax, pomade, mousse, gel, shine drops, moisturizing mist. The difference between moisturizing mist and moisturizing spray is huge. To achieve rocker girl texture, use mist and then wax. To build height at our roots, use spray and then gel.
The first time we pick up the curling iron, we burn ourselves. A large red mark appears across our necks and, embarrassed, we say we ran neck first into a tree. Across the street where the school bus is supposed to pick us up, we spot another girl who has run into the same tree. We smile, wave.
The next time we pick up the curling iron, it goes better. We give each triumphant curl a name. The Shirley Temple. The Little Mermaid. The VS Angel. The Jesus Christ. Outside, our brothers threaten to karate chop down the doors with their puny legs. Impossible, we think and continue to curl. To achieve a perfect blowout, we buy an expensive tool called the Thermaluxe Ionic Dryer and then an expensive attachment called the Universal Diffuser. When put together the tool looks like something we would find in Star Wars or Star Trek or Star Whatever, something like the Nerf guns our brothers play with and when we look at this monstrosity, we don’t really want to point it at our heads, but a voice inside of us says, you want that supermodel look don’t you? You want volume don’t you? So we point it at our heads. We stand in the bathroom like this for years, and when we finally come out, our brothers’ puny legs have grown massive.
For every school dance, we peruse magazines and pick an elaborate mess to mimic. It requires a thousand bobby pins. Literally a thousand. Our mothers stand behind us and shove them in one by one until their fingers bleed. We are dismayed. Our elaborate mess looks nothing like the ones in the magazines. Well, too bad, our mothers say. They also say, if you had a prettier face this might have turned out better.
Our mothers fail to recognize—or perhaps recognize but ignore—that our face is also their face. Genetically this is true. Unless we are adopted.
Wait, are we adopted?
Yes, our mothers say, I found you hairless and naked under a bridge. I took you home and then nursed you back to life. Knowing this, you should really be doing my hair and not the other way around.
From them, we learn exactly what we don’t want to look like. We don’t want hair cut on a budget or hair that for as long as we can remember has not changed except in grayness. We don’t want that I- am-too-old-to-give-a-shit look or a bad sense of humor.
The trends to follow are infinite. Now Beyoncé’s body waves are in. Now Rachel’s hair is out. Now bobs, pixies, shags, page boys, crops, pompadours, and that Margaret Thatcher look (the modern bouffant) are coming back, but don’t do it just yet, wait for next season. In the meantime, know thy face shape. Study it. If heart shaped, then the long, graduated bob. If horse shaped, lament but try the layered shag. If square, or triangular, or abnormally shaped, do not do any of the above, do a shoulder length with sideswept bangs or do subtle layers or do a Mohawk. If oval, then feel blessed. This is the most coveted face shape of all and can handle anything, even the bowl cut. To part on the side or in the middle? The latter is considered edgier and that is appealing, but then we find that a hair part theory exists which states that artists and musicians part to the side, while only criminals part in the middle. Whenever, wherever, we watch for headlines like 11 products a girl cannot live without or 5 things that will make any girl’s day or 3 essentials a girl must keep in her purse, clutch, cross body, bucket bag, handbag, tote, or satchel at all times.
From sand bucket to bucket bag. We learn to carry a bucket bag.
The hair flip: an extreme moving or turning or snapping of our necks to the point of pain, such that our loose and airy tresses may fall over to one side, like the frond of a tropical plant. With each flip, we send in someone’s direction not just our desires to be seen but also the fragrances of our morning mist slash gel. They are all some version of this—lavender, citrus fruit, a new kind of ocean breeze.
(But when we finally go at an actual ocean we realize that smelling like ocean breeze is easy. All we need to do is dunk our heads into the water, which is free and not seventy-two dollars an ounce.)
You smell nice is one of the nicest compliments we like to hear. Although we do not always smell nice. There are some asinine tricks in the book, such as neutralize brassy hair with Kool-Aid, rejuvenate blonde hair with ketchup, wash hair with freshly beaten egg yolks. This is so asinine, we say while trying the last. We could be making spinach omelets, but instead are wasting these delicious yolks on our hair. Does dead protein need an omelet? Distracted, we turn the shower on far too hot, and in no time, it is difficult to separate what is scrambled egg, what is hair, what is scrambled-egg-encrusted hair. Sheepishly, we ask our sisters for help, and some of them are very helpful, sitting with us for hours to pick out the slimy bits, while others tell us the best way to negate the effects of scrambled eggs is to add in lots and lots of honey. If not honey, then try 80 percent cacao or tree sap. We listen. Afterward, we drag our feet to the nearest barber who calls himself Lou the Fade Doctor.
Our mothers shriek when they see us. If you weren’t pretty before you definitely are not anymore.
We can’t wait to get out of here.
