I wanted to have hair like Jan Brady. Or Marcia. Or the Breck girl. Remember the Breck girl? The operative word was silky. Not curly. And blonde hair was most definitely preferable to brown. Even the Breck liquid was a warm golden color.
My hair fantasy was attached to a more potent, unconscious fantasy, that if I had hair like that, all my dreams would come true. Mom wouldn’t be so angry, and explosive. Dad would still be living with us. Other kids would admire me, and let me take the lead. I would be a real girl.
The situation was made worse, when mom cut all of our (3 girls) hair so short, that we were mistaken for boys. “Your sons are so adorable,” an old woman cooed one morning in Walgreen’s. Furious, and humiliated, I ran and hid. Stupid old lady.
The indignity, and injustice of the situation was compounded by the fact that my mother had long, thick, silky, black hair that went down to her butt. Mom was also a Mommy Dearest. So the short hair humiliation felt like one more form of abuse. “Just ignore it,” she’d say. Easy for her.
The short hair period came right after my parents separated. My father left. He couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe mom cut our hair in rage. Maybe it was just easier to manage. It didn’t matter. Dad was gone, and we were ugly, and dad was gone probably because we were ugly.
One way we remedied the situation was to play Miss America, The Olympics, or Movie. We’d put a dish towel on our head, affixed with a rubber band, and we’d swish and swirl, and flip, flip, flip! Wasn’t it marvelous to be us? “I would like to thank all the judges. I look forward to working for world peace.”
My 5th birthday was fast approaching, and I was asked by my father, what I would like. I decided a wig would be great. A long, blonde, STRAIGHT wig, please. No need to wrap it. The sooner I get it on, the better.
The day arrived, and my father came for his visit. I opened his present to find a brown, mid-length mullet style hair piece. “What in God’s name is this?”, I thought. “Honestly. Can’t you get anything right?” I hated it. It was worse than my own hair, but what’s a girl to do? I put in on and went outside to play.
I was playing with a few of the white kids still left in my neighborhood, Ramey and Daria. Ramey was the only white boy around. He lived in the house behind ours. He was kind of my boyfriend. I liked playing cars with him. Daria was the prettiest white girl on the block. She was kind, and calm, and protective. I couldn’t hate her, but I envied her. Physically perfect, and quietly confident, I felt like Raggedy Ann next to her, a hot mess.
So there I was in the mullet wig, which made matters worse, and I said, “Let’s play Movie”. I was the writer, the director, and the lead actress. A Streisand before my time. They shrugged okay. “You’re the dad,” I said to Ramey, “and we’re the daughters.”
“Dad,” I said, trying to flip my mullet in vain, “Which one of us do you think is prettier?”
Ramey was frozen. Even at 5, his male instinct told him he was in dangerous territory.
“It’s okay dad,” I said, feigning confidence, but sinking fast. “We’re old enough now. You can tell us.”
Poor Ramey Scannell reluctantly raised a straight arm in fatalistic fashion, and pointed to… Daria. I knew it. I was devastated, but not surprised. My dad had gotten the wrong wig.
Denial is survival.
Later in life, I moved to New York City, and found a salon that specialized in curly hair. I learned to appreciate my curls, and I learned to appreciate the importance of learning to appreciate myself.
It’s taken a long time, but I don’t compare myself to other people anymore, and I don’t give anyone else the power to dictate my value.
I can do that for myself.
But, I would like thank all the judges.
And I still look forward to working for world peace.