Thursday, April 12, 2012

the mental health indicator theory (or, the evolution of my self development by hairstyles, or i found a lot of really old pictures and spent some time scanning them)

yesterday i announced that i was trying to kick a bout of the funk with a trip to the hairstylist. as the afternoon passed, i realized i was really putting a lot of stock into the idea that my mood and general mental outlook can be correlated with the degree to which i love my hairstyle. which reminded me of an article i once read about some economic theorists who posit that the economic stability of the nation is directly correlated to the height of women's heels. anyway, i got to thinking about stages of my life and hairstyles.

i emerged from the salon last night feeling polished and uplifted. maybe it was the five minute scalp massage or the complimentary chai tea or that moroccan oil liz puts in my hair, but i did feel much better. can you help but feel on the top of your game, a little spring in your step as you're walking to your car fresh from a haircut & color? unless some scissors went terribly awry or something, i think the answer to that is most definitely not.

there was a stage in my life when i didn't think about this.

it seems that from about a year or two on, i had very blonde fine hair, shoulder length-ish and i was big on accessorizing with headbands or clips. i'm not the family historian (that would be my sister, cathy), but i do vaguely recall these hot pink clip-on-earrings and headband set. i believe there was not much to my hair maintenance routine at this point, but sometime after this picture was taken (approximately three years later), i read a laura ingalls wilder book where she discussed brushing her hair 100 strokes a day. i do recall going through a period where i wanted to be laura. and so i think i added that to my beauty routine.

in third grade, my sister and i got perms for our big debut as flower girls in our uncle's wedding. [insert picture of two little blonde girls with kinky spiral curls. also, insert some very large plastic pink glasses on the older girl.] after my aunt's wedding, i can imagine life went back to normal and a depressive haze settled over my young world. gone were the bridesmaid luncheons and invitations to showers, and to assuage my grief, i chopped off all my hair. it was very short. [insert picture of awkward looking third grader with very short, very wavy hair with very large plastic pink glasses. but at least the girl had her ears pierced, so she was pretty cool, afterall.]

from third grade on, i let my hair grow. and grow.

in sixth grade it fell below my very flat chest. i can barely remember this. this was the longest my hair has ever been and probably will ever be. which is also fitting because i hit a very cool peak in sixth grade. i had a brand new baby brother which ultimately elevated me to a very cool status among my friends. i was on the junior high volleyball team and my coach was very cool. there was some talk that she may have been a (gasp!) lesbian and so the whole experience was dramatic and terribly exciting.

on a whim one evening, i decided i wanted my hair cut. and my mom snipped my very long locks until they just barely grazed my shoulders. this was a defining moment as this decision would shape my hair length for the next 15+ years of my life.

sometimes my mom would french braid my hair. i was always struck with awe at her ability to create such a stunning masterpiece that i'd run my fingers over and admire in the bathroom mirror. i'd try to recreate the look on the heads of barbies or the tails of my little ponies, but could never quite do it. i longed to be older and more sophisticated and dreamed of the day i would have the skills to master a perfect french braid.

me, in 7th grade with my youngest brother. sidenote: does jack look exactly like my brother or what?! uncanny.

around this time, my mom was pretty good friends with a woman from our church named hope. hope and her husband had three kids, two boys and a girl, who was a few years younger than me. we used to spend some good times with this family and we'd often have them over for superbowl sunday parties. and because we were never too interested in watching the game, the girls would gather in our upstairs bathroom where hope would let me play salon and curl her blonde hair. she ate the whole experience right up, playing along while i primped and preened her locks. very complimentary at the end, she assured me of my hairstyling skills and i felt confident that if i so chose it, i had a long career awaiting me at super cuts or some other equally plush establishment.

my hair hovered around my neckline for a few years and then right before the beginning of my junior year of high school, i did something drastic.

(no, i didn't always dress so awkwardly; i believe both of these photos were taken during homecoming week despite the fact that my friend appears to be dressed quite normally beside me... hmmm) yes, i cut all my hair off. it was a very liberating experience in which i decided i owned the world. i remember standing on the top of a cliff in quetico, canada, running my fingers through my very short hair thinking how cool it was that all i needed was a dab of gel and my hair looked awesome. john later ruined a lot of the fond memories of this time in my life by snickering, jeering and referring to it as my "ellen degeneres" phase. however, even his adolescent jokes cannot marr the memory of this fabulous haircut. this haircut changed my life. no, really. you get a haircut like this and you can't just go about your business. YOU HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE. you have to sit in the smoking section at perkins and discuss "confederacy of dunces" and other important literary masterpieces. you have to drink cups and cups of coffee and pretend you are an intellectual. you have to spend a few hours picking out the most divine tank tops at reality check. you have to attend ani difranco concerts and lament over unrequited love. in short, this was the perfect hairstyle to announce to the world, "hey, i am a teenager. i am filled with angst."

ironically enough, this haircut marked the beginning of an era in which getting my hair did was a real event for me and my friends. we were in a very close and committed relationship with our hairstylist, brooke, and we loyally followed her from salon to salon as she maneuvered her budding career. we brought snacks and to-go coffees to her chair, everyone gathered around, chatting and discussing coloring schemes, brooke's boyfriend-of-the-moment or her crazy antics. we laughed with her as she shared tales of her OWI charge (late one night, she had driven down loras blvd. and instead of stopping at the red lights, paused, then proceeded on through.) she was just, like, so, like cool.

