Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sassy hair

Holiday shopping can be an adventure. For instance, standing in line at the local Asian superstore Uwajimaya, a voice behind me said: "I like your hair. It's sassy."

I turned to acknowledge the compliment, taking in the woman's short-cropped hair like mine, but without the crimson and eggplant highlights. "Oh, thank you! I like your raincoat. It's sassy, too."

"Why, thank you," she replied. "I'm glad you think so." I didn't have the presence of mind to snap a photo of this perfect stranger, but here's an approximation of her sassy raincoat. It really looked fab. But I digress.

In the photo below, I guess you get the idea about what she's talking about. On the left in this photo sits a natural redhead (which I think is gorgeous hair, by the way). On the right, my more "sassy" look.


Merriam-Webster gives three definitions for the adjective "sassy."
1. impudent
2. vigorous, lively
3. distinctively smart and stylish

Which brings me to my penchant for sassy hair. I've been collecting photos of a few of my faves. It's all about the color, darling.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hair today, goon tomorrow








On a recent trip to Germany, I stopped in Limburg to see my friend Gudrun. She took me to the Altstadt part of town, the most medieval place I've ever seen. (Check out the little witch on the parapet in the photo on the right.) Eleventh and twelfth century buildings abound here.

So do present-day hair salons. Gudrun and I also popped into a hair salon, since Gudrun had a hair care product she wanted to buy. She wasn't picking up these rainbow-colored delights pictured on the left, but I couldn't resist snapping a photo. These are "feather hair extensions," from a company called Nordic Contrast. It seems this style is equipped with a unique tape on, tape off technique, so extensions can be reused numerous times. Pretty, yes?

Googling to get this information, I happened upon a subject I've been meaning to look into ever since I saw a guy standing outside Sephora in downtown Seattle with "My Little Pony" lashes, blond and elegant, fluttering up on either side of his eyelids well above his eyebrows: Eyelash extensions.

According to the Dina S. Good Salon, eyelash extensions go right along with "hair extensions, permanent makeup, teeth bleaching, feather and hair tinsel ... turning drab into FAB in a very short time!" And they're not talking just any lashes, they're talking REAL MINK lashes (cruelty free, of course, obtained by brushing, then sterilizing the mink's fur).

Sound too good to be true? Buyer beware -- according to Katie at Martinis and Mascara, the eyelash extension treatment has its downsides, including the fact that after a few weeks, as they start to come off, you'll lose a few of your real lashes in the process. So be careful, or the good fairy will turn you into a goon.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Hairspray hijinks

At writing group last week, my friend Lucy Stimmel said she'd discovered an old photo of her grandmother.

"I couldn't believe it, I kept staring at her head. What had she done to her hair? It was all plastered down, like she'd used sugar water for hairspray or something."

My mouth dropped open. "Really? Sugar water?!" Here I'd thought when it came to hair, I'd heard it all.

"I just couldn't get over how strange she looked."

In Lucy's memory, her grandmother Lucille Philamena Demase had wild, flyaway hair, as in the photo on the left, taken in 1940.

Now here was an earlier picture of Grandmother Lucille from 1932. How had she managed to pull off this pressed-down hair in the days before aerosol sprays and hair gels?

Lucy shrugged. "Who knows? If they used sugar water, though, I wonder what they did about the flies."

The conversation got me thinking. Just when had hairspray first come into use?

The Encyclopedia of Hair says the first aerosol hair sprays started up in the 1940's, and were a mixture of "alcohol, lacquer and other ingredients." By the 1950's and 1960's, so much hairspray was being used that floors around the styling chairs in salons became tacky with residue. Some stylists reacted to this by returning to sugar and water (one 1/2 cup water and 2 tsp sugar, boiled, then cooled and put into a fine misting bottle. Let dry between applications).

While many DIY and home-remedy sites recommend this concoction, others complain it's a bunch of hooey. Apparently, in addition to flies, the sugar and water method has another draw back. Rain. Maybe not the best technique for the Pacific Northwest?


