“Blessed” with a head of bewildering curls at birth, Pat McDermott feels vindicated when hair that stands up and fights back makes a comeback.
WHEN WERE YOU born, Nanny?”
“Quite a long time ago in a land far away.”
“Was it so long ago there were dragons?”
“It was. There were dragons with huge wings and sharp claws, and they breathed fire.”
“Don’t mind Nanny,” said my big daughter to her little daughter. “She’s pulling your leg.”
“Nanny wouldn’t pull my leg,” Sweet Pea replied, indignantly. “But dragons do, don’t they, Nanny! Dragons pull off your legs and then they eat them!” she said, cheerfully.
Captain Smiley, three years younger and with less experience of the leg-pulling and eating habits of dragons, looked worried. I broke out the chocolate biscuits and turned on Play School before the afternoon deteriorated further.
Details of my birth, like those of most people my age, are sketchy. No delivery room videos, no blow-by-blow accounts, no birth coaches, not even a black and white photo.
Mum said I was a grumpy little thing, but I had the good fortune to be born with “naturally curly” hair. Two things might explain why
I was grumpy. My older, smarter sister had the best bedroom and I was stuck with a head of uncontrollable “naturally curly” hair. I was five minutes old and already
I knew my best friends would be a hair dryer and a straightening iron.
Early baby photos show me staring unhappily from under a tangled mass of brown curls. At 14 months old, I have the worried look of someone praying the hairdresser can fit them in today.
A later photo shows me with long ringlets. I remember a teary hour before my sixth birthday, being told, “If you just stood still, it wouldn’t hurt so much!”.
By the time I was 14, almost everybody in Teen Girl World had straight, glossy blonde hair. The only ones who didn’t had straight, glossy brown hair. A great deal of hair tossing went on in class. Sitting immediately behind one of these girls was dangerous. Yet, despite the risk, there were a lot of volunteers among the boys.
And then there was me. Of course, I practised tossing in the privacy of my bedroom, but it’s hard when your hair is a mass of short, dishevelled curls. A boy I liked (a lot) told me I looked like I read poetry. That kept me going for almost a year.
On hot summer days, I had to minimise the time my hair and I were outside together. After five minutes, little tendrils curled sneakily along the back of my neck. After 10 minutes, the fringe I sticky-taped to my forehead the night before curled up like a roller door.
When I complained, my mother pointed to her friends, 12 women who gossiped side by side under the dryers at the local beauty parlour every Saturday morning. “Every one of those ladies would pay good money to have hair like yours!” Sadly, attempts to sell mine came to nothing.
I slept on giant rollers with bristles sharp enough to scrub pots, followed by 20 years of blow-drying until my arms ached and five more years learning to use a straightening iron without burning my fingers or setting fire to a towel. Imagine my delight, then, when I read a few weeks ago in the Style section of The New York Times that “natural curls are slowly making their way back into fashion”.
I wasn’t happy about the “slow” part, but that’s the thing about curly hair – it has its own timetable. I couldn’t wait to tell the MOTH (the Man of the House). “Disheveled and bouncy is in. Curly hair is loud and has a lot to say,” I read to him. “It’s officially okay to have hair that stands up and fights back.”
“Sounds like you all right,” said the MOTH, stroking his beard. I know he won’t mind me telling you the hairs on his head are now so scarce the kids have given each one a name.
I’m off to feed the dragons, curls bouncing.
On hot summer days, I had to minimise the time my hair and I were outside together.