Growing pains

My parents were divorced and my mom was mentally ill throughout most of my childhood so I didn’t always learn a lot about how to be a “proper” girl or woman — I’m an adult who is still figuring out liquid liner. In a number of ways, I love that I wasn’t forced into a pink category, that I played Ninja Turtles and watched wrestling, that I had He-Man action figures and wore weird mismatched outfits of my choosing. So, please don’t take the following text to mean that my dad was some monster. This is definitely NOT the intent and in fact he’s a lot more like Santa Claus than anyone else I can think of. He did a pretty good job trying to help me be me and grow and take care of myself, but his lack of hair knowledge was a bit of a hindrance. He didn’t help me with my “Embarrassing Moments” hair woes because, as a man, he didn’t know they existed. What I know now that I didn’t then is that society is kind of a jerk to women and it expects a lot out of our bodies and out of our hair. I wish I had had a Frida Kahlo fairy godmother to help me suss this out earlier, or maybe Madonna, if she’d kept those thick spidery brows, or fellow helmet head Daria. But I didn’t. So, here are a few things I wish I had known.

I Wish Someone Had Taught Me:

  • The difference between high brow and low brow.
  • When I was in the sixth grade I had full-on 80’s Madonna brows, the kind that have at least four regions to each brow, they’re so big. What no one told me was if you paid a professional to wax or expertly tweeze that bottom chunk, you could still be left with 2 fairly thick, yet fantastic eyebrows. Or, that pretty much anything is better than giving a sixth grader free-tweezing reign over her forehead hair because she is gonna pluck the fuck outta those suckers and then become a 31-year-old person who can list “growing brows” as a hobby on Facebook.

    Ok, to be fair, I knew that waxing made the brows look amazing. My friends all shared stories about how their mom took them to Elizabeth Arden, or even a hair cutting place I had actually heard of. However, I felt I would not be afforded such a luxury — how could my dad understand that he’d be helping me shape the brows that would define my life?! I just wish future me could go back and give my lovely Madonna brows a pep talk, maybe with a Whoopie Goldberg Ghost-style speech to really get the point across, “Little self, put those tweezers down — you’re in danger, girl!”

  • That straighteners exist and that naturally pretty hair is a lie.
  • Okay, maybe not all pretty hair is a lie but at least that “pretty” is suspicious. For about 25 years of my life I’ve assumed that popular girl hair was a magically bouncy, shiny and fantastic boon bequeathed upon only the richest and fanciest look-at-me-I-eat-at-Red-Lobster-and-it’s-not-even-a-special- occasion divas. In my younger days, I assumed that the Barbie girls just woke up with perfectly scrunchied barrel curls, bangs elegantly reaching skyward with a mere spritz of spray. If they needed a little help perhaps a ritual blood-letting or a simple kitten sacrifice to Aphrodite, and voila! Perfection. (Because popular girls read their Edith Hamilton, right?) I was sure I was destined to my thick, coarse, bell-shaped helmet because all I had was a round brush, blow dryer, and my stupid Catholic saints to help me.

    Alas, there is no Saint Perpetua de la Coiffure and I didn’t really have internet access until college, so you can imagine my shock when I discovered hair straightening technology. Science! After a quick 40-minute blow dry I can now straighten 500 or so tressy chunks of my head and thusly trick everyone into the belief that my mammalian strands are not just normal, but nice, even. Until it rains.

  • That perms don’t belong on third graders.
  • This should be self explanatory. Why did we DO this? Why did adults let us do this? How was looking like Eraserhead — not to mention pouring pungent chemicals all over a child’s noggin — a cute trend in the way of slap bracelets and hypercolor t-shirts?! Forget the face on Mars, this is a UNIVERSAL MYSTERY.

  • That, “Hey, don’t shave all your parts.”
  • When I got the green light from my dad to go ahead and shave my legs if I felt like it, I had a bit of a lightbulb moment. As I watched my gams shed their thick and lustrous Sasquatch fur, I felt a strange sensation of feminine empowerment. . . or was that the stinging pain of bleeding? Oh, how soft and silky and attractive my stems/stumps had become!

    What if…what if…What if I shaved the entirety of my body to be free of hairs (A.K.A. The Follicled Menace)?!!

    Oh, and I did it. Knuckles, elbows, face. Peach fuzz be damned, I’m a LADY! What I wish I had the forethought to have seen at this turning point was that, much like the hair on my head, all those little hairs were gonna grow back — and thickly and thoroughly with a pokey vengeance and much itching. And it’s stupid to shave your toe knuckles, Stupid. And hey, remember your dad’s face? How he shaves it and gets a 5 o’clock shadow at noon? Well, shit. So, “hey, don’t shave all your parts” would have been a nice heads up. That’s all I’m saying.

  • That dyeing your mustache will just give you a creepy blonde mustache.
  • Again, help a sister out. I have a pretty sizable overbite and never got braces because, “meh, they look fine.” There’s no way my family was shelling out cash to deal with my Magnum P.I. situation. I took matters into my own hands on a tip from Young and Modern (YM) magazine and I sported a blonde ‘stache that perfectly matched my jet black hair for an embarrassing portion of my existence on this planet.

  • That conditioner is a thing and so is social conditioning.
  • When I was a little kid, my hair was pretty fun. My dad would squish a lot of shampoo into it and give me a very impressive Ed Grimley hairdo. Less fun was the brushing and the styling of the hair, as you see, my dad didn’t know that conditioner existed. Once the old chap figured that one out, the tangles were less tangly and the brushing was more manageable. The ponytails, well, they still were a little tight, pulling my eyes sideways on more than a few occasions, but as Dad would say, “Pain is beauty, beauty pain.”

    Even though he was trying to collect my hair into a quirky side-pigtail just like his favorite female college basketball player, even though he was wearing a pro-woman t-shirt from a feminist rally on the day I was born, even though he was breaking all kinds of gender norms by being my mom AND my dad, there’s still that pesky conditioner that can get in our eyes and in my experience, it’s not the tearless kind.

Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.

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