My step-mom, Nichole, was a high school teacher for many years, and I remember that she liked to give her students a quirky writing assignment on the first day of school: “Give me the history of your hair,” she’d say. “Can we draw pictures?” they all wanted to know. “Sure, but the main thing is an essay.”
Nichole said the boys, especially the boys, always got into it. They had mohawks and buzz cuts and sideburns. They had slicked back Hollywood hair and spiky rock star hair and ponytails. And most notable of all, they had “product.”
“Boys care about their hair?” I asked her, my voice full of disbelief.
“Oh, you just wait, honey, until you have boys.”
Tall and Short care about their hair as much as I care about lima beans, which is to say: not much. They both entered the world bald, but those tender naked heads soon grew coverings of soft fluff, like stray pieces of cotton blown in from a field.
I washed that delicate hair with the special baby shampoo and inhaled its baby perfection scent. As the hair filled in, longer and thicker, there I was with the camera to chronicle every haircut and every style change (bangs brushed straight down, or bangs brushed back). For a long time, I was a huge fan of the “surfer/ skateboarder” haircut so popular in California: long on top, short in the back. This is the basic cut my fairly compliant elementary-school-aged sons still sport.
My own diary of hair is not much different: straight long blond with bangs, straight long blond without bangs, a brief dalliance with red, chop off all the damage from the red, grow it out, straight long blond with bangs again. My hair is my defining feature, the signature of my appearance. People see me from a distance and know that it’s me: “There’s MOV,” “Are you sure it’s her?” “Of course—look at the hair.”
Hairdressers try to persuade me to go for a chic bob, but I always resist. “This is my look,” I say, as if hair were a non-negotiable. I walk out of the salon looking the exact same way as when I went in: straight long blond hair with bangs.
A friend stops me in the parking lot. “MOV, your hair looks great! Is something different?”
No, nothing’s changed. I just paid $75 to look like me.