My older sister guarded her gorgeous blonde locks with a pitchfork. My brother was already a dude.The younger sisters had the good fortune of being black. My mother gave their sweet, kinky curls one good look and settled on me. A meager middle child with just the right head of fine hair to butcher, she reasoned that even if I looked ridiculous, no one would notice. Plus, with four girls and only one son, this might have been an opportunity to balance out the family tree.
I couldn’t have known all of this, of course. I was five. So when my mom whisked me off to the fancy salon at JC Penney I was thrilled. A whole afternoon alone with my mother felt like a blue ribbon, a final acknowledgement that I not only existed but was, in fact, her very favorite. I spent the car ride twisting pink and purple threads, biting the tip between my teeth, before tying the knot and cementing this day with a token friendship bracelet.
Best Mom Forever and I arrived to the salon. My heart ballooned as I took in all the glory: a shiny place with twirling chairs and giant, magical combs swimming in jars of liquid bluer than the sky. I marvelled at the gleam of polished vinyl floors, the glow of Hollywood lightbulbs shining a halo around mirrors. I envisioned myself a short Reba McEntire once this hair heaven spilled its pretty on me. Stupid child.
It would take some minutes for the sparkling facade to crumble. My hopes fell to a pile of discarded hair that littered the floor beneath my feet. “Oh,” I heard my dreams break like glass, “Lab. Rat.” The stylist, who I’d hardly noticed amid the glitz and glamour was no angel of beauty. Her melting makeup warned that she’d been out the night before. Her black-smudged eyes were vacant, still at a bar somewhere on the sketchy side of town. I startled at the feeling of her rough hands forcing my chin to stillness. Prison hands, I thought. No way Reba would put up with this.
Itch crept down my scalp, spread down my neck- my neck!- newly buzzed and naked. I looked at myself beneath the Hollywood lights and just like that, I knew my mother didn’t love me. Through hiccups and tears I croaked, ” WHY DO YOU HATE ME?”. She bit her lip. I never did get an answer.
She will tell you it was a lovely look. She’d gotten the idea from a group of suspiciously masculine ladies who weight-lifted and jogged with her, and she insists they were all totally girly despite their interest in motorcycles. She just wouldn’t admit defeat. She pierced my ears and smocked and sewed and shoved a dress on my formerly feminine shell. I wandered through my fifth year of life desperate for a hiding place or a hat.
My brother teased, delighted in calling me Boy. All I could think to say was “I know you are, but what am I?, ” a comeback which had never before so cruelly failed me. Playing with Barbie dolls and neighborhood girls became something torturous, another chance for me to see just how far away and different I was from them. I mournfully watched them braid and curl and loop a happy finger through their luscious locks. I so desperately wanted in on all that sameness.
But growing is a blessed thing. I grew and grew and watched the Boy Phase inch further away as strands ran from roots. I learned to lavish in the sameness. I stood in a long line of cheerleaders, our bouncy ponytails swaying in spirit and unison. I made a point to get married beneath a beehive, marvellous mountains of teased hair piled atop my head.
Some might call it self-mutilation, a victim extending the cycle that first victimized her, even, when I hacked off my long, lady hair over the summer. It was much simpler than that. My head was hot. Sweat sticking hair across shoulders, I sat in a shiny salon, bit my lip, and watched my gender demons fall defeated to a floor covered in female fur. There I was, naked neck and proving that clothes don’t make the man, but hair sure can. I ran a hand over a bare shoulder and felt relieved and liberated with this break from the norm.
I’m the one in the necklace, jerks.
As friends gave surprised ooh’s and ah’s, I felt surprised, too. Boy hair grew to manhood, embraced the brotherhood and could finally feel the pleasure of watching ladies spray and iron and beat their do’s into submission. “Ugh, women,” I could chuckle with the bros and actually mean it. I saved enough money on shampoo to send my son to college. I got a stellar shoulder tan. Also important, I liked the way I looked regardless of what was deemed “in”. I wanted to tell that little boy me that it was okay to not fit the mold, that one day her short hair will be the trend, but by then she won’t even want what’s trendy. I would tell her all about sappy romantic movies and the anatomy of vaginas and all those other things that let us be ladies. We’d get to the part about period cramps, and she’d think for just a moment that the boy thing wasn’t such a bad deal.
I enjoyed a season of this feeling new and refreshingly different. Then Fall fell cold and with one mild compliment from a teenager I knew that this short hair session had run its course. “La-ove your hair. Pixie cuts are , like, so hot right now. Oh muh gawd, like Miley…,” she keeps talking . And here is a full circle. It took twenty years and two bouts of boy-dom for me to resent being one with the sameness.
Have you been accidentally trendy, or do you follow trends on purpose?
[writing prompt] a trend that you hate