January 21st, 2007

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

In the interests of possibly providing useful information to other writers...

...and inspired in part by this, I'd like to chat on the subject of hair for a few moments.

(By the way, what Alice says. Word.)

By way of background - when I was a kid I had the thick straight hair which people would probably have died for. Perhaps it had the slightest faints wave to it, no more than that. Let us just say that there are photos of me where I had the classic pudding-bowl haircut, with a set of shiny straight well-behaved bangs to match.

Then I turned thirteen, and I don't know WHAT it was, puberty hormones or what, but my hair suddenly went SPROINGGGGG! overnight. And no, it didn't go CURLY. It went FRIZZY. From the root. Straight. Out. If I left it to dry naturally, I looked like I had been dragged backwards through a haystack in a hurricane. I actually did that every so often when we were back in Africa, and I somewhere I have this photograph that my father took of me from the back - my hair is butt-length, almost dry, frizzy like a furze bush and looking for all the world like a little Weeble character consisting mainly of hair whose eyes would poke out from behind that curtain of hair any moment and blink coyly at the observer.

And then, when I was more or less seventeen, I started going grey. If you have any grey hair whatsoever, you will know that grey hairs are wirier than normal hairs. Think about what THAT did to my frizzy head of hair.

Not content with being frizzy, my hair was also thick - and thus I had two choices: VERY short, where it would be cropped too short to make trouble, or LONG, where the sheer weight of it would make it behave. No "styles" for me. No layers. No bangs (we tried that - they curled and bounced and made me look like a demented poodle, and it was hell on wheels until they grew out). Things that would hold normal hair - combs, clips - would NOT. I have broken any number of plastic hair holders of all sorts, some with teeth which look like they were ready to take on DREADLOCKS. I've had clips fly off my head and bounce off walls in explosive decompression.

For a while, I used henna on my hair, with assistance - but if you've ever had truck with real henna you will know that it involves getting the damned thing to a consistency of oozing mud and plastering one's head with it and GOD help you trying to comb it out afterwards, and we won't even speak of the state of the bathroom when you're done. Also, when you get to beyond a certain percentage of grey, the henna, which doesn't penetrate the hair shaft but merely coats it, simply wraps the red around the white hair and the result is this freaky international orange which, trust me, is NOT a good look - so when I hit that percentage I had to have the residual henna stripped off my hair, and I hit the bottle, and became a suicide redhead (i.e. dyed by my own hand) for a number of years. That meant coping with obstinate roots, because red, of all dyes, seems to have an allergic reaction to scalp and flees its proximity as soon as possible - you have roots showing almost the third day after a red dye job.

I finally said, screw it, and grew it all out. I am currently completely silver-gray, but true to its nature my hair is threaded with strands of black, ash-brown, chestnut and something that might be honey blonde if looked at in a certain light. I am a Bengal Tiger.

Now, a few rules for those of you itching to bless your heroines with thick and/or curly hair, especially if you yourself are possessed of the kind of wonderful easy-care straight wash and wear hair, or are male.

1. That business about hair being heavy enough to tilt your heroine's little chin back? Believe it. I had to cut my nearly hip-length mane when I was twelve or so, partly because of that. Dry, my hair in a chignon was a definite weight on the back of my head. Wet, I could not hold my head up straight for the drag. People with hair of THAT length and THAT thickness would DROWN in deep water without quick assistance. Trust me on this.

2. Curly hair is nevernevernevernever tidy. NEVER. (or at least not without heavy chemical assistance) You smooth it down, and within an hour there's tendrils escaping down the back of your neck, hanging in front of your eyes, being pushed impatiently behind ears (where they don't stay because curls have a mind of their own and will sproing right back to where they think they ought to be without asking for permission). Curly hair done up in a braid will have bits of hair escaping individual plait curves and sticking out like little rebellious soldiers. And as I said above, there are certain clasps and combs and things that Simply Will Not Work. Count on gathering up spilled pins and clips, and be grateful if they're still in one piece.

3. There will not be a genteel hair brushing. Ever. Curly hair tangles. You sometimes yank it out by the roots when it wraps itself around the hairbrush and you don't realise that in time. When you wash your mane, in the modern age, you will use A LOT of conditioner or detangler. In the middle ages, consider using wide-toothed combs and count on a LONG time before hair will be dry. Like, hours. Do not have your heroines wash theirs in mid-winter and plan on going out before the next day if they don't want a frozen head.

4.Do not run your fingers through a curly head of hair, especially not with jewellery on. It hurts your head and the jewellery comes out long-haired, after.

5. Curly hair sheds and sticks to things like sweaters and knits and anything with any degree of static to it - be prepared to de-fleece your back or have someone else do it for you. You WILL have long hairs snuggling up to your sweater, all over your back. Count on it.

6. Curly hair, in fairy tales, tends to mean you're a moppet or a supporting character. If you're a princess or otherwise a principal female character, you tend to be portrayed with Princess Bride hair, like Robin Wright Penn's. That straight glossy look is the PRINCESS LOOK. And let me tell you, without a professional hairdresser on call 24/7, and sometimes not even then, if you have hair that's curly or frizzy you will NOT achieve that look, not for long, or if you go for the heavy chemical artillery, perhaps for longer than you might think in the short term but then you'll probably burn your hair off your scalp permanently or damage it so badly that you'll have to shave your head and join the Hare Krishnas. If you have curly hair, prepare to be seconnd in line even for the chance to kiss a real frog, let alone one with a little golden crown on his head. Princes kiss straight-haired girls. Take a good look at shampoo ads - that waterfall of straight glossy hair falling down a model's hand - that's the ideal. That's what Princesses look like. You'd better be something REALLY damned special if you have a head of curly hair and aspire to any kind of a higher social stratum. (You think I'm joking? What was the first thing they did to the poor frizzy-haired moppet who turned out to be of royal blood in "The Princess Diaries"? Yes, Victoria, they straightened her hair to that beautiful straight glossy Princess look. Crowns don't look good on rampant curls; tiaras tangle in frizz; coronets disappear in corkscrew curls.

I've come to terms with mine, over the years, and learned to live with it and its foibles - and in the usual "I want what I don't have" idiom, I've seen girls with those wonderful glossy black Japanese tresses insist on making themselves into a fashion train wreck by perming their locks into tight curls which don't do much for them but hey, they have CURLS, which they cannot naturally have - it's expensive, it's trendy, it's to be desired. I've done my share of straightening, of blow drying (you cannot blow dry hair straight right down to the root. Frizzy hair remains frizzy at the root. This plays havoc with blow-dried-straight hairstyles. Been there, done that) - and then I simply do what I need to do, like dry my hair in BIG curlers under an actual salon-type hairdryer, try to get it as straight AS I CAN, and accept the rest for being, you know, just me. At the same time, I did get told once that since it had been puberty (and therefore hormones) that triggered the initial curling of my mop, if I ever got pregnant and flooded my body with more hormones of that ilk I'd either straighten my hair out completely or curl it up twice as tight. On the whole, I'm rather glad I never got to find out...