all of the selves we Have ever been
It was the 1970s.
Everyone wanted to be Ali McGraw.
Everyone also wanted a love story and to never have to say you’re sorry. But mostly, we wanted long, straight, sleek hair parted in the middle.
What was a frizzy-curly-haired teenager to do?
I lost a lot of sleep over it.
Not from existential angst, but because of my curlers. I am surprised I don’t have chronic neck pain and insomnia from the tight rollers. Sure, the curler cap helped to hold the curlers in place and catch any loose bobby pins, but it did nothing to cushion the pain even if it was a fashion statement when paired with a matching nightgown.
Folks who wanted curls or waves had it much easier. But they tended to be over 40. Those looks could easily be achieved with pin curls and some small bobby pins or maybe pink sponge rollers. Curly styles allowed for beauty sleep. Black brush rollers were another option for the curly set, but those pink picks could lead to a puncture wound if the wearer rolled over in her sleep.
For the sleek straight look, a gal had to go BIG. I am talking the biggest, hardest curlers to be found. Those “magnetic” rollers were also secured with bobby pins but bobby pins of a size to match the scale of the curlers. Some people even washed out and re-used orange juice cans as rollers. Thankfully, in a house with four curly-headed females, we had quite a collection of curlers.
We slept stiff as corpses in our rollers because it was too painful to roll over and it was critical that the hair dry fully before removing the curlers. This was the age before hand held hair dryers. The only other option was to wash our hair during the day and then set it with rollers. At that point, we had to stay home for the remainder of the day, or wrap our heads in scarves to go out of the house.
Unfortunately, despite all of the time and trouble, for those of us with curls and frizz, the set didn’t last too long. Within an hour or two of removing the rollers and styling, our hair “fell” back into its old ways. The return time was shorter in the event of rain or humidity. It was best to check the weather forecast before giving too much time to hair washing and setting.
We had basic supplies, maybe the family-size tube of Prell or some VO5. Sometimes we had Breck Shampoo and imagined ourselves as one of the “Breck Girls.” Back then a teenage girl couldn’t just run out and buy whatever products she wanted. There was a long period of rumination during which we studied the ads in magazines. This was followed by an additional period of longing and saving. Sure we tried home straightening kits too. Generally, these proved to be as much of a disaster as the later home perms did. No amount of Dippity-Do could conceal the damage.
And if a kid fried her hair, there was no emergency visit to the salon. Back in that day, a young lady might visit a salon for prom, high school graduation, or her wedding day. Otherwise, haircuts were given at home. Bangs might get a trim if we complained of poor eyesight. The rest of the head might get shaped up if we dozed off and our chewing gum fell out of our mouths and got stuck in our hair.
Later in the 1970s, hair products and shampoos proliferated as manufacturers began promoting daily hair washing. Handheld hair dryers and electric hot rollers arrived on the scene to soften the blow of so much hair washing. It was hard to get the sleek smooth look with the early handheld dryers, and there were never enough large rollers in the hot roller set. It is not a wonder my hair started falling out by the time I was 40.
But styles changed. Ali McGraw left Hollywood for New Mexico. Ryan O’Neal took up with Farrah Fawcett. Ali McGraw got old and wears her hair gray and pulled back from her face.
My hair is still curly and my head sports a gray and brown COVID-stripe. Nowhere in my home can a curler be found.
Turns out, when it comes to hair styling, I just have to say, "I'm sorry."