"Curl Up and Die" -- the pains of looking like a lady

(continued from Sunshine Magazine page)

It's a pain. You should have seen what they did. First, this woman with very strong fingers maltreated my head with shampoo and water. I can still feel those fingers digging into my scalp. A real Idi Amin protege.

After that she puts some stuff on my hair that smells as though a dead animal has been pickling in it. Then she puts me under something that looks and feels like the jet exhaust of a 727. Then she takes off.

Back again. Rinse. Fingers. Towel. Move to sit in structure resembling an electric chair. Next, Fingers is joined by the hairdresser, who looks like a Barbie Doll. Barbie Doll speaks to the image of me looking at myself in the mirror; my formerly straight hair is all squiggles. "What you need," she says, "is a whole new look."

Barbie Doll and Fingers divide my hair into little sections, like farmland, and roll it in curlers. Back to Fingers' washbasin. More stuff that smells like death. The jet exhaust. Washbasin. This time she manipulates my head backwards far enough so that my gaze falls on the wall cabinets behind me, upside down. Thoughts of Marie Antoinette. Cold, cold water. The electric chair. Snip, snip. "Shake your head," she orders. The nervous system begins sending warning messages to intelligence central. They say, "Summon control! This is Stress City. Eliminate stress! Eliminate stress!" My hands have formed fists.

I look at my watch. Three hours! This has been going on for three hours?

I take out my checkbook. Eighty-five dollars. What am I going to give them for a tip? I give them $5 each. Fingers is happy; Barbie Doll glares. 

A week later my hair is as straight as a downpour. I return to the salon to ask questions. 

Barbie takes one look at me and her face is transformed into a bunch of diagonal lines. Slowly and loudly growling each word, she says, "Did you comb your hair?" I become alert. "Yes," I say.

"I told you not to comb your hair. Never, never comb your hair! NEVER! Not with a perm. Do you understand? You. Are. Stretching. Out. Your. Hair!"

I stare at her. For this I paid $95?

"How do you part your hair without a comb?" I ask humbly.

"With a pick," Barbie says as if I had an I.Q. of 35. 

"Ah, yes," I say. I thank her and leave, envisioning myself delicately moving about strands of my hair with some straight instrument. A pencil, maybe.

Periodically I decide I want to Look Like a Lady as opposed to some women who look like ladies most of the time. But what does a lady look like?

Look around. The message will come to you. If it doesn't, either there are no ladies in view or you're looking too hard.

It is just as obvious when a woman does not Look Like a Lady. I saw a good example of a non-lady recently in a beauty supply store. She was bent over arranging rows of lipsticks and when I asked her where I could find the perm rejuvenation spray, she turned towards me. I nearly jumped back.

Thick green stuff covered her eyelids and the area all the way to her eyebrows. That was only the beginning. If I described the rest to you, I would only be inflicting pain. She had to have suffered a lot to do that to her face.

As I left the shop I looked back. Bottles and bottles,  jars and jars. Pinks, reds, lavenders, blues. No doubt, some women could become confused as to what to do with such a giant, disorganized palette. It takes weeks, months, perhaps a lifetime to figure out just what and how much color or chemical to use and where to use it. It's work, like shopping for clothes.

For some women, the pressure to be "in" is astronomical. A friend who is a TV news anchorwoman goes into a frenzy six months before fall becomes winter, winter becomes spring, or spring becomes summer because that is when she hooks into bureaus in New York, Paris and Rome that dictate what she is to wear.

Big and Loose. White. Now it's white. No! Black! Forget the white! Black is back. The hips. Everything is hips now. And the neck. Long necks are it! The swan look! Think ostrich! No, forget ostrich! It's red now. Russian red!

The TV anchorwoman flies around the major shopping centers in her free time, between daily visits to the hairdresser, the manicurist, the pedicurist, the supermarket, the hardware store, the bank, the cleaners, the shrink, the masseur, the interviews and the 6 o'clock and 11 o'clock news.

Trying to figure out how she does all this without going crazy, I consider what the husband of another woman who Looks Like a Lady once told me: "A lady is a woman who is aware that she's a woman and is careful not to take advantage of that. See, women have their own power that is very different from being a man. That power means you can cause things to happen that can cause discomfort. That power is womanness. A lady does not use that power."

That's the clue. Even when the wind is wreaking havoc with her hair, or the rain is rendering useless the silk Oleg Cassini she has just purchased, or the Florida sun is making her sweat all over, she doesn't lose her ladylikeness. It's unbelievable. The other ladylike woman I know behaves the same way in such situations: oblivious, or seemingly oblivious, to what is going on around her. It could rain comets, it wouldn't matter. She, like TV Anchorwoman, lives most of the time in a pettiness-proof state, a mental Nirvana in which thoughts on how to look and act come second to the important things in life, like health, freedom and love. Subsequently, she generally feels pretty good about herself and others. She doesn't really have to try to Look Like a Lady; it comes automatically, with a feeling. 

Copyright 1987 Danielle Flood

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