And when we do, we think this is our chance to create the illusion that we did not just come from the middle of nowhere but are complex and not your traditional pale, freckled ginger or big-breasted blonde or mousey, petite brunette or Asian. It happens like this. At a bar, a club, at a perfectly respectable dinner party with friends, someone we adore, whom we wish would adore us back takes a strand of our yellow, brown, red, jet black and says wouldn’t it be nice if it were instead sun-kissed yellow or mahogany brown or copper red or blue-midnight black; and we think, yes it would be nice. Then immediately we go to the store for these colors. The entire process is an ordeal. Put color cape slash towel over shoulders. Put Vaseline slash Blistex on skin. Put on thick gloves. Then paint hair in sections. Then rinse hair in sections. Then dangle hair over bathtub or sink and in an Xtina Aguilera kind of way, fling hair back and say ah, you fantasy.
When we go back to the dinner party, he doesn’t even recognize us. Quiche? he asks, handing us a plate of quiche.
James age 25 says too many women wear their hair straight, and that’s nice but it’s also kind of boring. Miles 39 says I wouldn’t be attracted to a woman with super shiny, overdone hair. Zack 22 says it is both mysterious and fun when a girl covers one eye with her bangs, like a pirate. But out of one eye, we can’t see anything. We lose all depth perception. A common request is the longer the better. Something to hold onto when, etc.
So really they are imagining our hair as the reins of a horse. And yet interestingly the position is called doggy style.
Our preferred position is missionary. Here our hair is most artfully displayed and fans out around our heads like perfect rhombuses or half- moons. Did you know, we think while in this position making love, that while a rhombus is not square, a square is a rhombus? We think these thoughts because Miles 39 is not looking at our magnificent kaleido- scopic shapes but at the wall or our breasts.
He is hairier than we are. Like a rug? More like a rug plus a Siberian forest. But for whatever reason we think that this makes him a man, instead of the obvious other fact. When he leaves—they usually leave—we think it must have something to do with us. We are not wrong. Along with telling us that it has nothing to do with us, he tells us that while we are a great time, he is looking for someone who is an equally good time but not as shallow. Someone with a math PhD but is still a freak in the bed. We say, all right, that sounds realistic.
Hair tangles. Hence the need for a boar-bristled detangler brush in pink flamingo.
We remember Lou the Fade Doctor. Cut it all off. Everything. you sure, he asked, running a finger up and down the backs of our necks. He called each of us a fox and we were thrilled. It wasn’t that long ago that we thought a fox was a cuddly feral animal with an orange and white tail.
Oh you foxy lady.
Oh you saucy minx.
A laser hair removal ad: do you want to be a hairless pussy cat? Yes, we do. But there is always one of us who does not believe in professional help. She tries to wax down there herself, and it is so painful she can’t continue, so it grows back a patchy field. Hence why laser hair removal is a billion dollar industry.
Does it hurt? We say no. It just feels like someone is snapping a very hot rubber band against your skin in rapid succession. Beauty is a pain, and with each snap, think to yourself what Faustus said, and add to that one more ship being launched on your behalf.
There is always one of us who decides to stop shaving altogether. She is proud of herself, wearing green cargo shorts in the middle of winter (no mittens) and then reaching down to rub her wooly calves for warmth. We don’t understand. Why does woman empowerment also require you to look like a lumberjack? She doesn’t understand. Why would you want to be a hairless cat? It is because of women like us—like you—that she is doing what she is doing. She is trying to average us out.
Fine, we say. Average us out. See if we care.
When we are brunette, people take us seriously. They ask us serious questions, like what is the easiest way to get here, where is the nearest restroom, if possible grab me another venti soy latte. It is even better when the chestnut hue is paired with acrylic glasses. Some of us don’t even have lenses in the glasses, we just like to wear them at the tips of our noses, while reading books, waiting for lattes.
When we are blonde, more people come up to us and say hello. They don’t have questions but simply want to chat. Always about the weather. We must remind them of summer, of sun, and from behind, of a lemon popsicle that they would like to lick. A blonde Asian is even better. It is like meeting a popsicle dipped in almonds.
Who are we doing this for?
Do it for yourself, says the ad. But that is bullshit.
Good hair day. Bad hair day. Which is how the decades go.
Our mothers have not changed. Or they have changed a lot. They are still with us or they are not. If they are still with us, more often than not, they are tired and cold. They wear layers of wool hats and thick scarves round their necks. They have peach fuzz.
Mom, we say, let us give you a new look.
What’s wrong with my look? they snap back. It’s this look that raised you. But they come with us anyway. At the salon, they don’t want anything done to their hair. Nothing, they say, yet somehow we coax them into getting eyelash extensions as they don’t know what it is. They are curious. Delicately a strand of mink hair is glued to each individual lash. We talk them through it. The mink’s natural adaption to Siberian cold has resulted in longer, stronger, fluffier fur. No minks are hurt as they are meticulously cared for on free-range farms, the fur collected during peak shedding season by simply brushing or petting them. Our mothers snort. They say, that is absurd, who in the world would believe that? Of course the hair is plucked off one by one and the animals discarded. We are quiet. Well, we believed it. We are disturbed and more disturbed that our mothers are not disturbed. When the procedure is done, they touch their lashes lightly and say oh, as if they are donning a five-thousand-dollar coat.