(brooke, teaching the art of highlighting to a friend)

brooke encouraged us to be daring, to try new things. there was always a new product or a new technique she wanted to try and we were an over-eager audience. not plagued by the indecision or THOUGHTFULNESS that comes with age, we switched lengths, colors or styles on a whim.

i let my hair grow a little senior year of high school. it was blonde until brooke thought it should be red. as graduation approached and i thought about starting a new era of my life at college, i agreed.

the red hair phase circa 2002.

i went off to college and discovered the straightener. it would become an essential part of my daily beauty routine. wake up - shake off hangover - shower - heat damage hair with blow dryer - sizzle hair with straightener - repeat.

it was blonde and straight. except if it was raining, and i had to walk across campus to a party or something, and then it could be curly.

one night during sophomore year of college tragedy struck one of the girls bathrooms in hessler hall. naively, i had trusted my friend to highlight my hair. and when we rinsed out the color, i noticed the horribly dark root line she had failed to disguise. oh, and the fact that instead of highlighting, she had really painted the paris hilton blonde all over my head. except for those random parts she had missed. it looked horrible. we each took a shot of vodka, hidden in the recesses of her room in our alcohol-free dorm hall for just these sorts of occasions, while i made a frantic call to a salon back home. they could fit me in, and it was decided that i would go home that weekend to remedy the disaster.

that night, however, there was some partying to do.

(photo from that night. horrible dye-job somewhat concealed. NOT PICTURED: the friend who considered herself the hair stylist)

to this day, i can't quite understand why i didn't just find a perfectly capable hair stylist in the city where i went to school. which was larger than the "city" where my parents lived. it might have had something to do with another horror that had happened freshman year at supercuts. some lady had given me quite a butchering and my friends and i got drunk and left terrible messages on the answering machine at supercuts inquiring if this woman was actually a licensed stylist.

(and, AFTER hometown stylist fixed the dye job)

after college, i headed off to law school where i spent the first semester remembering how to do real work again. (i had battled a very serious case of senioritis the year before.) i was much too busy to worry much about my hair, so it grew longer than it had in recent years.

the length factor was good because all of the sudden, i found myself engaged and planning a wedding. in the year leading up the wedding, i did very little to my hair, as i hemmed and hawed over the right do for the big day.

(the night before my wedding, very blonde.)

as soon as we got back from our honeymoon, i went in for my new married 'do. i had a new name, lots of new housewares to fill my cupboards, and thus, i needed a new look. i had discovered a new salon and a new hair stylist i loved.

i loved this cut. i loved this time in my life. i think back on it very fondly. you know that time when you can't really believe you're married, and all your new towels look pristine, and your apartment is spotlessly clean, and you have free time and you go out for drinks with friends on a whim? yeah, that's what this haircut represents. a carefree time in the lull before real life started.

the next spring, i graduated from law school and started studying for the bar. i was a ball of nerves, wondering if i'd ever make it through the next few months. what if i failed? what if i couldn't force myself to stop watching law & order SVU marathons and actually study? one day i walked into my hair stylist and did something drastic. because when it's go time, you shed some locks, get your highlighters out and start memorizing future interests.

it was shaved in the back and stacked, and it gave me the kick in the pants i needed to get going on bar studying. or at least it helped me believe that.

then i did the modified kate gosselin....

and then i got pregnant, had a falling out with the hair stylist i thought i loved in dubuque (this may or may not have been induced by raging early pregnancy hormones), subsequently entered into several dysfunctional relationships with several other area stylists until finally settling on my current gal, liz. the end.

in between, i met zach, a fabulous guy who pampered me while i was pregnant, rubbed my belly, gave me long scalp massages and served me sparkling water like it was dom perignon. i would have remained a customer had he not also been very, very slow. i just didn't have the time commitment he required, but i have often lamented the end of our time together.

(one of zach's looks)

my first solo outing after giving birth (at 4 days post-partum) was to the salon. my friend whitney was getting married that weekend and i was not going to be frumpy new mom. black circles under my eyes? check. spanx to hold in all that extra stomach skin? check. new do? check check check!

as i think back over the past few years, i see how intricately new hairstyles help determine how i'm feeling. if i need a motivator, a cut and color will do. if i want to celebrate or pamper myself, i book a salon appointment. if i'm in a funk? i call my girl. i guess you can chalk this one up: hair appt.: 1; funk: 0.


  1. Is Zach, the Zach that used to work at Fringe on Main St.? Because if so, I had a brief hair affair with him also until he moved to the West end, and I didn't feel like he was worth the drive.

  2. Yes, that would be the Zach. I just couldn't do 4 hour cut/colors. But otherwise, I really enjoyed him. :)

  3. It is scary how similar our hairstyles have been over the years! Although some might say this is because we both have fine, blonde hair and a similar face shape, I choose to believe it's because we were meant to be friends. I hope the new hair keeps you feeling sassy ;)