Once upon a time, shortly before beginning the eighth grade, your Webmistress decided it was time for a new haircut.
At the time, I had stick-straight dirty blonde hair that hung about four inches below my shoulders, was parted in the middle, and did absolutely nothing to enhance my appearance. I felt my final year of junior high school warranted an updated look, so, armed with a clipping from Seventeen magazine featuring a perky model with a lovely, swingy, below-the-shoulder angled cut, I accompanied my mother to her hairdresser, eager to begin my transformation. And it was there that I first heard the devastating refrain I was destined to hear again and again throughout the rest of my hairstyling days:
"Your hair will never hold that style. It's too thin and fine."
Moved by my obvious disappointment and, no doubt, eager to salvage his tip, the hairdresser offered a compromise suggestion: a short, feathery, flipped-back style currently sported by Kate Jackson on Charlie's Angels and rapidly gaining favor among the Connecticut pre-teen preppy set.
Hair Mistake #1: Going to my mother's hairdresser in the first place.
Hair Mistake #2: Taking his suggestion.
The infamous feathered cut, hideously unattractive even by Seventies standards, was a colossal disaster for all who attempted it. It was just never quite able to stand up to the laws of physics. The feathering stayed in place for exactly six seconds after the blow dry, until, rapidly undone by motion, wind, and gravity, it became progressively straighter, flatter, and even more hideously unattractive. In a feeble effort to defy the elements, I spent the next two years covered from head to toe with a pungent film of dried Aqua Net, my face, neck, and hands mottled with curling iron burns. Humidity became my mortal enemy, and I lived in such abject terror of rainy days I began feigning illness whenever the weathercaster predicted showers. Eventually, I threw in the proverbial terrycloth towel and told everyone I had decided to grow my hair out.
That was back in 1976. I've been "growing it out" ever since.
I have tried a number of growing-out strategies over the past thirty years, each less effective than the one before. First I went the home-perm route, adding several layers of frizz to my feathers and sculpting the whole mass into a frightening-looking triangular configuration that bore more than a passing resemblance to a fuzzy Christmas tree yet somehow carried me through the remainder of the decade.
The eighties, however, were a friend to me and my fine-haired ilk. The hairstyling industry again declared war on gravity, this time rolling out an arsenal of industrial-strength gels, mousses, and hairsprays specifically designed to mold uncooperative tresses into towering architectural wonders. The best part? We were told to use it all! As much as we could, as often as we could! It was practically the law! I embraced the dictum with gusto, coating not only my hair but everything in its vicinity with a coating of thick goo so powerful I once actually pulled up two ceramic tiles while trying to un-stick my feet from my bathroom floor.
By the mid-nineties, however, I realized I was losing the battle. So my hair and I came to a grudging understanding: it was never going to do what I wanted it to do, so I agreed to stop trying to torture it into unnatural shapes provided it remained relatively smooth and behaved as best it could. For the next several years, we co-existed in cautious détente, lapsing into the occasional skirmish over the circumference of my new Velcro rollers or the texture of a particular styling gel, but, for the most part, maintaining the peace with an air of resigned tranquility, aided and abetted by a self-employment arrangement that kept me out of the public eye and thus in no need of an elaborate coiffure.
The treaty was breached, however, when my new work assignment mandated a return to a more professional appearance. My hair rebelled against the new indignity of the hot roller, writhing and twisting into the exact opposite of what I wanted it to do. Even worse, it chose to misbehave at the worst possible moments—as I headed into a business meeting, for example, or stepped out on the town for an after-work cocktail. Invariably, we ended the workday in bitter opposition, with the hair plastered against my scalp or stuffed into a plastic clip—stringy, lifeless, and wholly unattractive.
Given that I spend a substantial portion of my monthly income maintaining my hair color, I expressed my frustration to my expensive hair stylist on a regular basis. "It's not fair!" I griped one Saturday morning as she patiently slathered highlights over the foils that jutted out around my head. "I go to all this trouble and expense and no one ever sees it!"
She spun me around in my chair and looked at me critically. "You should think about extensions," she said. "If you want to add length and texture, extensions are the way to go."
I paused. "Aren't they horrendously expensive?"
She replied in the affirmative and we let the matter drop. But I've been going to her for several years now, and she understands my psyche well enough now to know that, when it comes to improving the appearance of my hair, I never let anything drop for good.
I thought about the extensions all night, torturing myself with arguments pro and con. Practically, it was a frivolous expense that I was in no position to assume. Aesthetically, however…
Eventually, I hit upon the idea of creating the same kind of Return on Investment analysis I used to use to convince reluctant executives to buy my overpriced vaporware. Hell, it worked then! Armed with a calculator, a sheet of paper, and several Number Two pencils, I sat down at my kitchen table and began crunching the numbers:
X=dollars spent on hair color
Y=dollars spent on haircuts
X + Y = total monthly hair expenditure
Z=number of days spent with hair stuffed into unattractive clip as a result of not being able
to do anything with it
Z x (X + Y) = (-M) (opportunity cost of keeping hair pulled back in unattractive clip which
negates entire aesthetic value of cut and color)
Q=cost of hair extensions
(X + Y) = Q (cost of 1 set of hair extensions roughly equals cost of 1 haircut and 1 hair coloring)
Q + (-M) = 0
Voila! I break even! The hair extensions cost me nothing!
Not only that, I realized, scribbling excitedly, if the hair extensions lasted three months, as promised…Q + (-M3)...I would actually be tripling my investment in my cut and color! I'd make money on the deal!*
The truth was, it was a foregone conclusion the moment I started thinking about it. Thus, it was no surprise to either my hair stylist or me when I reappeared in her chair the following weekend, credit card in hand, ready to roll.
Two hours later and several hundred dollars more in debt (a tiny drop in very large bucket in which I'm already drowning), I walked out of the expensive hair salon with a full head of shimmering coppery tresses—so artfully layered and so expertly blended with my real hair people actually complimented me on my haircut, never realizing that it was actually longer and thicker and much faker than they could have ever possibly known.
Now that every day is a good hair day, I feel as though I have been accepted into an exclusive club which has its own means of communicating with the rest of the world. There's no need to even speak anymore—if you happen to run into me on the street, my hair will tell you everything you need to know about how to approach me:
Straight and severe: Watch out—I have places to go and things to do and I am in no mood to screw around. Better steer clear.
Curled under, framing face: Today is a happy day. Walk on up and say hello! Let's grab a Frappuccino!
Full cascading shoulder curls: I'm feeling whimsical. How about taking me antiquing?
Simple head toss (left): You may approach.
Simple head toss (right): You may approach…with caution.
Backhanded side flip: You are dismissed.
One-sided ear tuck: I am listening very intently to you.
Double-sided ear tuck: I am focused on the task at hand. Do not disturb.
Double-handed pull-back followed by slow release and heavy sigh: I have been working very hard and could use a nice shoulder massage.
I have not yet been able to factor the above communication benefits into my cost analysis. But I figure I have about two and a half more months to work it out. In the meantime, however, I take my greatest satisfaction in the knowledge that I have, at least for now, reached the end of a thirty-year struggle in which I have emerged victorious.
And that, as the commercial goes? Is priceless.
*Did I mention I flunked algebra in high school? Twice.