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hairbrained Inventions

Thanks to Natalie, who found me on the Internet in the midst of hair-pulling research for this month’s hairpisode.

September 5, 2014: A conversation with my writing group friend Jade launched me into a hair-brained quest:

"I'm wearing the Nirvana shirt I wrote Dustflakes in today,” I was telling her. Dustflakes was the first bit of short fiction I wrote and published outside of university. "Coincidence? I think not. This shirt is magic."

"Dig the magic shirt," Jade replied. "I'm rocking mini pigtails today; I always seem to flow better when I've got my hair up."

"There may be validity to your 'hair-up-equals-better-flow' theory," I said. Now might be the time to mention I’m envious of Jade because I have a bit of a pigtail fetish. I rarely have enough hair for pigtails. My hair makes me feel as though I’m carrying a clawless, sleeping Persian cat around on my skull, so I regularly, and I mean "R-E-G-U-L-A-R-L-Y"—get it a) thinned out, b) cut short-short, or c) both simultaneously. Did I mention this fetish to Jade? No. "I have to keep tucking my hair behind my ears when I'm trying to concentrate," I said instead. "Then again, Violet Baudelaire from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events ties her hair up with a ribbon when she's inventing."

As we laughed about this, it occurred to me: this could be a thing. Before I knew it, I was on a quest. Searching for web sites about hair, I found Hairpisodes. I emailed Claire to ask her if it was, indeed, “a thing.” She replied: “Intriguing question – sorry I don’t know more about this.” She suggested I write up a hairpisode.

September 6, 2014: A "quick google" of "pulling hair up AND concentration" soon became The E-Trichotillomaniac Monologues until I found this news article, about a study technique inspired by an ancient Chinese scholar. The writer of the article doesn't name this scholar—fantastic sleuthing, journalist—but I think I found him anyway: the politician Sun Jing
As a young man, [Sun Jing] was diligent in study and often forgot food and sleep. When he felt sleepy, he tied his hair to the roof beam. Therefore, when he dozed, he would feel pain and wake up as his hair was pulled upward by the rope. Then he would go on with his study.

This is interesting, I thought. The Earth is teeming with ways to try to fight distraction until we surrender.

September 7, 2014: By this time, I’m wondering why I’m getting so deeply into the symbolic significance of hair for the Chinese, since I'm not Chinese (I'm an Oztrayleeahn). Plus, I’m distracted again. I majored in English, so I keep remembering something I once read in Imagery and Symbolism in T. S. Eliot's Poetry by Nidhi Tiwari. In Eliot’s poem “Sweeney Erect,” Tiwari notes the destructive winds that tangle the hair of Ariadne, lady of the labyrinth. Tiwari identifies Ariadne's tangled hair as a symbol of Ariadne's "confused state and mental agitation." (pg. 56)

Now to tie this messy word-mane into a sloppy bun:

When I tuck my hair behind my ears I'm taking my mindset—tangled from the destructive winds of thought, memory, and emotion—by the hand and placing it somewhere not only where it'll friggin stay put goddamnit, but also familiar to me. This illusory control over my mindset is strengthened by concrete surrogates: words, art, and gestures building into actions. Similarly, when I push my fringe back and it falls down again moments later and I restrain it with a bobby pin (ensuring the crimped part is facing downward to grip the hair more effectively), I'm parting an invisible curtain for my third eye to peer out into an equally-invisible audience and begin an intellectual stand-up routine called writing.

So you might wonder: heavy-lidded from all this research and writing, will I take it one step further and create a contraption like Sun Jing’s? For my pigtailed friend Jade, it may be a real possibility, but for me, the hair just can’t go there.
_____________________________________

Natalie (BA USC) lives in a seaside town with her family and fur child. When not knitting fibres, Natalie knits words into short fiction, some of which has been published by various literary magazines and academic journals, and one of which is a novella in progress. She is also currently a private English tutor for A1 Tutoring Pty Ltd. She can be reached at neh_@live.com.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Anti-Establishment Hair

Thanks to my friend Eric Lord for this month's enlightening Hairpisode.


