We all have them. Perhaps it’s with a person: a parent, a sibling, someone else. Perhaps it’s with something in your environment: the heat, snow, food. Or it could be with some aspect of your body. I’ve got several of the last one, luckily nothing in my constitution has stimulated me to do anything dire to alter those associations.
Recently, my relationship with my hair arose yet again. My neighbor commented several times that from a distance she could make me out because of my distinct (white and curly) hair! I know her remark was complimentary, nevertheless my hackles rose.
My hair, admired by many, is thick and curly, has often been the bane of my existence. For a girl growing up in the 1950s with a budget conscious mother, very few hairdressers knew what to do with curly hair. Mom took me to a neighborhood barber who hacked away at it with a razor. The shop, with a huge glass window, was on the main shopping street of our Jewish neighborhood. You can imagine how I felt when my classmates passing by saw me – a girl – the barbershop! My hair was always short, curling naturally into a girlish style.
Then there was the time, maybe in junior high school (we did not call it middle school). And, yes in seventh grade I rode my bike to school – another cause for horrors! I had let my hair grow. It never went past my shoulders because of its unmanageable nature. I also graduated to rollers in failed attempts to style and tame my thick, black locks.
One day after many attempts to get it on top of my head in the best of ballerina’s buns, I gave up. Enough. Time to get it cut off. No more “long” hair. Mom took me to whatever the beauty school was nearby and I went back to a shorter haircut.
By the time I made it to college in the late 60s I gave up even further at finding someone who could cut curly hair. I cut it myself and kept it pretty short. As a dance major, I was dancing daily and my hair was somewhat of an afro – an early Jewfro! Friends said I resembled a recruit from the Israeli army in my first passport photo.
Time passed. When I spent a year in Greece doing research, the community ladies made me (well, strongly encouraged me) to go to the local hairdresser to get my decidedly unstylish hair looking better. Mrs. Katina was no stranger to Greek curly hair and she worked wonders. I was finally at ease with my longtime friend/foe.
More time passed and I started turning grey. Why? My mom’s hair only lost its color after she passed fifty; I was still in my thirties. I started coloring it at home. That was ok until I got tired of the fuss and let it go its way in its natural state. Poor daughter was embarrassed by her salt and pepper, grey-haired mother who was at least ten years older than her classmate’s parents. I’m not sure what she wanted more – a sibling or a dark-haired mother; for a while she asked for both. I delivered neither.
Next was my first sojourn with breast cancer (BC). That’s when the love/hate relationship really sinks in. Your hair comes out in some cases, something you’ve struggled with for those many years from youth to adulthood. One day in the shower, it started falling out in handfuls. You love it, you’re losing it. You hate, it’s going away. What a roller coaster of emotions close behind the roller coaster of losing a breast: a mastectomy. If that’s not bad enough, on the first day of chemotherapy, I was fired from my job: a job-ectomy on top of an impending mastectomy. I was awash with emotions and did not know which was took precedence!
The bright side (if you can say that) of losing hair with cancer is that you lose it all! No more unruly eyebrows to worry about. No more shaving legs, for a while. Need I mention, no more pesky chinnies and the dear mustache that has plagued me since elementary school (memories of “mustache girl”). If you can imagine it, on my second round with the dreaded BC about 17 years later I was disappointed not to be poisoned with the equally dreaded chemo – I was looking forward to this side benefit!
One thing at a time. I recovered from both cancer adventures. I got other jobs. And my curly hair grew back over time. Now, it’s just as full, just a curly, moderately short (I have a Vidal Sassoon trained haircutter who takes care of me) and almost all silver: I prefer silver to grey or white. Somedays it’s really lovely and fun; other days it’s beyond unmanageable. And that’s how my neighbor recognizes me, by my hair. You can love it and you can hate it.
We all have some level of love-hate relationships. Believe it or not, most of the time I laugh about my hair, even through the unmanageable days. Yes, a visit to my hairdresser was the only non-grocery expedition made during this time of seclusion. Speaking of that, during this time of ebb and flow frustration, try to be patient with yourself and those around you. As my mother frequently said in her best voice of resignation – “This, too, shall pass.”