“I stared at her black hair. It was shiny like the promises in magazines.”
— Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones
Every Sunday I do my hair. I can only do it once a week because it takes me so long. It takes me hours. It’s my secret and a whole process of its own. Almost like a relationship. You have to work really hard at it to keep things nice and tidy. Sometimes you want to cry and lay in the deep bottom of the ocean, left alone to wallow. I want new hair and I want it straight. This hair is a damn drama, as I see it in the mirror reflection. Everyone is busy watching the waves. I stay in the bottom, dwelling. My face assuming a morose tone, my eyes glassy like a dirty jar that has not washed nor dried properly. I have hair problems. These are some of my thoughts.
This dark sheen wasn’t born by itself. Consider being the rubbish collector of the entire city, only the city is your hair. It takes hours to get around the whole city. It takes hours for my hair to take this subdued, straight and limp direction. This is what I deem as attractive. It frames my oval tanned face attractively. It feels like it’s how it should be. My hair goes past my shoulders and it is straight now. It caresses my upper back and shoulders, like a tasseled cape. There is a slight wave but it is not well defined. It is a style that Isabelle Huppert might nod to. She is very chic. I think of her hair as lovely. Or Catherine Deneuve. She might never nod. She might only see the truth. And all of that I’m hiding.
My hair is a funny concoction of all kinds of hairs. It makes me sad that it is so much. It is so full of life. And death, these split ends. But then it is what it is, we can’t change these things. It is an mix of straight, wavy, curly, fuzzy and frizzy. Dark brown to go with my eyes.
I would rather spend hours drawing hedgehogs or stars on my legs or looking at inspirational quotes than to tend to it. I would rather have a whole ice cream melt in my hand. I would rather have a tomato sandwich and I bloody hate tomatoes, end them once and for all. I would rather be fellated by an expert four benign times. At the end of each week comes the time to renew myself.
I take myself to the shower, for half an hour, and soak it, soap it and moisturize it. I condition my hair until I deem its waves and curl a workable texture for what is to come. I have triple the hair of a normal person, so you see why it takes me half an hour in the bathing capsule. I always imagine it as the tunnel used in The Jetsons. Only I am not the dad and I cannot press a button for it to be over and done with in one minute. It takes half an hour instead. I massage my scalp roughly in between every layer of shampoo. I do four shampoo applications in total. With each, I feel my arms and fingertips subdue in energy. It is the same when I go to the hairdresser. When I begin, I am excited to get the dirt from scalp out, to rub as hard as I can. I am excited for the new possibilities after my hair is clean. I toil away at it. Halfway through the shampooing, the rhythm becomes lacking. This plane is slowly yet steadily crashing. Woooooooop. With each application the rubbing becomes a neon sign reading Demand. My arms give in and they tire. It is a workout. The orange L’Oreal shampoo sponsors this tour de force and witnesses me implode with exhaustion, my arms limp by the end of the experience. “Because you’re worth it”. When I step out of the shower the hair glues to my back and drops of water rapidly descend from my twiggy ends. Down through my lower back they drip, eventually catching the back of my upper legs. It’s almost a sin, because I feel too lazy at this point to dry any of this. I am tired. Water drips all over the back of me. I watch myself in the mirror. A mermaid in the fog.
I try to not make a mess all over the floor, something that is extremely difficult, and through the dark corridors of the house I make way to my room.
My hair has always been a concern of mine. It’s a deep source of insecurity. Most of the women of my whanau, in my mother’s side, have dark long straight hair. It is the hair of the Wahine!, says my mother. One of my older aunts has a very coarse bob, it’s grey now. Every time I see her she makes me smile. She refused to dye it. I think it’s pretty cool. She is the odd one out. The side of my mother is of Maori descent. All of my aunts are teachers and loud as hell. All gargantuan opinions of how the educational system in New Zealand ought to be run and modified. How Maori kids need to protected and need more nurturing, inside of school and in their own homes. By luck, my mother lives in a small town and is a gossiper. This is how she finds out what the kids are dealing with at home. Mum tells me some of the parents can’t keep up with their bills and the kids get sent to school without lunches. She and the other teachers take care of them. Mum makes them lemon poppy seed cake and they are the only ones who get it. They know why. So the women of our family are strong, caring and all a bit over the show. Through different variations all of us women of Te-Whanau-A-Apanui look similar, the dark features prominent in each. All dark strong hair.
When we moved to New Zealand, and during a trip to her hometown, Te Kaha, mum had blurted out that out me and my three sisters, I was the most Portuguese looking one. Nothing had ever made me so happy. Til this day I’m still not sure why.
We all had a resemblance, like the women from the Archipelago of the Azores. They have razor sharp noses and cheekbones, no chub in their face. The darkest and straightest of hair and on the fairer side of skin for the Portuguese. It’s an incredibly distinct look, an overload of regional senses. They are elves when placed in cities like Lisboa or Porto. Their accent something heinous to the Lisboetas and Portoenses. Everybody cusses or has a little giggle. It is ghastly but they are so beautiful. We don’t know how to respond. Very much the most exotic of Portuguese. Pop star Nelly Furtado has a classical Azorean look.
“The worse the hair, the better the man”
— John Green
What is a woman without her hair? Where is her pride? Her face maybe? Nothing was terribly wrong with my face, but my hair, my god, concerned me through my early teens because, to me, it decreased my fan base. Seriously man. No guy was pining or after a girl with wild fuzzy hair.
My older sister Cristina a rarity in the family, has light brown hair. Some might say it’s a mousey colour, I have always envied it. Her hair is not thick, but strong, full yet not volumous and a slight wave. She is the brunette Little Mermaid. We were always together and people assumed we were twins. The graffiti guys we hung out with outside of school called her J. Lo and chuckled. Idiots, I thought, leaning against the cool iron gates of my school. My eyes rolling like orbits. These guys know jack shit, I am going home. The hair was a massive asset to the J. Lo aesthetic, much like to the real J. Lo. My sister wasn’t much like her, but both of their hairs would classically be qualified as beautiful. So were their faces. There was a volume and a bounce and a certain ease. These guys didn’t appreciate me. In high school I had wavy, yet tightly pulled back hair with a side fringe. My fringe resembled the left side of Daria’s best friend Jane Lane, but a damn mess. It was wavy.
My first high school boyfriend was a popular guy in the alternative crowd at school. He was a punk, very shy. Seventeen. Wildly popular in his punk circle and with the skaters group. They all yelled out to him the halls and in the court. Before we met, I did not have to ask anyone who he was. There was usually an uproar following him. He had crazy hair. It was long, curly and it stuck out, it too had a way of its own. Hair sprouting like a wild child. He saw me by the lockers for the first time, before I owned my many straighteners. I saw him. I was fourteen.
With our wild hair, we became inseparable from that day.
I am in my room and remove the towel from my head. I massage my hair with the thick of the towel. I try to gather any possible fur of the fabric against my scalp and let it soak all of the water. I apply anti frizz cream that I bought at the hairdressers, some swanky shit the reception woman guaranteed would ease any crying prospects. I comb my long waves with the ivory lotion. It smells like fifty dollars. I blow dry the wildness out. My hair inflates like an airbag. The collision; my eyes witnessing the transformation.
I make to do lists in my head. I get very jealous of the movie stars that don’t have to do this to themselves. I wonder if they have the same problem as me. And how lucky they feel like they are. It must feel as dazzling as being one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story characters in the jazz age. Dolly Parton says “People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know, I’m never there.” and I try to not make myself here either.