The Stresses of Tresses

CherriThe Terrible, Horrible, Awful, No Good, Very Bad Hair Day

by Cherri Ellis


By the third day, the situation was grave. I knew when I left the salon there was potential trouble, but I passed it off as a styling error. I had indeed asked for a blunt cut, but then the dear man had blown the ends under into shocking uniformity. It was eerily perfect, like the ends of my hair were magnetically attracted to my neck. The next morning, I woke up full of bravado and went for an edgy, modern look, flat ironing it stick-straight. The result was not unlike uncooked spaghetti. Twice, people at worked commented, “Oh! You cut your hair!” but then, without being able to take their eyes off me, didn’t follow up with another comment. This third morning, I went into the bathroom armed with a blow dryer and a round brush, and I ended up with the exact silhouette of the Atomic Mushroom Cloud. I couldn’t put it in a ponytail fast enough. By day four, it was official: Whereas I could previously garner a compliment provided it was qualified with “for her age,” I now looked like an old…Dutch…gay…man.

On the day of The Bad Haircut, I had planned myself a sort of Self Magazine Restorative day, so the nail salon was next. I upgraded to a gel manicure because they are bulletproof. They cost more, but you can dig up a dead body without your polish chipping. I chose a perfect pale dove grey, which I thought sounded feminine and classic.  It dried on the purplish side of grey, suggesting that my extremities were not getting enough oxygen. I made a mental note to stay away from defibrillators, lest some helpful bystander put the paddles on me.

I drove my helmet-hair self, complete with icy hands, to a Jazzercise class. I had signed up for it out of nostalgia, because I used to love it in the ’90s when I was rocking the unitard. It is a more dance-based workout than yoga or Pilates, and I remembered it as a fun way to work up a sweat. The ages of the women in the room ranged from 18 to around 75, which made for an interesting blend when we were all shaking our groove things to Beyoncé. As I danced, a woman who was easily 25 years older than me touched my arm. “Are you alright?” she yelled over the music. “Your face is so red!” Since I wasn’t working that hard, I wondered if I had added rosacea or hypertension to my chopped-off hair and cyanotic nails.

After class, I looked in my rearview mirror. Even flushed with endorphins, I could tell it was not good. My hair looked…awkward. It was not really short enough, but not really long enough. It was the capri pant of haircuts.

I Googled how fast hair grows, which is half an inch a month, or roughly six inches a year. Our hair is designed to replace itself. Why, then, does it hold such power? To even say, “I’m having a bad hair day” connotes a pervasive-yet-temporary state of dire unhappiness, as if the quality of one’s hairdo determines the quality of life itself. It is a universal vanity not confined to ethnicity, era, age, or gender.

In Mozart’s day, men of culture wouldn’t be seen without a curled and frosted wig plopped atop their heads. Women in that era often rode to parties with their heads sticking out of the window because their elaborate up-dos would not fit inside their carriages. I haven’t seen my natural color in 25 years, and I have no intention of investigating what it might be. Blondes will go almost any length to stay blonde. In ancient Rome, women used pigeon dung to dye their hair. In Renaissance Venice, the popular thing was horse urine. And you thought perm solution smelled bad.

I have since found a terrific stylist who has the added benefit of resembling Leonardo DiCaprio. My friends helped me through my Bad Hair Tragedy with wine and denial; well, all except for my friend Kate. When I whined to her that I looked like an old, gay Dutch man, she responded, “That’s not true!” Squeezing my arm, she finished: “You don’t look Dutch.”

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