A lifetime of curly hair woes

Sunday, September 7, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:00 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Have you ever heard a man compliment another man on his hair?

“Hey, Ralph. Love the new do.”

Women, on the other hand, love to critique each other’s hair arrangement.

Comments like, “I just loved your hair before you had it cut,” or, “Have you finally decided to stop coloring your hair and look your age?” can destroy my natural good humor.

I have spent my life trying to change and redirect my hair.

Born into a family that was third-generation Italian on one side and second-generation German on the other, I had a 50-50 chance of having coal black curly hair or thick light brown to blond straight hair. I have two sisters; one was blessed with beautiful black curls, the other was born with golden hair that grew straight as straw. Just my luck, I got a curly mass of boring brown. Of course, all three of us bemoaned our fate.

Every Christmas my straight-haired sister and I received a “Tony” home perm kit from our aunt whose husband owned a drug store. (I guess my aunt thought my youngest sister had enough curl — she always got a neat present.)

Every year we would try to hide the small square boxes before our mother had time to “fix” our hair. She always found them, and on a miserable Saturday before school started back, she would administer the perms.

I can still remember the horrible stench of the “curling” solution. Mother would wind the tiny pink rods as tightly as possible around the hair. She would also leave the solution on just a little longer than prescribed “to make sure” the perm took. And did it ever — at least on my hair. My straight-haired sister would cry because once the rods were removed her hair would fall with nary a curve. Mine on the other hand looked like a Brillo pad. The extra time the hair was left in the roller burned the ends and they snapped off. After a round of tears, I washed and rewashed my hair pulling it as hard as I could to straighten the tight curls. Next I’d roll my hair on huge metal cylinders. When I removed the rollers my hair would spring back into the tiny curls. Throughout January, I was known as “fuzzy top.”

I never went to a beauty parlor back then so my hair was trimmed by my mother who refused to cut it shorter than shoulder length. The day after I graduated from high school, I had my hair cut short by a professional.

Ask any woman to prioritize the important people in her life and her hairdresser will appear in the top 10. They know the power they wield. I show up early for my appointments, remember to compliment them and always leave an appropriate tip. But sometimes they go too far.

I once had a self-anointed “artist” who styled my hair HIS way depending on his mood. Usually the result was excellent. Then, during one of my mid-life crises, I decided to grow my hair long, forgetting momentarily all the pain I had endured in my youth. At first he was reluctant. Then HE decided I could let it grow. As it grew it curled. He decided I needed a “reverse” perm — one that would straighten my hair. It worked, but he had to straighten my hair every month. Then one day, when my hair had reached my shoulders, he said, “I’m tired of this look.” And with that he grabbed a big hunk of hair and lopped off 5 inches to right above my ears!

I couldn’t believe it! I canceled all my standing appointments and went in search of another beautician. The search was painful. I’d been with him for almost a decade. It was like breaking up with a boyfriend.

I found another stylist who did a fabulous job. That affair lasted another eight years until recently when he became sick and had to quit the business.

I’ve decided that I become too attached. All I want now is a stylist who knows how to cut hair. I have but one request: Don’t mess with my bangs. What part of “mess with” don’t they understand? Nothing is worse than short fringe dotting my forehead.

Watching my hair being styled by someone new can be excruciating. At first I’m patient — no two people style alike. As I watch, I notice that the hair is being pushed the wrong way. “Wait!” I want to scream, “I part my hair on the other side!” But I remain silent. I hold my hands so as not to reach up and change the direction.

Then I start to squirm. What takes only 10 minutes seems like an hour. Then I start talking to myself, saying “I’ll just comb it out when I get to the car.” Too late! He sprays on a ton of lacquer to make sure it doesn’t move. I’ve learned the hard way not to schedule anything after my first hair appointment with a newbie. I have to go home and wash and style it myself.

If you have a comment or want a try at my hair please e-mail me at

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