There is a picture hanging on my A-moms bedroom wall of me when I am about eight-years-old. If you could see it you would be convinced that Madeleine Albright was my first-mother, I look just like her. My hair is a perfect copy of hers during the Clinton administration. My A-mom loves this picture. It was taken at now long closed portrait studio just down the street from the beauty shop where I got my first professional perm.
We didn’t have an appointment to have my picture taken that day, but Mom was so thrilled with my new look she convinced the woman who ran the studio to take my picture right there and then. This was a great victory for my mother in the war that she had waged on straight hair and she was going to have record of it.
The war on my locks started just as soon as I had any hair to speak of as far as I know. I cannot remember a time my mother was not entrenched in the battle. She was not a hairdresser, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her in her quest to make my hair “acceptable”.
Most of the memories I have of our first house are of the bathroom sink. I spent hours there having my hair washed with Breck shampoo, always twice, always followed by an icy rinse. Then being pulled up, half dizzy, to have my hair combed through with a rat tail comb, from the ends, ripping and pulling until my scalp ached.
Then into the kitchen chair, sitting there for hours, dripping with Dippity-Doo hair gel while Mom put in scratchy brush rollers, each with a pick into my scalp to hold it in place. A hair net was then tied around that whole mess and I was expected to sleep in those things. I couldn’t even lay me head down. It was absolute torture, like wearing a porcupine on your head.
In the morning came the “comb out”. I remember tears in my eyes when Mom would backcomb my hair, pull, bang, bang, bang. Then brush, rip, brush, and enough hairspray to glue my eyes closed. Mom would look and pat, pat pat, spray, spray, spray, then turn me around in the kitchen chair looking all the time, then spray spray spray. At last she’d tell me to go into the bathroom and look at my hair.
I didn’t realize that I looked like a four-year-old blond Ladybird Johnson then, but I did know it looked strange. The other little girls I knew had ponytails and pixie cuts, their hair flowed or fluffed, mine was hard and poufy. It was also prone to denting. It made Mom very mad if I dented my hair. She’d have to get the rat tail comb and hairspray out and fix it. I didn’t like that very much either.
At some point Mom decided the answer to my hair problems could be fixed with a perm. A home perm. As I said earlier, Mom wasn’t a hair dresser, well she wasn’t an instruction reader either. I sat there for hours while she tried to get my hair rolled up on the tiny pink plastic rods, the little papers falling to the floor, as she made disgusted noises. She finally decided to use Dippity-Doo to get my hair to stay on the rods. Not a good idea. I came out looking like a dandelion gone to seed. I got a pixie cut. I was thrilled. Mom was not.
As my hair grew out, the battles raged on. Rollers again, followed by a just slightly more successful home perm, think Rosanne Rosannadanna. Finally Mom had tired of fighting the battle on her own and called in the professionals. I got the first of what would be many Mom enforced beauty shop perms.
Getting the first perm was kind of fun, the hairdressers all made a fuss over me and I listened to them talk grown up talk. The woman that gave me the perm was much more gentle than Mom. When she had finished I did look different than when Mom did my hair. By this time I knew it wasn’t what I wanted my hair to look like, I wanted long straight hair like Lori Partridge, but it was nice to be the center of attention.
To say that Mom was thrilled doesn’t even begin to describe it. She just raved over how wonderful I looked. So it was off to the photo studio immediately and record of that day still hangs on her wall. It truly is one of Mom’s great triumphs. My hair looked exactly like she wanted it to for one afternoon. She was never able to duplicate the style again. After a few weeks of trying she gave up. I didn’t exactly have the hairstyle I wanted, but it beat the hell out of the hair helmet.