Cowsills' "Hair" and Crosby helped guide my feelings toward my own hair and how to wear it.

It was the 1960s and I remember the uproar by the establishment about the Beatles' hair cuts and the Cowsills brought in another voice. The Cowsills represented the American family to me, even more than the Partridge family, because they were there for a TV show.

The musical Hair was running then, but it was in New York City. The Cowsills brought it to mid-America. They were more American than the Beatles and even the Monkees.

When the Cowsills appeared on the Ed Sullivan show singing about hair, it had a definite underlying "up yours" message to the establishment. It was powerful.

Link to "Hair" by the Cowsills (on Youtube)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hair Heroes

Renowned stylist Christiaan (the guy who shocked everyone with an "undercut" on the fashion runway in the 1980s, and who famously flat-topped Grace Jones's fro) was at it again this June, administering 100 free haircuts in one afternoon in Madison Square Park.

Vogue's photographer Cass Bird was on the scene to record the event.

Her black-and-white images capture the quiet anticipation of each subject mid-transformation—sometimes with their hair falling before their eyes—and their elation and confidence after being “sculpted” by a master. Said Bird, “You could see what an incredible feeling it was. The actual experience of being touched by him is a big part of it."
"The actual experience of being touched..." That's a huge part of a haircut, isn't it? The intimacy and caring, the touch. It's not just about romance, as in the film scene in "Phenomenon," when Lace (Kyra Sedgwick) gives George (John Travolta) a haircut and shave. It's about plain old human connection. One person thoughtfully considering, engaging, transforming another via physical contact. It's my favorite part of a trip to the salon, the wash and scalp massage, followed by the stylist clipping and riffling his hands through my hair to lift and sculpt. In the end, I feel renewed.

Christiaan's free haircuts "happening" is wonderful and fun, but even more profound is the work of "Joe the Barber" in Hartford, Connecticut, who gives free haircuts to the homeless every Wednesday afternoon in the park. Well, not entirely free. For payment, he gets a big hug. That's a lot of love.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Painted Hair

Recently my friend Eric Lord sent me a link to a 1960s British film.

"They're painting the hair," he insisted over the phone. "Definitely a hairpisode."

I hadn't had a chance to check it out until yesterday. I thought of it because I was sitting in the hair salon with the timer set to thirty minutes. I found Eric's message and clicked on the link. I watched the two minute preview. And watched it again. I was watching it a third time when the assistant Seth stopped by.

"So do you want a hand massage? You don't have to put that down or anything."

I nodded vaguely, distracted. "This is the oddest thing. It's from the 1960s. They're painting the hair."

Holding my tablet up for Seth to see, I started the 2 minute clip over. Seth glanced over as he rubbed lotion onto his hands and started kneading my palm.

Image from
http://thefashionistics.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/big-hair/
Seconds later, his eyes went wide. "Wait, is that real paint they're using?" A cut to a painter's palette with an array of acrylics (or oils?) flashed on the screen. He nodded. "Yup, sure looks like it. That's the sculptured hair era. It came in just after the finger wave. The hair got much bigger, it was like an art form to them. They used so much hairspray, the hair didn't move at all. I could definitely see applying paint to it."

I glanced away from the preview to Seth, my jaw dropping a second time. Hair assistant = Hair history reference desk?! Wow. Apparently, Gary Manuel has a thorough training program. 

When it came to the clip of a woman applying a thick layer of black paint to a bald guy's pate, Seth laughed. "Oh, now I definitely want to watch the whole movie!" 

