“How do you like my hair-do?” I asked my mother.
“I liked it five styles ago,” she said. We were standing at the front door as she dug for her Koosh-ball key chain. It was true, I’d gone through about six hairstyles in the carpool ride home.
I’ve always been obsessed with “doing my hair,” which has resulted in a wide range of ponytails, braids and straightening treatments. Considering what I’ve put my hair through, it’s amazing I’m not bald. Yet.
Wanting to change my hairstyle began before I can remember – I had nice, wavy curls under a soft blanket of frizz. I think. I’ve been chemically straightening my hair for a solid ten years, so I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s like. But before I discovered that I could fork over substantial money for someone to iron teeny-tiny sections of my hair so that it would stay that way permanently, making my head look like a lampshade, I thought my hair innovations were the tits.
When I was in pre-kindergarten, my mom would often give me pigtails with hair ties with little plastic gumballs at the end, and sometimes braids. I started to do my own hair in about second grade, and I don’t think I ever did much with it. I was an amateur at that point.
It wasn’t until fourth grade that the disruption in the industry of my own head really began. We used to have a babysitter that could French braid perfectly. It was such a treat – so fancy, and seemingly impossible for an 8-year-old. It was also foreign and French and mysterious, like the myth of French kissing. Those French people, I used to think.
I began with the easy stuff – ponytails, pigtails, pigtail braids. By the time I got to double digits in age, an important childhood milestone, I had it all under (hair) wraps. I did my own hair wraps, and I’d bring my string to school and offer to do it for other eager hangers-on. I’d sit in front of the mirror for hours, wrapping friendship string around a braided half-dreadlock, inevitably tangling half my head and having to cut off a chunk with nonfunctioning safety scissors.
But then there were the hair accessories. The butterfly clips, the bobby pins, the glitter. Oh, you want glitter, dotted hairclips? Just give me twenty minutes with some Wet n Wild nail polish and bam! How about a Topsy Turvy? I had the red loop on lockdown in drawer with all of my favorite doily socks. The Topsy Turvy is the most unnecessary and brilliantly-marketed hairstalgia piece there is. Maybe I’d meet my crush at CVS.
The teeny little clear hair bands were the best scores for when I had the patience for a few small braids, often giving up a quarter of the way through. I had a collection of all aforementioned accessories and headbands, the latter of which consistently gave me headaches. The only headband I wore was one with Mexican wish dolls on it from my grandparents’ recent trip to Mexico. I had little people lining my temples.
In addition to coveted hair clips and headbands that hurt like shit, I had an amazing variety of scrunchies. Neon, black, patterned, polka dot and my favorite: velour. I had even tried to make some of my own scrunchies in summer camp the year before. However, they required one element besides elastic and fabric that I didn’t possess – the patience for a sewing machine.
I got so neurotic with my hairstyles, I felt they needed to be documented immediately, lest I wake up one morning before school without hair amnesia, having hopelessly forgotten my vast array of options.
An abridged version goes something like:
Half pony with braid
French braid (But I needed someone else for that)
Half Topsy Turvy
Full Topsy Turvy
Half Up Flip Bun (This one particularly, I don’t even know what it means. I did then, I don’t know. It does sound fun and adventurous, though.)
I remember the list very clearly, written several times over because that was the year I had made the formal decision to change the way I write my A’s due to a hopelessly cool popular girl who wrote them in a way I had never seen. The list was taped to the back of my bookshelf in purple Gelly Roll, right next to my Y2K bumper sticker. Just in case.
My most innovative, and ridiculous, style of all time was the Scrunchie Nun Chuck.
I had about 40 scrunchies total in my haul. One morning I woke up with a particular burst of inspiration as a fourth grader deep into learning about Ancient Egypt, which may or may not have influenced this decision.
I was going to put as many of my scrunchies on my head as possible. I’d never seen anything like it (and thankfully, haven’t since). I began with my hair half up, and fastened it with a Mexican-print scrunchie (a theme apparently and generous grandparents). I then added a green one, a pink one, and two polka dotted scrunchies. Then I grabbed the rest of my hair and kept going til the end of my hair, which at that point was quite long.
In total, I probably had 20 scrunchies hanging off the end of my head. It was sort of tail-like, and I thought I was awesome.
In reality, I looked like one of those blue people in Avatar. I was a precursor to “Whip My Hair”. Willow Smith had nothing on my scrunchie collection, on display for all the haters to see in P.E. Looking back on it, if I whipped my head around that day, Romy and Michelle Style at the prom, I would have seriously injured myself or someone within a short radius.
I looked completely absurd.
At school, kids seemed to take notice of my insanely creative genius. I got a lot of looks, and comments. My best friend, who at the time shared in our common dorkitude and love of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Clueless, was horrified. She had a bowl cut, so what did she know about hair? She knew nothing about being avant garde. Today she appreciates my creative finesse, or lives far enough away from me that she doesn’t have to deal with it on a daily basis.
I walked to the bathroom just as we were drawing our names with hieroglyphics, my scrunchie tail sashaying behind me. Another fourth grade teacher from a different classroom (all of that year were on the same floor) stopped me.
“Look at your hair,” she said in a patronizing, yet I’d like to think sweet tone. She was known among all of the lower school as Ms. Trunchbull Lite, making kids eat peas they’d spilled off the floor in the lunchroom. “I guess if I need to put my hair back I know who to ask,” she said with a smirk.
I felt triumphant that an adult had acknowledged my tress prowess. I felt almost charitable – the Keeper of All The Scrunch. But she was sucky, so it felt confusing. On one hand, I think I wanted to acknowledge the compliment. On the other, I wanted to try out the nun chuck element.
For all the kids that had to eat peas off the floor, I decided that woman wasn’t touching my head. Even if she was in desperate need of a scrunchie.