Empowered by natural curls and natural gray

Hair. On good hair days, yeah, my hair is the golden lasso to my Wonder Woman, the purr to my Catwoman (Eartha Kitt’s rendition, please), the hurricane to my Storm. You get it — a superpower. I am rarely able to actually wield these superpowers. Most days my hair is my arch enemy. It generally resists my efforts to complement my face, any coifed volume wilts quickly, curls succumb to maddening friz with the slightest humidity, and once those wiry gray strands that started sprouting in my late 30s, well, those must be covered up.

Before I talk about how a recent conference and a new hairstylist trained me to unleash my hair superpowers, allow me to take you down memory lane to relive my personal timeline of hair nightmares:

Over the spring break of 5th grade, I didn’t brush my long, straight hair at all, and the night before returning to school, my dad had to hack the giant bird’s nest of a knot — for real, the size of a bird’s actual nest — from the back of my head and then somehow come up with a reasonable shape for the rest of my hair to cover that up. My dad was not a hairstylist. Thankfully there are no pictures.

School pic 1976
Pre-bird’s nest knot hack job.

I suppose it was good fortune that I soon took up figure skating, inspired by Dorothy Hamill’s gold medal performances, and of course, I made a mistaken attempt to also try out her famous hair style. Let’s compare:

dorothy-hamill-1976-olympics 4
Who remembers the Short & Sassy commercial?

Go ahead and hover over these sad versions for my additional commentary:

Alright, moving on. I spent a full hour every morning throughout high school attempting to replicate this iconic hairstyle:

Farrah Fawcett hair
Farrah Fawcett’s “wings” circa 1976-77

At that time I had naturally straight hair with a couple of freakish cowlicks on either side of my widow’s peak, so I began the vicious cycle of repeated body waves to stand a chance of achieving this goal hair that other girls at school seemed to be able to pull off with ease.

Again, hover, there’s nothing I can do to change the past:

Calculating the cumulative sleep lost over four years of high school mornings to achieve the look below, in my senior picture:

School pic Farrah senior
# of hot rollers in my set: 20.   # of sleep hours lost: 720.   # of girls with this hairstyle in my graduating class of 176 girls: 119.   Success in conforming: PRICELESS.

Then in college, there was The Mullet Fiasco; you know what to do:

Fast forward to the time soon after the birth of my eldest son, my second baby. Out of nowhere, my hair changed to very curly. It was my dream come true! My hairdresser at the time said that she had a few clients who had this happen to them because of hormonal changes, but I liked to console myself at the time by thinking my recently-deceased dad had reached out from beyond the grave and given me his curls.

Moving on from my morbid magical thinking, the long curls came in very handy for flamenco performance:

Encuentro duet curls
Promo photo with my future husband and my great newly naturally curly hair for Encuentro Spanish Dance Theatre, borrowed for Teresa y Los Preferidos’ annual Fuego Español performances, May, 2000.

Not so much at a recent trip to SeaWorld San Diego:

SeaWorld skyride curls
An unfortunate blond highlight-copper lowlight combination that I let grow out wildly because I just didn’t know what to do with this level of damage.

I had been using a cream henna to turn my gray hairs copper since my late thirties, reasoning that there weren’t that many grays anyway, it made my hair look highlighted, and there was no way I could possibly perform as a gray-haired woman. Over the last couple of years, I became slave to the maintenance of blond highlights and red lowlights — the above-captured San Diego moment happened in the middle of this time, when I had seriously slacked off on the maintenance schedule.

There were some truly lovely hair moments, but, to be honest, those moments were mainly on the days that my ever-changing hairdressers did the color, cut my hair, and invariably blew it straight. I occasionally blew it straight at home, but that eventually became too tiresome. And the roots maintenance, ugh, I hated the expense, the time… the expense…

Glendale color straight hair5.3.17
A gorgeous but high-maintenance cut, color, and damage repair that cost me 260 bucks – not including tip. Over it.

Why was I fighting the curls and waves that I had desperately wanted during my whole adolescence and early adulthood, now that they had been gifted to me? As for the color, when would I finally have enough gray to simply go elegantly silver?

Two key events happened that would empower me to embrace a hair shape that specifically enhances curls and to be willing to display however much gray I have at the moment: finding Paula Houston, owner at Salon Mix in Atwater Village, Los Angeles, and attending a conference for work in Louisville, KY.

At my first cut and demi-gloss appointment at Salon Mix, Paula sat in front of me to talk to my face — not from behind my chair to talk to my image in the mirror — for 20 full minutes to get to know me and my lifestyle before planning what to do with my hair. My full yelp review includes all the details; the result is the hairstyle in my profile pic for this blog. The cut worked with my curls and made them easy to handle. The demi-gloss blended my grays with my natural color and then faded away after about 5 weeks, as planned.

It was just at the time that the demi-gloss effect was fading that I was sent to a conference in Louisville. It was a rather tech- and data-oriented conference, and I was charged with learning as much as possible about this particular software platform so that I could return and work on getting faculty buy-in across campus. It was a steep learning curve.

I was surrounded by smart, friendly, accepting, gracious people — attendees and presenters alike — and networking was a pleasure. I was struck by the women in their 40s through 60s. Every single one was professional and pulled together, yet their “looks” weren’t about being “pretty.” Their personal styles were about being professional, pulled together, and fully themselves. I saw a lot of very curly styles and a lot of straight styles, and most of them seemed to go with their natural flow. Many, many women were showing their grays to varying degrees. This was clearly not about “letting themselves go.” This was about letting themselves shine. By working with their hair, they could simply let it be all day, and focus on what their brains knew about their areas of expertise and what they were accomplishing professionally as well as what others’ brains knew about their areas of expertise and what others were accomplishing professionally.

Being in this atmosphere for a whole week changed me deeply. I returned home knowing that at my next haircut, already scheduled for 2 1/2 weeks later, I would go for an even easier-to-manage shape and, yes, allow my grays to reveal themselves in their full glory. Paula’s handiwork (including her photo shoot skills):

Salon Mix curls top 8.29.18
A crown of salt and pepper curls…
Salon Mix curls profile 8.29.18
…in an easy, edgy shape.
Salon Mix card

Hair superpowers — unleashed:

The wisdom of the golden lasso of truth — natural grays shining.

The sex appeal of Eartha Kitt’s purrrring Catwoman — the sassy, chunked shape that reveals some neck.

The abandon of one of Storm’s hurricanes — natural curls let loose to do as they wish in the context of a skillful haircut.

What hair superpowers are you ready to unleash? Would love to see your photos posted below!

A midlife oasis from the vantage point of this Quinquagen.



PS Nope, I don’t receive anything from Salon Mix for mentioning them in this posting — it’s all about the love that I feel for Paula and her team.

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