I agreed. Sitting there in the chair, I didn't turn on the audio, and didn't browse through the full description. The link above takes you to a two minute preview of a longer film. Here's a brief excerpt from the site:

["Hair Painter"] is a brilliant film of a hair event organised by Leonard Pountney, who owned a hair salon in Hounslow (this is not mentioned in the film, making it seem all the more bizarre!). Great '60s hairstyles and evening clothes (though the women are sitting down in them). 
Click here for link to film preview: Hair Painters -- British Pathé

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Airhead

You've heard of bedhead? Recently I flew a red-eye from Seattle to Cleveland. Before I left, I did my best to fix my hair for the long haul, hoping it would look decent in the morning.

Of course it didn't. Typically, I landed with a bad case of airhead, my hair so charged with static electricity I could do nothing with it. (Not as bad as this picture of my daughter on a trampoline, but still.) Why does this happen? Do others go through this, or is it just me?

Investigating (via the usual Google search), I discovered an article called "Be a Flying Beauty with these Airplane Beauty Tips" that was downright alarming. It's on a site called "Makeup & Beauty Blog" (I'm not including the link, since they have a scary amount of pop-ups and advertising.) After reading through the different masques and conditioning and balms I would need for a good night's beauty flight, the idea of actually applying all that gunk caused me a good deal more suffering than static hair ever could. The article closes with the caveat that, while it may sound silly, in an airplane we're closer to the sun, so without hats our hair will become sun damaged. Really??? Somehow, I just couldn't go there.

Meanwhile, I did find a quite thorough article explaining how and why static electricity occurs on airplanes here.

Then again, maybe our hair isn't as fragile as we think. At "What if?" (as I understand it, a book in progress), there's a write-up about the miraculous tensile strength of hair. "Based on these hair strength figures, a piece of hair three inches in diameter would be strong enough to restrain a 747." With diagrams and everything. Check it out!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hair apparent

This week "Hair apparent" was the caption under a picture of Conchita Wurst on the BBC - Culture site. The pop artist Wurst is a drag artist contestant representing Austria in the popular Eurovision show. In a daring move that prompts cognitive dissonance for many viewers, Wurst wears the flowing tresses of a woman and sports a full beard. A photo of the bearded Conchita is found at http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140503-a-new-pop-icon. According to Wurst, "The beard is a statement to say that you can achieve anything no matter who you are or how you look." Whether or not the Austrian contestant is chosen in the semi-final round, Wurst has created a sensation. Several countries have formally petitioned the artist's appearance as offending their rigid views of sexual correctness. The caption "hair apparent" is a good one, even though the "urban dictionary" provides an alternate definition of the term:
Hair apparent: son who appears to have inherited his father's male pattern baldness. It is a play on the phrase heir apparent and the irony that the subject's hair is becoming less apparent by the day. James: "you should see my little bro's receding hair line! He's clearly the hair apparent in our family" Anthony: "yeah, he really is a chip off the old block"
Although the meanings of the BBC title and the Urban Dictionary don't exactly line up, both situations are thought-provoking. Hair = Heir. Male pattern baldness is a genetic legacy. The statement Wurst is making, on the other hand, is a socio-cultural legacy, one that hopefully will lead to more open-mindedness and the celebration of that which is good and true. I for one applaud his strength and courage.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hair Beliefs Part VII: Sikh Hair

In the aftermath of the shooting at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple in 2012, The Huffington Post published a primer on the Sikh religion, an article that contains Sikh beliefs regarding hair. (The articles of faith listed below are based on an orthodox Sikh rite begun in 1699 called Khalsa, into which faithful Sikhs are initiated at puberty.)
5. The Five Ks: The Five Ks are the articles of faith that Sikhs wear as ordered by the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Most Sikhs wear one or more of the articles but only Sikhs who have taken amrit, a ritual analogous to baptism, wear all. They include:

Kesh, or unshorn long hair, which is protected by a dastaar, or turban. The dastaar is worn by men and some women to cover their long hair. But most women keep their hair long and uncovered, except for when entering a gurdwara.
Kangha is a small wooden comb meant to keep the hair combed twice a day.
Kara is an iron bangle to be worn on the hand used most.
Kachera is a specific undergarment for men and women.
Kirpan is a short dagger.

