Three times in my life I’ve had misery-making haircuts, none at the hands of my newly retired, long-term stylist and friend, Lynette. Of those, only one was so horrifying that it made me cry and avoid mirrors for months.
We’ll come back to those. For most of my life I’ve leaned heavily toward “it’s hair and it’ll grow,” which is an easier attitude to have when your hair grows rapidly, as mine does.
I had to beg Mother for quite a while to get my long little-girl-blonde hair cut off at about 8. My fine-textured hair was very hot – I spent as much time as possible outside – and it matted like crazy, which led to many screaming (me) and yelling (Mother) detangling sessions.
Most of the time my hair was in a (to my mind) Barbie-like ponytail anyway, a ponytail so tight it raised my eyebrows (good thing, since my bangs were so short) and made my eyes hurt, so I didn’t see why it shouldn’t just be lopped off at the rubber band.
Mother finally relented, and in one fell swoop, I went from little-girl-blonde to light golden-brown – and a tomboy haircut. Not particularly cute, but liberating. I liked it and didn’t care what anyone else thought.
For the beginning of the fourth grade, though, I got a soft perm and I loved it. LOVED it. To my 9-year-old mind, it looked like bubble-cut Barbie’s hair (the photographic evidence proves otherwise).
From that point on, I did care about my hair and considered it a fashion statement and part of my personality.
Fast-forward to first bad-haircut – more of a blip on the radar, a miscommunication on my part that I got over quickly. My barbershop shag, which I adored, was still hot on my neck, but when I requested it a bit shorter for the summer, meaning shorter from the bottom, Keith, the barber, took that as shorter on the top.
Yikes, I had spikes, at least for a few unhappy teenage days. It wasn’t a bad haircut at all, just not what I had in mind.
The second bad experience still makes me nauseated when I think about it. I was 21 and growing out the layers of the aforementioned shag. When I mentioned wanting to get the longer hair bobbed to speed up the evening process, my friend Susie’s older sister talked me into visiting her stylist, who did “great” work, especially with short hair.
I’ve mentally blocked the stylist’s name and where the shop was. I think Suzy’s sister even made the appointment for me.
I do know I carefully explained and demonstrated with my hands what I wanted, which was to have the longer, shaggier layers bobbed off and the remaining layers barely trimmed. I didn’t take a photo, but I could see in my mind exactly what the outcome should be.
The stylist had other ideas, and when she finally let me see myself in the mirror, I had the one hairdo I hated above all others – a Dorothy Hamill wedge. My stomach sank. I’m sure my eyes filled with tears, but I didn’t let her see me cry.
I made it to the car before the tears flowed. The cut was so hideous and I was so horrified that my then-husband, not normally known for his tact, was actually kind and consoling. He didn’t like it either but stressed that it would grow.
And it did, but months went by before I quit using a hand mirror to put on makeup and dodging any reflection I passed. There’s no photographic evidence of my disaster, but in case you can’t remember the hairdo, this picture of Dorothy Hamill is the ultimate example. It worked for her.
I was so traumatized by the wedge that my hair grew for years and years and reverted to the long ponytail of old.
Random thought: Student teaching in the mid-1980s, for some bizarre reason, required cutting long hair or wearing it in a bun. I kept mine medium long and got a white-girl ’fro perm, a compromise. In retrospect, yuck.
A few years later, the third – and so far, last – bad haircut happened when I was asked to be part of a teacher makeover feature in a local newspaper. The results were bad, but laughably so.
It was short and it was blonde – something I did notagree to. The high-fashion stylist begged to put in a few “sun-kissed” highlights. I relented and ended up platinum. Couldn’t dredge up a photo in the attic (I did get dusty looking for one), but it resembled this Joey Heatherton hairdo, minus the Joey Heatherton.
(I thought she was just the coolest thing ever when I was about 10. So did my daddy. And so did John, over in Washington state. But I never wanted her hairdo. Not once.)
By then I was in my 30s and, though I truly hated it, I knew it wasn’t the end of the world. But some of my students really took it hard, one in particular.
Wade was one of the smartest students I ever taught; I adored him and he me. Wade went on to be co-editor of the school paper and we spent lots of years together. He was a sophomore at this point and had an already receding hairline.
I’d warned my students that I agreed to the makeover and to be prepared for a drastic change, but nothing could prepare anyone for the result. A few thought they had a sub at first glance, a very few liked it and most were shocked, but Wade was truly upset and raised hell in front of the entire class.
“Wade, I told you they’d be cutting my hair,” I started.
“Yeah, but I didn’t know you’d be getting a toupee!” he countered. “That’s what it looks like.”
What struck me as funny struck most of the class as unconscionable, and they lit into Wade.
“At least she’s not going bald like you are!”
“Rude!! You’re going to need a toupee by the time you’re 30.”
Wade’s face reddened on that one. He was touchy about his hairline.
“It’s OK, Wade,” I told him consolingly. “I’ll let you borrow mine.”
The whole class laughed, and we moved past the bad hairdo.
When I went slinking back to Lynette a few weeks later, she took me back with open arms and a slight scolding, then turned my hair disaster to a dark honey blonde, which enabled me to grow it back out without looking as much like a garage-band reject.