I quit washing my hair a year ago. It crossed my mind that my hair was rarely ever dirty, like when I did the Survivor Mud Run. Now THAT required shampoo. But beyond that I wondered, did my hair ever have actual dirt in it? I concluded not, and that was the end of washing my hair. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to go back to Farrah, as in Fawcett.
Farrah Fawcett and Dorothy Hamill were the first people I remember whose hair almost eclipsed any true claim to fame. Their hair set trends, and women were so inspired by the cuts of these stars that they changed their own. I remember a high school friend in 1976 who went to an upscale salon to get “The Wedge,” the official name of Hamill’s do.
I get the fascination with these women. They were young and beautiful, and with luxurious hair to match their accomplished lives, they were constantly photographed. So how do I fit in?
At 55, my hair is short, unwashed and gray, “salt and pepper” if I’m trying to sound not gray. Yet, I no longer leave home without the card of Susann LeRoy, the woman who cuts my hair. As soon as an unknown woman says, “Excuse me . . .” I know that’s my cue. I reach for my bag and before she asks the question I know is coming, I open the bag and produce Susann’s card.
Susann has been cutting my hair for over 25 years. A long time to be with the same stylist, and besides her clear talent for creating a great cut, a good part of what has kept us together is our mutual need to reinvent our respected art forms, and therefore, ourselves. I have a theory that women in particular get stuck in the era when they felt the most attractive, and thereby age themselves by sporting, for instances, “The Farrah” coiffure with the make-up to match. Susann would challenge me if I tried to go back to an earlier “me,” or God forbid, a dated icon.
I do not like taking care of my hair and have often considered shaving it off. Then I had the good-fortune-shampoo-epiphany, stopped washing it, and oddly enough, that’s when the adulation started. Is it because my hair now has more texture? More body? Or because it’s more manageable and I no longer have pesky fly-aways, like the old cream rinse commercials used to promise? I do rinse my hair every few days, have a handy scalp brush to give the old pate a scrub, and finish with a little conditioner. Still, my unwashed, gray hair is the target of so many admiring glances and inquires, that when I come home from The Box, Sandy always asks, “How many people fawned over your hair today?” followed by “Do they know you don’t wash it?”
The most peculiar aspect of the gray-curious is their questions around the origins of my color, or lack of, and the conviction it must be from a bottle. In a culture obsessed with restoring hair color to its former glory, I suppose it makes sense if you like the color of a middle-aged woman’s hair to conclude it must be colored:
“Excuse me . . . (I reach for my bag), but can you tell me who does your hair? (I open my bag). I just love the color and would like to have mine dyed too” (I close my bag and put it away.)
“I don’t dye my hair.”
“Oh, you’re soooo lucky!”
Madam. Listen to yourself. Gray means I’m getting old and losing the pigments in my hair. We dye hair to look young. Not old. Why would any one dye their hair gray?
My daughter is conscious of the intense interest in my hair and has waited patiently many times as I encourage some women to stop dying their hair; “Do it! Let it go gray,” and dissuaded others from trying to color it like mine; “Don’t do it! Let it go gray on its own.” Once the tables were turned and I stood by as an admirer asked Madison about her hair. Afterwards she turned to me in a moment of triumph: “Ha! They liked my hair color. The didn’t even mention you!”
One day while teaching I got tired of my bangs flopping in my face. I grabbed a clip, twirled my bangs and clipped them up at the base. This Up-Do, which is an oxymoron if you have short hair, looks like a quail from the side, and sometimes I call it “The Alfalfa.”
But it turns out this is not an original idea and there are those who have gone before me:
It’s not only women who scrutinize and comment on my hair. Yesterday I took the bus into downtown Seattle. As I got off, an older African American man, meaning mid-60’s, stepped off ahead of me. He turned and said, “Your hair is perfect, just perfect. But then, you know that!”
I just smiled and didn’t mention shampoo.