Let me add that at another website about the religion of the Sikh people, I learned the Khalsa also stipulates that male and female Sikhs "must never remove hair from any part of their bodies."

The statements of fact about unshorn hair naturally beg the question: But why? Looking for answers, I happened upon Armind Sharma's post regarding comparatives studies of religion. Sharma points out that the male Sikh's unshorn hair (wrapped in a turban to hold it in place) symbolizes bravery, solidarity with other Sikhs, self-defense, a determination to fight for justice, and religious devotion. The "self-defense" part of the equation is especially intriguing. Apparently, long ago when defending themselves against invaders, Sikh soldiers kept long hair so as not to feel so terrified by the long hair of their enemies, with the added benefit that the long hair protected their skulls from injury. So that's why they wear the turban? As a sort of helmet?

In my ignorance, I had always assumed the turban was like the Islamic veil, hiding the Sikh male's hair from the public eye for some mysterious reason. On the contrary, while the turban is mandatory for Sikh men, for women it is optional. For a first-person account by a Sikh man about the complexities of this religious practice, check out his "bad hair day" post at sikhchic.com.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book Launch Hair

I've written a book! Hurray! Just released this month, available in bookstores and on-line. The Last of the Blacksmiths, a novel of historical fiction (Coffeetown Press, 2014).

Here I am signing the book at the launch event, with an excellent view of my current hair. Sure, the book is about blacksmiths and rugged immigrant craftsmen of the 19th century. Men who came to America dreaming of freedom and prosperity, who kept their rarely washed hair under their hats.

The book may have very little to do with hair, but for my book launch celebration, don't think for one minute I didn't contemplate my hairstyle. While I didn't specifically strategize the matching hair color with the wine-colored lace on my dress, I gladly took credit when people complimented me. It was a glorious day.


More pics, and info in general about the book are at http://clairegebben.com. Cheers!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Naturally blonde

On Facebook this week, my friend Elisabeth posted the following:

"Today I took my naturally blonde hair for a walk on the wild side... some strawberry highlights. Nothing crazy -- being blonde is too much fun to give up entirely!"

I sensed an issue. It was her choice of wording: Not just blonde, but *naturally* blonde.  The next time I saw Elisabeth, she was wearing a hat.

"I saw your Facebook post -- the "naturally" blonde was an interesting choice of words."

"What do you mean? Yes, I'm naturally blonde."

"Do you get that a lot, people thinking you dyed your hair blonde?"

"I'm not sure what you're getting at here. A lot of people are blonde as kids, but it turns brown when they get older. Mine just never did. Well, actually, it was white blonde when I was little --it's darker than it was."

"I mean, is there a certain stigma to being blonde? Do you experience that?"

"I would have to say yes, definitely. I think some people have this certain stereotype about women who dye their hair blonde, that they're a certain type, so I guess they see me that way, too."

"Will you take off your hat? Can I see how the strawberry highlights turned out?"

"Sure, but it's mostly gone now." (It was. Clearly, she was just wearing the hat because it was very cute on her.) "When I first had it done, I walked into this convenience store and I guess the sun was shining through the window on my head, and my hair just glowed. The guy behind the counter was like, 'Hey, Goldilocks.' I just laughed. I'm used to it."

"So everywhere you go, people are talking to you about your hair?"

"Pretty much. And wanting to touch it. It's crazy."

Crazy indeed. I asked Elisabeth if she minded if I told her story as a "hairpisode" this week. She eyed me a bit warily, but said sure, no problem. I understand. It must get tiresome. Being blonde, or a redhead or a brunette or whatever should never be the final word. Elisabeth, you're an incredible pianist and musician, I'm totally in awe of your talent, not to mention in your generosity and spirit as a person. I feel blessed to know you.